Dog bonding exercises are the key to keeping your best friend healthy and happy. From sporting events to simple one-on-one fun you’ll find an activity that keeps your relationship strong.
Bonding with your dog is a lifelong pursuit filled with moments of deep trust and loyalty. Here are some ways to connect with your dog on a deeper level. The golden rule when you’re practicing any of these bonding exercises is to keep your cool. If you find that you get frustrated with one activity, try another or shelve it for the day. As you work at bonding with your dog, remember it should be fun for both of you, it’s more than okay to experiment with these until you find the right fit-Even better, learn them all!
Hide and seek is an ideal bonding experience for you and your dog.
Hide and seek is one of the first dog bonding exercises you’ll come across, it’s fun for both you and your dog, which may not be true of other exercises.
Start out in the house. Award-winning dog trainer Kathy Santos tells us to begin with some easy wins. Hide and seek is best played with a dog that can hold a sit and stay, but you can have another person hold him in place if needed.
Take some of your dog’s favorite treats and hide them in a nearby, easy spot. You can even hide them behind a chair or somewhere else where your dog can see you. Next call your dog’s name, when he comes to you heap on the praise and rewards. Bonding achieved!
You’ll love watching his hide and seek skills evolve as he learns how to play. “I’ve seen old dogs play this game, and even lazy dogs get up and play,” says animal behavior consultant Sherry Woodard. It’s a whole body and brain exercise.
After your dog has learned to play, start to increase the difficulty. Mix up the hiding places and be sure he has to work to find you. If you do, you’ll see him start to use all his dog senses to suss you out. Woodard notes that at first, you’ll see him respond to voice cues, but gradually he’ll choose to use his nose.
Play fetch with your dog.
Great for bonding indoors and out, fetch not only reinforces the thrill of playing together; it helps your dog with the habit of coming and releasing what’s in his mouth- An important behavior for emergencies.
Since fetch involves some exertion, it’s also perfect for keeping your dog healthy and happy. The one caveat? Not all dogs have that innate, Retriever love for fetch- You may be giving some lessons. But don’t despair, fetch is easily taught. The bonding begins as he learns to trust that new activities will be rewarding and fun.
Unlike sit and stay or even hide and seek, the retrieve is a complex behavior, and there are several steps involved when it comes to training:
Designate a Fetch Toy
To make the exercise more distinguishable for your dog, most trainers agree in starting with one toy that always means fetch. Introduce the toy to your dog by placing it on the ground.
Get your dog to touch the toy
For this exercise, it’s critical that your dog realizes the importance of the toy. After all, bonding occurs when you’re both pursuing the same goal. Use your clicker for encouragement as your dog shows an interest in the toy. Reward as he gets closer and make each step toward touching it a celebration. Eventually, your dog will realize that the toy means good things, typically he’ll nudge it with his nose then mouth it. Show your encouragement with love and treats when this happens
Have your dog pursue the toy
Now that he’s connected the fact that the toy in his mouth equals good things, you can push him a little further. Toss the toy a little ways away and, if he’s made the connection, he’ll either chase it or at least show interest. If he doesn’t pursue the toy, don’t worry. Place it back on the ground nearby but far enough away that he has to move to get it. Use patience and reward him as he once again shows interest.
Reinforce the command
Put the toy back on the ground in front of your feet. When he takes it in his mouth, place your hand under the toy and get him to let go-heap on the praise! Keep repeating this exercise with your dog using your clicker and treats.
Test his skills!
Now that he’s reliably giving you the toy toss it a few feet away and chances are he’ll get the idea. Gradually increase the length of your throw to keep the challenge alive. Once your dog learns to fetch, you can incorporate sits, stays, and a variety of other commands to keep things interesting.
Fetch is a timeless dog bonding exercise that, once mastered, allows for further obedience training. Once your dog discovers that learning is a fun way to spend time, you’ll find a developed eagerness to focus. Take advantage of it and enjoy watching him blossom.
Agility training with your dog
While agility training is a competitive sport, you’ll find that most of the real work is done one-on-one with your dog. The more dynamic the course, the better your opportunity to get out and get some great exercise! Not an athlete? No worries, you can distance train commands if you need to.
If you’ve seen a dog agility race in action, it won’t surprise you to learn that it’s the fastest-growing canine sport in America. First introduced at Crufts in 1978 as a half-time show, it’s become nothing short of a movement in the world of dogs. Agility is ideal for bonding with your dog because the courses are far too complicated for a dog to navigate without a handler’s direction.
The official dog agility course has seven different exercises that must be mastered for competitions:
- Weave Poles
- Standard Jumps
- Pause Table
- Tire Jump
- Teeter Board
Each exercise poses a challenging training opportunity and a chance at some fantastic bonding time. Still, keep in mind that many of the tasks are high impact and are not suited for the delicate, growing joints of puppies.
AKC Executive Agility Field Representative Arlene Spooner says, “What a dog can jump and what they should jump are two different things.” Be sure you’re keeping your expectations reasonable, it’s easy to get caught up in the fun of this pastime!
Dogs that excel in agility need to be well socialized, meaning they need to be comfortable with both human and canine strangers. If your dog is exceptionally timid or tends to be aggressive, competitions are probably not the right place for him.
Multiple organizations oversee this sport like USDAA, the NADAC, and the AKCA take a few minutes to look over the sites and decide which one is the right fit for you and your dog. Another thing to consider, to excel at agility, your dog should be well versed in basic commands. A refresher exercise in obedience is never a bad idea.
The nose knows!
Much like agility, nose work is becoming increasingly popular with dog parents. It’s a fun and exciting exercise that makes you realize just how extraordinary your pup really is. Achieving an understanding of how he sees the world around him is a timeless bonding experience.
Nose work is rewarding because it’s all about bringing out his inner instincts. All dogs are hunters at their cores, and it’s truly amazing to see this sense in action. We are big fans of scent work since it can help you bond with any dog, regardless of age or physical ability. The AKC has often called nose work “sniffing with rules,” so it should be no surprise that dogs of every ilk love it!
Nose work fuses a strength your dog already possesses with a goal you determine for him. Let him demonstrate his superpower, and you’ll see his confidence soar. Humans have five million scent receptors in our noses, dogs? Five hundred million! Get ready to be humbled.
You can create a nose work range that your dog will love with a few cardboard boxes and some yummy treats. Professional courses are another option. Since this exercise has such a vast following, chances are your town will have a community of trainers in place. Try K9 nose work for advice or a trainer near you.
Rally obedience will keep you bonding with your dog for a lifetime! There are always new exercises to learn and team challenges to meet. At its core, this sport is about building a partnership. Rally obedience or Rally-O is a combination of obedience training and agility coursework.
“Rally Style Obedience was created to provide a forum for obedience training that emphasizes fun and excitement for the dog, handler, and spectator.” says author Pat Miller. “The Rally handler may repeat verbal and hand signal cues without penalty, and may follow a cue with praise or encouragement.”
Unlike classic obedience competitions that can be cold and rigid, Rally-O is all about the bonding experience. Agility enthusiast Charles Kramer created it in 1998 as trainers were lamenting the fading interest in dog obedience competitions. Kramer hypothesized that this loss of interest was due to a traditional, old school approach to dog competition and training.
Rally-O combines aspects of equestrian events and Road Rally for cars. In rally obedience, signs are used rather than a judge’s direction. It’s all done at a walking pace making it a popular activity for those with disabilities. The bond between dog and handler is palpable in Rally Obedience, check out a few YouTube videos and you’ll see the joy in these simple competitions.
Most of us know that nothing compares to that feeling you get when you’re paired up on a winning team or partnership. There’s something magical that happens when minds are working toward the same goal! We encourage you to explore that feeling with your dog, the bond you achieve will be lifelong.
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