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Games to keep kids and canines at play

The “new dog” honeymoon is over, so now what? “Today” contributor Tamar Geller offers tips to keep your children interested in the family dog.
/ Source: TODAY

The kids pleaded and begged you for a dog.  They even whined a bit as they promised they would definitely take care of it — telling you it’s the one thing in the whole world they really, really, really want. You succumbed, you gave in and you got a family dog. 

It’s been a few weeks and the newness of having a dog has worn off for the kids — their attention to the dog is dwindling. The reality of all the work involved in taking care of a dog has set in and the responsibility is competing with all the other life, school and social responsibilities that the kids have. Mom and Dad are left holding the poop bag, so to speak, and it even looks like the dog may be suffering from a lack of attention and interaction.  What can you do? 

The best way to keep kids interested in the dog and teach the dog manners at the same time — is to have them play some fun and exciting games together. Games that have a purpose, that will keep the kids and the dog occupied for a good amount of time and will focus them on something other than a chore. They will BOTH love it! 

Here are three of my all-time favorites: 

Hide and Seek
This game is played in several distinct stages. Give your kids some yummie treats for their pockets. 

  • Have them spread out indoors (we don’t want the dog to run away) and, one at a time, call the dog by name.  When the dog comes to the child calling his name, he gets a treat, as the child repeats “come” several times. This should be done with each child for a little while. 
  • Once the dog gets the hang of this, the kids take turns hiding and calling the dog by name. The dog will have fun looking for them and, once found, the child gives him a treat, again repeating “come.” 
  • After a while, when the kids hide they put the two commands together by calling “come” and the dog’s name, giving him a treat when he finds them. 
  • Eventually, when the dog finds them, they give him the treat and repeat their name, so the dog learns who he is finding. 
  • Lastly, one child will simply tell your dog to find another child by telling him to “find Johnnie” and the dog will search for the child he has learned is Johnnie.   

Kong stuffing
Assemble as many Kongs as kids and ten glass jars (so the kids can easily see what’s in them), filling each jar with a different yummie goodie for the dog. Make sure the goodies are in small pieces and not creamy (like peanut butter) they have to be things that the dog won’t have too much trouble getting out of the Kong. Each child fills their Kong with a combination of the threetreats they think the dog will like best. Once filled, all Kongs are put down at the same time and the one that the dog goes to first is the winner. 

Musical chairs
This game is for several kids, each with a dog.  Set up one less chair than the number of kids playing.  Each child has his dog on a leash and yummie treats in their pocket. The music plays while the kids and their dog circle the chairs.  The music stops and the kids have to sit — the one with no chair to sit on is eliminated — but there’s a fun catch, the kids can’t sit on an empty chair until they get their dog to sit first!  Since this is a competition, encourage your kids to practice teaching your dog to “sit” in between games to increase their chance of winning.

Remember, when you take on a family pet, it’s ultimately a family responsibility. A child’s attention span is variable according to age and maturity, but my experience is that the honeymoon period for most kids with a new dog tends to be about two weeks. 

It’s not enough to get a dog “for the kids.” A pet should not be a temporary playmate for them, but a lifelong member of the family who depends on everyone, especially the adults. Teaching your children about pet care and training is always much more palatable as a game than as an assigned chore.  And much more FUN for both your kids and your dog!