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Hide-and-Seek: The Best Dog Play Activity Ever?

Teaching your dog to play hide-and-seek is a fun workout for brain and body. Here's how to teach your dog this playground favorite.

Hide-and-Seek: The Best Dog Play Activity Ever?

One of the best parts of having a dog companion is playing with your furry friend. Dog play can take many forms, from tug-of-war to fetch. If you’re looking for a new game that will stay fun and challenging for both of you, think about hide-and-seek.

Hide-and-seek is a great game for just about any dog, says Sherry Woodard, animal behavior consultant at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. “I’ve seen old dogs play this game and even lazy dogs get up and play,” she says. It’s good exercise for both the dog’s body and brain because she’ll have to think and walk around to search for you.

It’s surprisingly easy to get this dog play started. Just follow these simple steps and you’ll be hiding and seeking in no time:

  1. Get His Attention
    Using a favorite toy or a treat, get the dog’s attention. It helps to have someone to hold the dog, so she doesn’t simply follow you — which would make for a short game indeed. Kathy Santo, an award-winning dog trainer in Ramsey, New Jersey and author of Kathy Santo’s Dog Sense, suggests making the game fairly easy at first. “Run away, calling the dog’s name, and hide somewhere easy, like behind a chair. It’s okay to let the dog see you do this,” she says.
  2. Call Out
    Call the dog so he can start figuring out where to look for you. Interestingly, Woodard says, dogs will start off the game using visual and voice cues, but then revert to their instincts and use scent. “They use their nose so much that they’ll go by the person hiding and then turn when their nose catches the scent,” she says. This gives them a chance to use their dog instincts.
  3. Celebrate Your Dog’s Win
    When your dog finds you, make it a big celebration so he’s encouraged to not get distracted or discouraged during the game. Use praise, belly rubs, treats or hand over his favorite toy — whatever his currency is. Santo suggests tossing some kibble on the floor, so the dog doesn’t try to jump on you.
  4. Get the Whole Family Involved
    You can hold the leash while one or more of your children hide and tell the dog to go find them. “One of the families that trains at my school has four kids, and when they play hide-and-seek, they use the dog to find the ones that are hiding. They call it ‘search and rescue’ and the dog loves it!” says Santo. Some dogs even play it with other pets in the household!
  5. Watch Out for Potential Pitfalls
    To avoid dog frustration or boredom, make it easy for the dog to find you at first. Then add complexity as the dog learns how to play. Make sure you aren’t reinforcing otherwise unwanted behavior such as door scratching, jumping on people or climbing and that the places you hide are ones your dog perceives as safe, says Woodard.

    And if your dog has a tendency toward the opportunistic, this might not be the right dog play activity. “If you have the type of dog who thinks that you going out-of-sight is a perfect opportunity to start chewing on the couch, then you need to make sure the dog is really into this game before you start,” says Santo.

Hide-and-seek is a great workout for your dog’s brain and body, and a wonderful way to build a strong bond between you and your dog through play. It lets your dog be a dog — and isn’t that what he does best?

For more ideas for your playful pup, read 8 Ideas for Fun Dog Outings.

Amy Kura lives in Detroit with her family of four people and three pets — a beagle mutt named Dobby and two gorgeous cats named Toonses and Francesca.