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Let The (Dog) Games Begin!

Remember that time I wrote about Dog Walking Social Groups? Not really? Here you go.

I’m a big fan of these groups for a lot of reasons, but mostly because they provide safe, structured socialization for dogs. Of course, sometimes group walks just aren’t possible. Like right now, it’s 7 degrees out.

That’s right: 7

So maybe you and your groupies (question: what’s a nickname for group members that doesn’t make them sound like they hang out in the back of tour buses?) are looking for something new to try indoors. Or maybe you and your fellow classmates have graduated past basic Reactive Rover type exercises and y’all want to cut loose a little with your new skills.

Enter group games! Games can be a fun way to practice what you’ve learned in class or on group hikes. They keep your dog working around other dogs in a positive and controlled setting. But they’re also pretty silly. Which can be a nice change of pace.

Also, you can pretend you’re Katniss. Only instead of a bow and arrow, you have a treat bag filled with stinky tuna.  Bad. Ass.

Will your dog volunteer as tribute? Mine neither. That's cool.

Will your dog volunteer as tribute? Mine neither.


Wanna try? Here are a few silly games I’ve played (or watched others play) that might be a good fit for your crew:

‘Red Light, Green Light!’

This is my personal favorite. I’ve had a lot of laughs playing this game with leash reactive dogs and their owners.  Here’s how it’s done: Each on-leash dog stands with their person on a start line. An instructor stands (without a dog) at the other end of the room or field with their back to the group.

The objective is to be the first pair to reach the instructor/finish line. Along the way, you’ll be practicing stuff like “look”, “down” and “let’s go”.

The instructor will call out “Green Light” and the teams will walk quickly towards the finish line while engaging their dogs and encouraging loose leash walking.

When the instructor calls out “Red Light” and turns around to face the group, all the dogs must be lying down. Any pair that is caught in motion, not lying down, has to go back to the starting line. This continues until one pair makes it to the finish line and puts their dog in a down stay.

Ring Around the Rosie’

Each on-leash dog stands with their person in a large circle. The instructor (and maybe a few friends) sings the song “Ring Around the Rosie” as the pairs walk around the outside of the circle practicing loose leash walking and eye contact.

When the song ends with the line “they all fall DOWN”, all the dogs must be in a down position. The last dog to lie down is eliminated. Be mindful of space between dogs, so that you don’t run into anyone when that “down!” gets hollered.

Musical Hoops’

Another childhood favorite adapted for dogs, this game is the canine version of Musical Chairs. You’ll need as many hula hoops as there are dogs participating in the game. To give the dogs some space from one another, you can place the hoops as far away from each other as you need and they can be set up in a circle or in a row.

The dogs are on leash with their owners and, as the music plays, the dogs walk around the hoops practicing loose leash walking and eye contact. When the music stops, the dogs are asked to sit or lie down inside the nearest hula hoop. The dogs must have at least two paws inside the hoop. If a dog does not have at least two paws inside the hoop, they’re out. One hoop is then removed and the game continues!

Again, be mindful of the other dogs. Don’t run to the same hoop with nothing but the sweet taste of victory on your lips. Winning isn’t worth a head on in-hoop collision.

Hide and Seek’

If your dog prefers solo time with you, play at home! Ask your dog to sit or lie down and put them in a stay. Hide in another room and then call your dog. Wait for him to find you – try not to laugh and give away your hiding spot! It’s that simple.


Depending on how challenging these activities are for your dogs, you may need to refrain from lots of hollering, high-fiving, and giggle fits. It’ll be helpful to stay calm and cool, so the dogs don’t get too psyched (especially if you’re playing inside). But as time goes on and the dogs settle in, I highly recommend laughing and cutting loose a little. Also, there needs to be an instructor or two (or someone else without a dog), to help troubleshoot/declare the winner.

And remember different games work for different dogs. It’s cool if these aren’t your dog’s thing. Don’t give up on games all together though. Have you tried Nose Works? I haven’t met a dog yet that doesn’t like that one. And it’s the perfect winter-time activity.

But if you do decide to play, games like these can be as challenging as regular training classes and as social as a group walk. Give them a try and may the odds be ever in your dog’s favor!


p.s. If you’ve got a favorite group or solo game that you like to play with your dogs, let us know in the comments, ok?

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13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Marjie Douty #

    Thanks! I have two dogs. One reactive and one not. We are goint to try these games with their doggie cousin and my brother and sis in law!

    December 16, 2013
  2. What fun – great ideas for fun games with your pups!

    December 17, 2013
  3. Susanne Blood #

    We have an egg & spoon race @ our indoor training facility. We use the plastic Easter eggs with a yummy treat inside. all dogs & handlers are in a line, they must walk across the room, turn & go back without dropping the egg. If the egg does fall, the dog has to *leave it* while the handler gets the egg back on the spoon & continues. Impossible to do on a tight leash. Lots of laughs

    December 17, 2013
  4. Adriane Wallace #

    Great ideas, thank you! I play “hide and treat” with my girl. I make her sit in the bathroom and wait while I hide treats around the house. Way to put those hunting instincts to work and have a little fun while working the brain…she loves it and will actually go sit in the bathroom herself and wait for me to notice that she is ready to play…but this could also be that she is a total food slut too haha

    December 17, 2013
    • I’m picturing your dog sitting in the bathroom at odd times…I bet that could make for some awkward moments with overnight guests! ; )

      December 17, 2013
  5. I’d love to play hide and seek but I’ve read/heard that calling your dog from a stay rather than returning them can “ruin” your stay. What are your thoughts on this?

    December 17, 2013
    • I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “returning them” (but then again, I’m not a trainer, so this question may be above my pay grade!). I frequently call/release my dogs from the “stay” position – outside, inside, etc. – so playing hide and seek hasn’t caused any issues for us. But it may be different for other people. If you’re worried it will ruin your dog’s stay, I’d skip the game to be safe!

      December 17, 2013
      • Sorry, I meant to say “returning to them.” I think the concern that once they began to anticipate being called to you they would break their stay. I’m not training for competition or anything, so it isn’t that big of deal. I am more curious to get more opinions on the matter!

        December 17, 2013
        • Oh, that makes a lot more sense! You know, I’m sure this is going to be different for each person/dog, but I’m thinking that in day to day life, it’s probably helpful to have a dog that knows how to stay until you either return to them/release them or call them to you/release them. Either way, they’re waiting for you to tell them when it’s ok to move. Maybe consistent language is the key to success?

          December 17, 2013
  6. In my group classes I play a game I call “Leap Dog”. After dogs understand and have value in a mat or dog bed, I introduce Leap Dog!

    The mats are placed in a circle. I have half the class get into heal position while half the class has their dog relaxing on their mat. The dog and handler team that is in heal position starts walking around the circle on my cue until I say stop. The handler asks their dog to go to the mat closest which is actually another dog’s mat with all sorts of new smells. The dog/handler that was relaxing on the mat must stay in calm down stay while others walk past. We do this exercise switching from relaxing on the mat to healing.

    December 18, 2013
    • I love it! This includes so many different skills (plus getting to smell other stinky dog mats) in just one game. Good thinking and thanks for sharing Leap Dog here!

      December 19, 2013

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