Dogs and kids seem like the perfect combination of fun, but their play together can very quickly get out of control and things can go south. How can you encourage your children to play appropriate games with the dog? By modeling appropriate games and play. If you model wild and crazy games involving a lot of running, chasing, jumping and mouthing, that is how your children will want to play with the dog too, and that is how the dog will expect to be played with. This can lead to injuries and hurt feelings, because dogs play with a much rougher play style than most children. Here are some fun and safe games that children can play with dogs while being supervised by a responsible adult.The shell game: Use empty flower pots or yogurt cups with a hole in the bottom. With several pots, hold the dog while the child places a treat under one of the upside down pots. She can move them around to mix them up a bit, and then have the child give the dog the find it cue as you release the dog. It won’t take long for your dog to learn to enjoy this game!
Find it: This is a progression of the shell game. The child can progress to hiding the treat in new and easy places around the room for your dog to find. It might be helpful for you to give the child suggestions of easy places, then medium, and finally harder places to hide the treat. Hold the dog until the child gives the find it cue.Hide and seek: Hold your dog and give the child a plastic cup with some dog treats in it. Have the child get the dog’s attention by rattling the treats inside the cup a bit, then moving quickly to an easy hiding place. As soon as the child gets hidden, release the dog and tell him to “find Lucy” (or whatever name you choose). Because your dog saw the child hide and knows there are treats involved, he will probably hurry to find the child. The child can then praise the dog and feed him treats with the cup. Using a cup is helpful to keep small fingers away from the dog’s mouth while he’s eating treats, so they don’t accidentally get nipped. Dogs can easily lick treats from the cup, or the child can dump the treats out of the cup onto the floor for the dog to eat. With practice, the child’s hiding spots can get harder and harder.
Tricks: Older children can help you teach the dog some tricks and will delight in showing off the tricks to anyone who will watch. This can be a great activity for children and dogs to do together, but again, be nearby and supervising. It is easy for a dog to get confused, or for a child to get frustrated, and you may need to intervene and call for a short break for them both to regroup.Obstacle course: You can create an obstacle course with objects you have around the house. Construct low things to jump over, or crawl through. Cardboard boxes can be cut and taped into just about any shape. Use different things for the dog to safely walk over, around and through. Make sure your dog is comfortable doing all the obstacles with you first, before you add the child into the picture. Then turn this into a game of follow the leader. The child can carry a cup of dog treats to lead the dog through the obstacles – over, around and through. You can make it a game where you hold a clicker or a small bell and when the child hears that sound, she should stop and offer the dog a few treats either from the cup or tossed to the floor. This will allow you to pinpoint good behavior from the dog as a bonus (not jumping, doing an obstacle correctly, etc.) and will keep the dog focused on following the child because he knows he will be getting treats along the way! You can even take turns and hold the dog while the child does the obstacles first, to “show the dog how to do them,” and then have the dog follow the child through.
An important rule is to always supervise children and dogs when they are together. If you need to leave the room, take one or the other of them with you. Children move fast, dogs move fast, and they don’t speak the same language. It is very easy for one of them to misinterpret something the other one does. It is when these misunderstandings happen, that one or the other can get hurt. Neither the dog nor the children can be expected to be able to make appropriate judgment calls. That is a responsible adult’s job. With appropriate supervision, a dog and child can become best friends. I hope you find that together they can enjoy some of these games safely!