Playing with your pooch is the best part of your day – seeing that waggy tail and big toothy grin of excitement can’t fail to make you smile.
We want to keep that happiness in motion for years to come, and playing the right games with your dog will help them maintain healthy joints and an active lifestyle for years to come.
So what are the best and worst games for dogs? We spoke to Chloe White, registered Veterinary Nurse and the Partnerships Manager at Vetz Petz, to get the low down.
“First, it's best to stay consistent with any physical exercise, whether that be games or exercise. Don’t walk or play with your dog for ten minutes every weekday, and then do an hour session each weekend day. Stick to a time allocation you can manage every day. Otherwise, you risk straining your dog with too much vigorous exercise at the weekends.”
Whatever game you play with your dog, avoiding rapid speed and direction changes is best for their joint health . Screeching to a stop or spinning on the spot isn’t great for their long-term joint health and risks injury. This is especially true in puppies as their joints develop and senior dogs as their joint health may deteriorate with age.
Best games for dogs
1. Puzzle feeders
They are so many options to choose from, and puzzle feeders are brilliant mental exercise for your dog as they figure out how to get to their tasty treats! Start easy with something like a snuffle mat or simple game, and then increase the difficulty level as your dog gets better.
2. Scatter feeding
Low tech and cheap – dogs love scatter feeding. Grab a handful of kibble and scatter it around the floor or even out on the lawn. Watch those tails wag as they use their awesome sense of smell to snuffle around in search of their food. Scatter feeding is a fun activity if your dog is also on a weight loss plan, as it makes them work for their food.
3. Stuffed feeders
Special toys you can fill with food or treats encourage slower feeding and keep their brain busy as they lick every scrap out. They are great enrichment if you’re leaving them alone for any time, and on a hot day, you can freeze them. Pup ice lollies!
4. Hide and seek with treats/toys
First, get your dog excited with their favourite treats or squeaky toy. Make them sit and then hide them somewhere nearby while you have their attention. Give them a command for “find it” and let them grab it. You can build up the difficulty of hiding spots once your dog understands the game. It doesn’t have to just be treats and toys—you could even hide yourself!
5. Dog safe chew toys
The chew market is exploding right now, with everything from plastic chew-safe teeth cleaning toys, to Himalayan yaks milk chews, and chews made from the unmentionable parts of cattle anatomy! There is a chew for every taste! Avoid raw hide at all costs, and never give your dog cooked bones or chews that could splinter. A tough chew can keep your dog busy for hours. They might even take it away to hide it and spend time searching for it later. Either way, it keeps your dog’s brain and body active.
Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for your dog! 20 minutes of swimming can improve mobility in dogs with joint health problems. It’s a low-impact, safe exercise for dogs of all ages, from puppies to elderly senior dogs…and boy, do they love it! Check the water is calm, with no undercurrent, easy access, and no steep banks. You could even visit a local specialist.
7. Take a walk
Don’t forget gentle lead walking on flat surfaces will still provide lots of mental stimulation for your dog with low impact on their joints. Get out and explore together and let them have plenty of time to sniff. Finding and following scents is a natural behaviour for our dogs, but we often want to pull them away and keep them moving. Letting them sniff is fantastic for their mental health, especially for older, less mobile dogs.
Eek! So, time for the worst games to play with your dog (especially the pups and senior dogs). We’re not saying never play these games but avoid them as much as possible and take extra care if you indulge.
Worst games for dogs
1. Ball launchers
Yes, you can pick these up in every pet shop in the country, but did you know they’re REALLY bad for your dog’s joints? The distance they throw, means your dog goes from 0-60mph in seconds before screeching to a halt, spinning, throwing their head around, or launching into the air. The risk of injury is enormous. If you want a game of fetch, just use your hands to throw the ball, don’t throw it too far, or bounce it in front of them for them to catch. It’s just as fun for them, but much lower impact.
2. Tug of War
This is one that dogs adore, but it comes with so many risks (not least encouraging aggression). Yanking your dog’s head around can cause neck and spinal injuries. Sliding on the floor as they pull backward can hurt their feet and joints. Pulling hard against the toy risks jaw and teeth injuries (especially teeny puppy teeth). If you are going to play tug, keep the energy level low, and ensure your dog’s neck and body stay aligned.
3. Laser pointers
More commonly used in cat games, laser pointers are growing in popularity with dog owners as a game of chase. Firstly, the lack of any reward or ability to catch the light causes major frustration (in both cats and dogs). The main concern for your dog’s joints is that moving the pointer so fast results in abrupt turns, putting stress on your dog’s joints and muscles.
There are so many exciting, super fun, stimulating games you and your dog can enjoy. Avoid playing games that require sharp braking or quick turns to protect their joints. Keep them active and happy for years to come.
We’d love to see your dog in full play mode! Email us your snaps at here and your pooch might get a spot in the limelight.