Dancing Hearts Blog

Games to Play with Herding Dogs Pt 2

Games to play with bored herding dogs

More Games to Play with Herding Dogs When You Don’t Have Sheep in Your Backyard

Remember: Herding dogs not only require serious physical activity every single day, but they need serious mental activity too. Thinking is one of the things herding dogs are great at, and they’re not truly happy without daily mental exercise.

Most of us don’t have sheep in their backyard…so what is the next best thing?

Play interesting games that provide physical AND mental exercise! This is part 2, so if you missed the first part, click here to read it.

Here’s my list again of the important elements you need to include in all of your games so that you ARE providing mental exercise:

Games that include these important life skills are perfect for exercising herding dogs AND they utilize their natural herding instincts and qualities:

  • Taking Turns (Learning Patience)
  • Staying Focused (Learning Impulse Control)
  • Being Attentive (Learning to be Responsive to You)
  • Search/Find (Learning Dedication to Complete a Task)
  • Retrieve (Learning to Bring YOU Valuable Things)

You can be creative with inventing games that include these skills … one of my favorites is Find It…and my next fav is Hide ‘n Seek. Below are the simplified version of the games so you can get started right away:

Game #1: “Find it”

My first dog as an adult, out on my own was a standard poodle name Max. Max loved this game. I can’t remember the exact number anymore, but I believe Max knew the names of 50 different toys/objects that he would go search for and bring to me upon request.

He was so good, that he could identify different colors of the identical object…like the yellow tball or the blue tball. And he could pick out different objects of the same color, like the blue tball and the blue rope.

This is a game that is fun, mentally stimulating and relatively quiet, so you can easily play this inside on a rainy day.

Step 1. Start with one of your dogs toys, and give it a name as you are playing. Let’s say it’s a red ball. After a few repetitions, your dog will associate that name with that particular object.

Step 2. Next, take the red ball, and put it behind your back or somewhere easy that your dog clearly knows where it is…you dog SAW you hiding it. Ask your dog in a playful way..”where’s your red ball?” “find your red ball”…encouraging your dog to ‘find’ the red ball, either by touching it, and/or taking it, then giving it back to you. Celebrate success!

Step 3. Then, fake a throw of the red ball, and when your dog is looking away, quickly put the ball behind your back again. Repeat the playful encouragement to ‘find the red ball’. Have a party when your dog finds it!! Let your dog use its nose and its mind to figure out where the ball is. You can give hints, if your dog seems confused at first…like flash the red ball out and back again. Or, look directly at where the ball is hiding.

Step 4. Now, you’ll hide the red ball in a more challenging location, like under the couch, or behind a pillow. Repeat. Then, you’ll hide it a little further away. Repeat this until you can hide the red ball just about anywhere, and your dog will find it…you can move around, pretending to look for the red ball with your dog until the game is really understood.

Step 5. Then, start the entire process over again with a different toy. And then another. At some point, you will be able to have two or three toys together, and ask your dog to find a particular one, celebrating when your dog picks out the correct one.

Ultimately, your dog will be able to run over to the toy box and pick out the toy you have requested…for a really fun game of fetch!

Kathy Kawalec with Dallas, Reno and Haley
Kathy with her dogs in 1999 (l-r) Dallas, Reno and Haley. Dallas and Haley are waiting on the rainbow bridge. Reno is 15 and enjoying retirement in 2013.


Game #2 Hide ‘n Seek

I love this game for soooooo many reasons. It’s great fun. It teaches dogs to find family members. It teaches dogs to be attentive to you. It teaches dogs to be responsible for keeping you in their sight at all times, which is a crucial life skill. It’s an awesome way to spend quality time indoors when the weather is awful. Outside, it can be more ‘energetic’ and involve lots of running and play.

I remember frequently playing this game with my three dogs Dallas, Reno and Haley. Oh my gosh, what fun we had…me, being inventive on where I could quickly hide. The dogs, loving the game so much that I could barely hide from them because they became so savvy. I would often start an instant flash mob kind of game with no warning. We all had such a blast!

Everybody loves a game of hide ‘n seek, right? Two things that make this game possible is the way dogs gather information. Dogs look for movement and silhouettes. So, if you are perfectly still, and you camouflage your silhouette by being next to a wall, piece of furniture etc…you can ‘hide’ from your dog in plain sight…for just long enough to make the game interesting. Fun!

Step 1. You casually get up and go somewhere, like to the bathroom. As you enter the bathroom, you slip behind the door which is ajar, and just hold still. If your dog doesn’t come looking for you, make a fun sound, like whistle or smooch, or giggle. Then be quiet again, while your dog looks for you. Give hints if your dog doesn’t get it at first. When your dog ‘finds’ you: laugh, play and run out of your hiding place, while your dog runs with you. “Good dog!”

Step 2. The moment you see your dog gets distracted…maybe she runs to get a toy because you are in a playful mood…you go hide again. Duck behind a chair, around a corner hugging the wall, behind a door, on the other side of the bed…you get the idea. Again, give fun little sound hints if your dog isn’t actively looking for you, but do be a bit patient, so they get to ‘work’ at it.

Step 3. At some point, you’ll find that you can’t get away from your dog. As soon as that happens, you’ll need a distraction. The best one is to throw a toy and while your dog runs for the toy, you go in the other direction and hide quickly. Or, you can pretend to ‘end the game’ and as soon as your dog relaxes and goes to do something else…you go hide again.

If your dog LOVES the game, you can hide sneakily. If your dog isn’t that excited yet, then let your dog see you hide. What you’ll do is the human version of the play bow towards your dog, laugh and go running away, inviting your dog to chase you. Then you duck into your hiding place. Your dog will easily find you, and you go running away again to a new place while your dog chases you again. Such fun!!

Step 4. Play with another person…or more! While one person hides, the other person invites the dog to ‘find Mary’. “where’s Mary?” “where did Mary go?” “Find Mary”…you can help at first if needed. Then while the dog and Mary are partying about the find, you go hide and Mary repeats the process. “Where’s John?”

Step 5. You can move this game to multiple levels of your house, like upstairs or the basement. And, you can move it outside too.

This game is a great way to teach your dog to be reliable off leash…simply because your dogs will not let you out of their sight! Start where it’s safe, like a fenced yard, and move it to unfenced (but still very safe) areas when your dog is glued to you like fly to poop. lol.

Have fun!

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10 Responses

  1. wow , amazing thank you soo much I rescue border collies , so I have 22 living with me now , it has been really helpfull all your advice , Thanks a lot

  2. I don’t have a herding dog, but anything that helps my relationship with my non-herding dogs could be valuable.

  3. Great activities with purpose! Thanks SO much. I’ll get started on these and use them this winter when we can’t work sheep!

  4. what kind of dog is shown in the top picture that is white and black with the tan markings? It looks like my pup but I found mine as a stray and do not know what she is.

    1. It looks like my dog also! When we got him, we were told he was half border collie, half black lab. But after doing some research, we’re convinced he’s probably a New Zealand heading dog.

    2. Amanda, do you mean the dog that’s in the photo at the very top with the red banner across it?

      That’s my border collie, Luc. He’s all border collie! 🙂

  5. These are great ideas. My collie is 9 years old, we’ve had her since she was a puppy. But we’ve always had issues playing with her, because she will play for a few seconds, then stop and start barking. Especially fetch. I’ll throw the ball/toy/frisbee, she’ll look at it and bark. Any advice?

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