German shepherds are working dogs at heart and require lots of physical activity. They are also very intelligent and need lots of mental stimulation. Bred to work, when these majestic dogs don’t have a ‘job,’ it’s easy for them to become frustrated and that’s when behavior problems ensue.
Many German shepherds are involved in dog sports, work in law enforcement, for the military, and other agencies. However, many more are simply family pets of those that love the breed. Fortunately, for those dogs whose job it is to be an adored family member, it’s easy to meet their physical, mental, and emotional needs by providing plenty of exercise and by playing games.
Playing games also fulfills another requirement of German shepherd ownership, which is spending lots of time with the dog. German shepherds require lots of socialization and companionship. As a herding dog, they were bred for their loyalty and ability to protect a herd. This characteristic causes them to form a strong bond with their owner and they do best spending time with their family.
Some games that German shepherds love, will burn off some energy, and as a bonus give their brain a zap of dopamine are:
Although basic, German shepherds have a high prey drive and most love to play fetch. Playing fetch is also great because it burns off a lot of pent up energy. You can kick up fetch a notch by alternating toys or only using favorite toys. Try throwing a treat stuffed toy, Frisbee, plastic stick, and toys that bounce and tumble like Westpaw Zogoflex and Kongs.
2. Hide and Seek
Like the name implies, you hide a toy and your dog finds it. German Shepherds have 225 scent receptors so they are naturally adept at this game. It is especially good for dogs that can no longer engage in high impact activities. For those that can, reward the dog by throwing the toy then hide it again.
3. Wave the Flirt Pole
German shepherds love to chase so attaching a soft piece of fabric or toy to the end of a flirt pole that you wave while they give chase to their ‘prey’ is a fun way to burn off extra energy. It’s perfect when you can’t get a long walk in and the opposite is also true – it can help burn off excited energy before going on a walk.
4. Urban Agility
Urban agility is a noncompetitive fun sport that can accommodate nearly all dogs. You simply set up an obstacle course and balancing equipment in the yard and train your dog to weave, jump, balance, and more. There are urban agility trainers, books, articles, and YouTube videos to give you ideas on what your dog might enjoy.
Teach your dog to tug which means, tugging enthusiastically, releasing the tug toy, and bringing the tug back after you release it. Tug should be fun and exciting for both owner and dog and it can be used as a training tool, to burn off energy, as a reward, or just for fun. There is a huge variety of tugs on the market so no doubt there is a tug for all dogs.
6. Search and Rescue
This game reinforces the stay command and also challenges your dog. Your dog stays while you hide, then the dog is released to ‘rescue’ you. This game works well with more than one person who can help restrain the dog or when multiple hide.
Teach your dog to find objects, food, or scents (using essential oils). Obviously food and treats is easer but once they get the hang of the game, you can make it more difficult and harness your dog’s natural desire to hunt down scents by hiding cotton balls that contain a scent, such as clove or eucalyptus oil. As your dog gains more confidence, you hide the scents in more challenging locations. You can learn more at the National Association for Canine Scent Work and there are books and videos available on the subject.
8. Stack the Rings
If you’re looking for something extra challenging that can also be played indoors, teaching your dog to stack rings uses a lot of physical and mental energy as well as requires patience on your part. This game is super rewarding because it is very mentally challenging. You can watch how it’s done here.
9. Pick Up Time
You can teach your dog to pick up nearly any toy and drop it into any basket or box. This game is also useful for teaching your dog to pick up their own toys or other objects on command. Relatively easy to learn, this game is immediately rewarding and can continuously switch up as you teach your dog to pick up and put away new things.
Have fun with these game ideas and be sure to share with your family and friends.