By Elizabeth Xu
When the weather’s nice, no one wants to be stuck indoors—especially kids and dogs. Both love to run around, enjoy the sunshine and play endlessly.
As a parent and a dog owner, it can be a little tricky to make both happy. Going to a dog park seems like a simple option, but often, they don’t allow kids. And parks made for kids usually say that dogs aren’t allowed.
Spending time with your kids and dogs as one big pack makes sense. Your dogs are part of your family, after all. More importantly, combining kid and dog activities together can take away any jealously that might occur, says Elisha Stynchula, certified trainer and owner and president of “I Said Sit” School for Dogs in Los Angeles, California.
“I brought home a 9-week-old Belgian Tervuren when my daughter was 4 years old, so I immediately knew I had to find games that would involve both of them,” she says. “They both require a lot of attention, and I wanted to be sure that they grew up enjoying each other, not resenting the other, or with any jealousy.”
So instead of finding separate activities for your kids and pets, try some outdoor activities that will make everyone happy—and ready to sleep come bedtime. Here are some games for dogs to play that kids can enjoy, too.
Whether your pup already knows “down,” “sit” and “spin” or is still learning these commands, you can turn it into a game. It will be especially fun for kids to help hand out the treats.
“Training can be done indoors and outdoors depending on the nature of the game,” says Alexandra Bassett, lead trainer and behaviorist at Dog Savvy Los Angeles in California. “In general, it's best to start training indoors in a low-distraction environment and then move the training outdoors once a dog has a sense of what's expected of [him].”
This type of dog training is fun for both kids and pets. Using lots of treats, the dog is taught to “station” on a footstool or low table that’s only used for training, Stynchula says.
“If the dog is occupied with being on the ‘table,’ [he] can’t also be jumping on or knocking over kids,” she says, noting that other dog training activities can then take place while your pup is on the table.
This one can be fun for kids, too. “My daughter loves getting our puppy to go to the table and then jump through a hula hoop,” Stynchula says. “It’s like they have their own little circus.”
Going through an obstacle course can be a good way to expend an active dog’s extra energy, and your child will enjoy getting creative in designing the course. Use PVC pipe and hula hoops as jumping obstacles, sturdy plywood for ramps and cardboard boxes for tunnels.
If these objects are unfamiliar, your child will likely need to have lots of treats ready to encourage your pup, and can even show them how to maneuver through the obstacles.
“[Hide and seek] helps a dog learn to look for whoever calls them when they hear their name or a recall cue… it also helps a dog learn to come when they are otherwise engaged,” Bassett says.
To start the game, have your child hide behind a tree, bush or anything else where the dog can’t readily see them, then call out the dog’s name or ask them to come, if your dog knows that command. When the dog finds the child, have the child react with excitement or by offering dog treats, Bassett suggests.
If your dog is the type that doesn’t mind working for their treats, there are several dog activities you could consider, such as scent games that put their nose to work. Simply have your child hide a treat while the dog watches, then allow the dog to get the treat. After they both understand the game, you can make it more difficult, Stynchula suggests.
“Then the child will make it harder by pretending to hide the treat in a few places, with the dog watching, and then hide it after a few fake spots,” she says. “This will cause the dog to have to start using [his] nose and search for the treat.”
An old standby when it comes to games for dogs to play, fetch is simple for both kids and dogs. A stick toy, ball or disc are all good dog fetch toys.
If your dog doesn’t seem interested in giving up the item they’ve fetched at first, Bassett recommends using two fetch toys. Show the dog the second ball and they should drop the first. Eventually you’ll only need one, she says.
Safety should be a priority for both kids and dogs while playing outdoor games.
One of the biggest rules for kids and dogs is supervision: “Dogs over 25 pounds can easily overpower small children, so a parent should always be present to ensure that interactions remain pleasant,” Bassett says.
If your child doesn’t yet know how to read a dog’s body language, consider having that conversation before starting any of these dog activities. Bassett says signs of stress include growling, seeing the whites of the dog’s eyes, and the dog trying to run away from a child.
“Children should be taught early to learn to read [a dog’s] body language and respect a dog's space,” she says.