When you're taking care of a dog who doesn't belong to you, playing games can help him warm up to you and feel engaged with a family element. Dogs are social creatures, and playing games is one way they relate to each other and to their human friends. The games you play might not be the same as what his owners do; it's best to stick to safe games that won't get him riled up.
Most pooches instinctively love to chase moving objects, so throwing toys in the backyard is a no-brainer. Every dog plays it a little differently, however. Some can't wait to fetch the toy and bring it back to you, while others just want to catch it and promptly sit down to chew it into submission. Then there are the pups whose favorite game is keep away. Once he catches the toy, his favorite part begins: watching you run after him, trying to regain control of the toy to throw it again. Regardless of how the game is played, tossing toys gives the dog some exercise while you two bond a bit.
Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is versatile enough to work inside or outside, so there's no need to fret on rainy days. Drop a handful of treats in your pocket, then sneak into a different room and call for the pooch you're caring for. Squat beside a couch or hide behind a door so the dog has to look around a bit for you. When he finds you using either his ears or his super sniffer, reward him with a treat. Bring a toy into the mix so you're not always the one hiding. Tell him to find the toy. Call to him from your hiding spot, and when he finds you, show him the toy and tell him, "You found the toy!" before giving him a treat. After a few times, hide the toy somewhere fairly obvious and tell the pooch to find the toy. Point him into the right room, then reward him with a treat when he succeeds.
Teaching the furry fella a few simple tricks might not seem like a game to you, but it often does to him. He enjoys getting undivided attention from a human companion and the treats that go along with training time. Try some basic commands first, such as "sit" or "speak," to find out which ones he already knows. Work on some others, such as "shake," "down" or "roll over." Use a treat to help guide his movements. For example, hold the treat in front of his nose and lower it to the ground, saying "down." His head should follow the treat, but don't let it go until his body hits the ground too. In addition to treats, use lots of praise and petting with each achievement to keep it fun.
To Tug or Not to Tug?
When the dog you're caring for brings you his favorite thick rope for a game of tug, think twice before grabbing hold of the other end. Some dogs take tug seriously, using it as a way to set the pack order. As an owner, you can set yourself up as the alpha leader in many ways over a long period, making the occasional game of tug fun and without the intention of asserting dominance. However, as a short-term caregiver, you don't have the time to set yourself up as the leader. If you let go while playing tug, the pooch might think he has the upper hand. If you don't, he could get aggressive quickly to try to prove he's dominant.