Everyone knows that dogs love to romp around in the backyard. However, many pet parents may be surprised to learn that simply opening the door and letting their puppy entertain them isn’t enough.
“Being in the backyard may give dogs some sunshine and space, but that doesn’t necessarily give them anything to do,” says Andrea Servadio, trainer and co-founder of Fitdog Sports Club in Los Angeles. “Just as with humans, gaming provides mental, physical and emotional enrichment.”
Playing outside is not only fun, it will also lead to better behavior in the house. “Playing promotes a dog’s mental stimulation,” says Colleen Demling-Riley, canine behavioral scientist at Dogtopia, a daycare center, spa, and boarding facility.
“When you combine mental exercise with physical exercise, you’ll have a well-behaved, balanced, and tired puppy when your dog comes back inside,” says Demling-Riley.
When it comes to fun outdoor activities with your dog, there’s no shortage of options. From fetch dog toys and agility courses to water games and scented crafts, the only limit to outdoor fun is your imagination.
Upgrade your fetch game
Fetch is a time-honored classic and never goes out of style.
“Dogs love fetching because it mimics their natural instinct to hunt and get prey,” says Servadio. “Balls tend to bounce in predictable ways. Therefore, finding dog toys with unusual jumps increases engagement and mental stimulation.”
Servadio recommends tossing everything from rope pull toys to dog plush toys. Or you can upgrade your game with a specially designed dog toy.
Dog flyer discs, such as the Nerf Dog Atomic Flyer dog toy and the West Paw Zogoflex Zisc dog toy, are designed to both float through the air and jump on the ground, making both hunting and catching more interesting.
Is your best friend a long distance runner? Ball thrower for dogs, like the Chuckit! Classic launcher, can help you throw up to three times further, which means a lot more running for your canine companion.
Automatic throwers, such as the iFetch Mini dog toy with automatic ball launcher, are also ideal as garden toys for dogs.
“Some dogs might not be as interested in playing when you’re not around, while others just want the ball regardless of who or what throws it,” says Servadio.
Set up agility activities for dogs
When most people hear “agility,” they think of specially trained dogs taking a professional course. However, every dog can benefit from agility work in the backyard.
“Any activity that makes dogs learn a new skill, receive positive feedback, and feel successful will make them feel good,” says Servadio.
Agility engages dogs in a variety of ways, explains Servadio. The equipment and coursework provide mental stimulation while teaching new tricks and skills. Agility also offers rigorous physical training and the opportunity to use and develop a wide variety of muscles.
It’s easy to set up your own agility course. “Agility equipment designed for pet gardening is now available at low prices,” says Demling-Riley. “Playing with agility equipment is never boring, as you can always change the order of obstacles or make them more difficult, depending on how your dog improves his skills.”
Dog agility kits, such as the Outward Hound Zip & Zoom Indoor Agility Kit for dogs, have everything you need to get your puppy started.
If you want to work on your dog’s tunnel skills, the tearproof collapsible HDP agility dog training tunnel is perfect for training in the garden and for play sessions.
Get your puppy involved in fragrance work
Dogs love sniffing on anything and everything. Good smells, bad smells, questionable odors — each one is worth a detailed examination.
Challenge your dog’s curious nose to a scent work game to have fun in the garden. “Working with the scent is a great mental stimulus for a dog and a fun outdoor activity after they’ve been inside all winter,” says Demling-Riley.
Demling-Riley suggests this smell game: While your dog is inside, place six cardboard boxes in your backyard. Keep the lids open and then place dog treats in three of them. (For a high-protein option, try Blue Buffalo Wilderness Trail Treats duck cookies.)
Then take your dog outside to explore the garden on the dog leash. If he spots a treat, calmly praise him without stroking him, as petting can interfere with the persecution. When your puppy gets better at the game, you can close the lids and even hide the boxes in your backyard.
Working with the scent is exhausting, says Demling-Riley. So give your puppy a break within 10 minutes and make sure he always has access to fresh water.
For a simpler version, hide a stinky, chewy dog treat in the garden and let your pup go. “This is a lot of fun for most dogs because as soon as they find their chewing, they can eat it,” says Demling-Riley.
Play some water games
Many dogs also enjoy water games in the backyard.
“A warm, sunny spring day is a great time for water games,” says Demling-Riley. “Just turn on your sprinkler and watch your dog run back and forth for joy.”
If you don’t have a sprinkler, she suggests putting some dog ball toys, such as tennis balls, in a bucket of water or a dog pool and encouraging your dog to grab the balls as they rock up and down.
Have a round of hide and seek
Another fun kids game that your puppy might enjoy is hide and seek.
While you’re hiding in your backyard, have another family member hold your dog, says Demling-Riley. As soon as you’re in your hiding place, call out your dog’s name. When he finds you, reward him with lots of praise and then play the game again.
“Most dogs learn to love this game! ” says Demling-Riley. “Plus, it’s a great way to reinforce them when they come to you when you call them.”
There’s nothing better than enjoying some fresh air with your puppy. Playing together not only gives your dog movement and mental stimulation, but is also a wonderful way to strengthen the bond between humans and dogs.
Von: Monica Weymouth
Featured image: istock.com/aleksandrovaPhoto