Building on the Basic Behavior Plan for Shelter Dogs, these games can help shape behaviors before they become problems, or troubleshoot unwanted behaviors you have already noticed. All of these games help get and keep your dog’s attention, help him to find calm, or build positive associations, or make him easier to handle. And they are also helpful as mental exercise for dogs who need a little more brain work.
Easy Training Games for Adoptability and Enrichment
- Treat for Calm: A simple, fun way to create a quiet, stress-free (or less stress, at least) kennel environment is to reward the dogs for calm, quiet behavior. It is also a great way to impact multiple dogs in a short amount of time. Several time a days, walk through the kennel area, and hand out treats to any dog who is standing, sitting, or laying quietly. If you come to a dog who is barking, jumping, or showing any other behavior than calm quiet, pause for a second to see if the dog will offer the behavior on his own. If not, keep going to the next kennel, but come back from time to time to try to catch him being good!
- Gate Games: These are done from outside the kennel. Reward sits, downs, and eye contact by providing treats and verbal praise each time they execute the task, whether prompted or offered. You may find as you do this that the dogs in the nearby kennels fall quiet and begin to work for the treats as well – include them in the game! This is a simple way to reward and reinforce calm shelter behavior and increase adoption chances! As the dog(s) master these basic games, increase the duration of the behaviors and the distance from which you can ask for them.
Teach Advanced Skills
- Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program: The 10 items from the CGC test form the backbone of our group class, training plans, and individual sessions with our dogs. A dog who can pass the CGC is an adopter’s dream dog!
- Flip Finish (or “Swing” or “Flip”)
- Take It/Drop It game
- The Look at That! Game (LAT): This helps build a positive association with a stimulus and rewards good choices. “Yep, that’s a kitty/doggie. I see it too. No biggie.” Watch this video for a demo.
- Leave it Game: Start working on impulse control with the “It’s Yer Choice” game.
Be a team through Focus Games
Teach a dog important focus and self-control skills with games like:
- Leslie McDevitt’s Doggie Zen: The dog learns the key to getting what she wants is to focus on her handler.
- Leslie McDevitt’s Pattern Games: These simple games help your dog learn to focus on you, re-orient to you in key moments, and react to your movements.
- “Ask Permission” Game: This game teaches the dog that doing what you want means you’ll do what she wants together.
- “Follow the Leader” Game: Turns “chase me!” into a recall/walk with me game.
- Find It: Encouraging the dog to use her nose during can help her stay calm and relaxed while she is focused on something other than her stress triggers.
- Dr. Sophia Yin’s Focus Exercises: Simple, structured walking patterns that aim to teach your dog how to walk next to you.
Settle Games for Impulse Control
Settle exercises help your dog learn patience, impulse control, and socially appropriate ways to getting what she wants:
- Dr. Karen Overall’s Protocol for Relaxation – each week, we start our group class with this activity (Days 1-5) to help the dogs settle and focus in on their handlers.
- Suzanne Clothier’s Really Real Relaxation Exercise We use this game at the end of our group class to help end on a calm note.
- Off Switch Game: This game helps your dog gain confidence and self-control even if an activity becomes very stimulating.
- Give Me a Break Game: Teaches your dog to ask to work.