Spending quality time with your dog is essential to build your relationship, provide exercise, and build your dog's confidence. And there are many activities that you can do together. Here are just some examples of fun things to do with your dog.
Agility for dogs
In agility trials, human handlers guide dogs off-leash through obstacle courses that consist of hurdles, teeter-totters, tunnels, balance beams, weave poles, climbing structures, and more. Agility trials can be very competitive, or they can be done just for fun. Dogs gain confidence, release energy, and learn how to stay focused while in high spirits.
Animal-assisted activities usually take place in hospitals or nursing homes, not in rehabilitative settings. Human-dog teams visit to help boost people's spirits or promote socialization rather than to work on specific patient goals. Facilities that use animals for these activities may or may not require that handlers and their dogs become certified.
Animal-assisted therapy is more goal-directed than animal-assisted activities; the results may be documented to meet a particular patient’s specific goals. Both are valuable tools that can be used to promote well-being while celebrating the joy inherent in the canine-human bond. There are several programs in the United States that certify both the handler and the animal for therapy work. For more information, visit Pet Partners, whose mission is to improve human health through service and therapy animals.
Backpacking with dogs
Dogs, like people, love to get away from it all! If you’re going on a backpacking trip with your dog, plan ahead. Taking a dog out on the trail without some type of fitness conditioning can be dangerous to your dog’s health. Fitness doesn’t come overnight, so start the process well before your trip. Check with a local authority to see whether pets are allowed in the area where you’ll be trekking; some places allow dogs but require permits. Carry a first-aid kit for you and your dog, and know how to administer basic first aid if your dog becomes injured. At any time of year, remember to pack enough water for you and your dog.
Day trips with dogs
Most dogs love to ride in the car. When possible, take your dog along if you’re visiting friends or family. For a special treat, include a side trip to do some shopping with your dog. Plus, some dogs love to browse at pet supply stores — many of which allow you to bring your dog inside.
Dog parks, places where dogs are allowed to roam free, are becoming more common in many cities. Most are securely fenced, have safety signs posted with park rules, and require that you clean up after your dog (take some bags in case they’re not provided). Social dogs enjoy meeting new dog friends and returning to see them time and time again. You might make new friends as well. If your dog is small, supervise them closely around other dogs. While trying to play, a big dog might injure a small dog unintentionally. Some parks have a section exclusively for small dogs.
Freestyle musical dance with dogs
A choreographed set of moves performed to music, freestyle musical dance is done by dogs in partnership with their handlers. If you have not seen this new “sport” in action, you will be amazed at the level of expertise that can be achieved through teamwork, focus, and practice, practice, practice.
Flyball with dogs
Flyball is a relay race that requires a dog to race over four hurdles, catch a tennis ball that has been released from a spring-loaded launcher, and then race back over the hurdles again. The dogs race in teams of four. Any dog who likes to chase a ball will probably love flyball, and it’s an excellent way for your dog to burn up excess energy.
Frisbee with dogs
Dogs who love to play Frisbee, either purely for pleasure or in competition, are called disc dogs. If your dog loves to play ball, you might want to buy a disc and get your dog involved in this great form of exercise. One word of caution, however: This sport involves a lot of jumping, so consult with your veterinarian before starting your dog on a vigorous Frisbee training program.
Hiking with dogs
Though most national parks don’t allow dogs on trails, there are many state parks that do. For more information on finding dog-friendly trails in your state, visit Hike With Your Dog. Also, almost every city has trails pretty close by that you can explore with your canine companion. Even city streets can be used for a hiking adventure. Take a local map and mark off a path up and down streets, adding a hill or two for more strenuous exercise. Don’t forget to pack a first-aid kit, poop bags, and plenty of water.
A fairly new sport called nose work, or scent training, uses the amazing capabilities of the canine nose and accommodates almost every type of dog. It can be done competitively or just as an enjoyable activity.
All dogs should receive some obedience training. How far you take it is up to you; some people want their dogs to compete in serious obedience trials, while others just want a dog who will obey simple cues in daily life. In either case, both you and your dog will enjoy the benefits of better communication and the increased bond between you that results from time spent together teaching, learning, and practicing. For more information, call your local animal shelter and ask for a referral for a training class.
Playing hide-and-seek with a toy or item of clothing can be a tracking challenge for your dog. In winter, a fun game is to place a glove (with a treat inside for extra enticement) just under the surface of the snow.
Using clicker training or lure training (using treats for motivation) to teach your dog to do tricks is a great way to spend time with your dog, improve your relationship, and make obedience training even more fun. Once you and your dog have a repertoire of tricks, you can show off your wonder dog.
Vacations with dogs
If you haven’t taken a vacation with your dog, give it some thought. It can be very rewarding to have your dog along on your adventure, and many hotel chains accept dogs. Pet Friendly Travel includes vacation rentals, such as cabins, condos, and B&Bs. If you want to take it a step further, look into dog camps, the ultimate vacation for you and your dog. They provide games, training opportunities, and plenty of other dogs to interact with.
When thinking about involving your dog in any strenuous activity, consider their health and physical ability. If your dog has not been exercising regularly, schedule a visit to your veterinarian. If more than a checkup is needed, your vet will advise you. They might also encourage you to increase your dog’s exercise level gradually.
Remember, your dog loves spending time with you, so get out there with your canine companion and have some fun!