Dog & Kids Training Games
Getting your child involved with dog training can be a fun and engaging learning opportunity. Framing activities as games is beneficial to keeping training sessions exciting for pups and kids alike.
The instructions offered in this article describe the steps involved in training a few simple behaviors. They are designed around positive training methods with a focus on easy behaviors to teach and an emphasis on fun.
These games assume that you have some familiarity with clicker training. That is, you understand that the clicker is used to “mark” the desired behavior the instant it is offered, always followed by a reward, usually a small piece of food your dog enjoys.
For younger children that may not have the advanced hand and eye coordination to time the clicker while training, work as a team. Have the adult mark the behavior with the clicker, and let the child dispense the reward. Older children will be able to handle both clicking and rewarding, building their own skillset as they learn the basics of dog training.
Hide and Seek
This training game gives your children a chance to turn a favorite game they understand into one that gets the family dog involved. It also trains a very valuable behavior in your dog: learning to come when called. Professional trainers call this “recall” and it can be a life saver should your dog get loose in a dangerous situation.
This training game will take at least two people, but it scales up very easily to accommodate several kids. Try this for a playdate or sleep over. It is a very easy game to play, making it appropriate for younger children.
- Give each child a Ziploc bag of treats cut into small pieces. Try chunks of cheese or hot dogs cut into thin slices. You can mix these “high value” rewards with regular dog kibble as well.
- Start the game by having the kids sit in a wide circle, taking turns calling the dog to them using the recall command. All of the other children should be still while the one who has called the dog can use gestures and sounds to get the dog’s attention.
- After each child has their turn, they can call out the name of the next person to go, so only one person at a time is calling the dog.
- Once the dog chooses to go to the child that called them, they get a treat and some praise. Most canines will take to this game quickly. The more fun and exciting it is the better.
- Once the dog is reliably coming when called, the kids can spread out, taking different hiding positions in the yard or in separate rooms of the house.
Dog trainers often talk about teaching puppies and dogs “impulse control.” This basically means any of a variety of behaviors that teach our pets that if they wait for something patiently, they will be rewarded. Ironically, this is something that many of us want to teach our children as well.
This particular activity is better for children 6 and up, with some adult help.
- Start with a bag of kibble or treats and a towel or mat laid on the floor. Encourage the dog to stand or sit on the mat using the treat as a bribe.
- Once your dog is on the mat, give them a few click-then-treats in succession to let them know they are doing well.
- Start to extend the time incrementally between treats, and taking very small moves away from the dog. If the dogs breaks the stay, you have progressed too quickly. It is always the handler’s job to set the dog up for success. Go back to a previous level, and reward for success.
- Once your dog is offering a stay on the mat for a pause of 15 seconds, with your child a few steps away, you are ready to add the “Stay” command. Continue to click and reward for successful attempts at more challenging trials.
- After you have a solid stay from your dog in a safe and familiar environment, move to a more challenging space such as the backyard. Adding distraction is another way to strengthen a desired behavior in your dog.
Target Stick Game
A fun and easy interactive game is to train “Target.” This fun trick can then be a building block skill for both your dog and your young trainer. Once mastered, it will unlock the potential to train complex dog tricks.
You can be creative with what you use for a targeting stick. Great examples include a yard stick with the tip colored with a marker, a dowel rod with a small ball attached to the end or even a special retractable targeting stick such as those used by professional trainers.
- The first step of this game is to make the target interesting enough for your dog to investigate the targeting tip. Have the youngster encourage the dog to “check out” the targeting point by being excited about it and moving it slowly away from the dog.
- Click and have the youngster reward when your dog touches a nose to the target. Keep it easy at first, trying to set the dog up for success so that you can click and reward often.
- Once the dog “gets it,” and is reliably seeking the target with their nose, have the child add the command “Target!” right before the dog touches their nose to the target.
- Once your dog is reliably targeting with the command, stop rewarding any targeting unless the “Target” command has been given.
- Over time, and multiple sessions, extend the challenge of this trick by asking for a sit, holding the target out and away from the dog, and then asking for “Target!” and then clicking and rewarding.
Targeting is a baseline skill for dogs to learn more complex skills. It can be used to train your dog to go “away” from the trainer and then return for their reward. More complex tricks such as teaching your dog to turn on/off lights, open and close the fridge, or do complex movement routines such as dog dancing all start with this basic training building block.
Short, Sweet and Successful
Both your kids and your dog will benefit most from short training sessions that stay positive and are focused on success. It is important to end a session before either gets tired or frustrated. This will keep them both looking forward to the fun interaction of positive training activities.
The potential for training games that fit your dog and your child’s skill level are endless. As the adult, you can help structure activities so they are focused on a single training technique, with a clear and singular goal or “criteria” of success.
When your youngster is ready for the next challenge, help them find new tricks they are excited about by watching videos or joining a local dog sport club such as agility or flyball to nurture their interest in dog training. You may be encouraging a fulfilling lifelong interest!
Mat Coulton has worked with dogs for just under a decade and is the founder of WileyPup.com, a doggy lover’s website that provides great tips and advice for pet parents everywhere.