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Free and Easy Outdoor Dog Training Activities

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David Adams

March 05, 2024

Dog Training

Free and Easy Outdoor Dog Training Activities thumbnail

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Are you looking for some interesting outdoor activities to do with your dog? Look no further. We’ve put together some of our favorite outdoor dog training activities, all of which can be done at a Sniffspot.

What is dog training?

Dog training at its most basic means teaching a dog to do (or not do) certain things. You probably already know this, and more than likely, you’ve taken part in some kinds of dog training. Maybe you’ve taught your dog to sit or stay, or taught them not to bark at the mail carrier. 

There are several common types of dog training, including obedience training, behavioral training, agility training, and therapy training. You should always work with a licensed trainer for all types of “serious” training, such as behavioral training, and if you’re ever uncertain about anything behavior-related with your dog, consulting your trainer is always the best thing to do. 

But you can also train your dog to do activities that are purely for their own enrichment. Enrichment refers to activities that stimulate the dog’s mind. Enrichment activities usually make the dog think, solve a problem, or use their instincts in interesting ways. 

There are many different types of enrichment for dogs, and one fun and rewarding option is to train your dog to perform special activities or play games. Your options here are limitless, but in this article, we’ll cover some great outdoor activities for dogs that would be perfect to do at a Sniffspot.

It’s important to note that if your dog seems frustrated or not willing to engage in a given activity, then that activity is not actually enriching for your dog, so you should try other options. The key is to start simple and figure out what type of enrichment is best for your individual dog!

Outdoor games for dogs

Dog scent training games: You can train your dog to use their excellent sense of smell to find things, and have fun doing it. 

  • Hide and snack: hide some dog treats somewhere safe in the backyard, then allow them to find them using their nose. 
  • Pick a hand: Put a treat in one of your hands, put your hands behind your back, and switch the treat into the other hand. Hold out your fists and let your dog sniff them. Wait for the dog to paw or nose at one of your hands, then open the hand to reveal whether the hand contains a treat. 
  • Simple scenting game: gather a few cardboard boxes and some high-value (and highly-scented) dog treats. Put the treat in one of the boxes while the dog isn’t looking, then set the “treat box” among the other boxes. When the dog finds the treat, praise them and give them a “bonus treat.” Put a new treat in the same box, rearrange the boxes, and repeat.

sniffing dog

Focus games for dogs:

  • The name game: This is a very simple but valuable exercise that reinforces the behavior of your dog looking at you when you say their name. Just say your dog’s name, and give them a treat every time they look at you. Repeat as many times as you want (but try not to do it so long that the dog gets sick of it). This is a great warm-up game to play to get your dog focused.
  • Find the toy: Get two boxes and a toy your dog loves. Have your dog sit, and let them watch you place the toy under one box. Shuffle the boxes around and tell your dog “find the toy!” (Or a similar cue you like.) If your dog is confused, you can help them by nudging or pointing to the correct box. When they find the toy, praise him and give him a treat.
  • The shell game: get two opaque plastic cups and turn them upside down. While your dog watches, place a treat under one of the cups. Give them a cue to come turn over the cup and get the treat. Repeat several times until it’s clear your dog understands the game. Then, begin alternating which cup you place the treat under. When your dog selects the right cup, let them have the treat. If the dog selects the wrong cup, show them the treat under the right cup, but don’t let them eat it. Keep having them watch which cup you place the treat under, so that they can guess the right cup. (This might sound easy for a human, but it’s a challenging game for many dogs!)
  • “Leave it” practice: Leash your dog and toss a treat somewhere in the yard that is out of their reach. They will strain toward it at first. Wait for them to stop pulling, and when they finally stop and look up toward you, give them a treat. Finally, walk toward the first treat (the one you threw), keeping a loose leash. Repeat as necessary until your dog understands. (Later, you can add the “leave it” cue, but if this is your dog’s first time learning this skill, just keep it without the cue for now.)
  • Eye contact practice: This is another great simple practice activity, and one that is recommended by the AKC. Simply hold a treat to your forehead and reward your dog with another treat when they look at you. Eventually, you can lose the treat on your forehead and just use a hand signal, but if this is your dog’s first time doing it, or if you’re doing it in a new environment (like a fun new backyard), stick with the treat and practice over and over. This is a great way to teach your dog to pay attention to you when you need them to, even in a distracting environment.


Outdoor games to play with your puppy: If you’re playing outside with a puppy, stick to games and training activities that keep them fairly close to you, and remember to keep the games simple. Here are some ideas for puppy training games:

  • Hide and seek, puppy style: Hide behind a tree or another object (stick nearby and don’t choose a difficult hiding place). Say your puppy’s name every few seconds until they find you. They’ll be very excited when they do!
  • Tug-of-war: Choose a rope toy or another toy that you only want to use for tug-of-war. This is the perfect time to teach your puppy what is acceptable to chew and tug on! If they try to pick up anything else to play tug-of-war with, redirect them back to the appropriate tug-of-war toy.
  • Fetch, puppy styleTeaching your dog to fetch is more of a process than most people realize, so you’ll need to modify the game to make it doable for puppies. Play with a soft toy that’s small enough for your puppy to carry. Throw the toy a short distance, and try walking or running alongside the toy so your puppy understands they’re supposed to run after the toy. If they do figure out to run after the toy, praise them and offer them treats. They probably won’t won’t get all the way to actually fetching, so don’t expect too much. Just treat this as a practice run and have fun!
  • The name game: this game, mentioned above, is especially great for puppies who are just learning their name. Put a treat to your forehead and reward the puppy with another treat every time they look at you when you say their name. If the puppy is brand new to you, this might take a while. Just take your time and be patient.

dog chasing ball

Advanced dog training exercises: 

  • Advanced shell game: Place a treat under the left cup, then switch the cups’ places by sliding them over (so that the cup containing the treat is now on your right side). Release your dog to find the treat. If they guess correctly, give them the treat. If not, show them the treat but don’t let them have it.
  • New trick: This fun game rewards your dog for creativity. The premise is that the dog gets a reward for a “new” behavior (e.g. one you haven’t trained them to do before). The idea is that you say “new trick,” and your dog does a new “trick” (which can really be anything new), then gets a reward for it once–but not if they do it again. This is obviously a complex behavior, so if you’re just starting out with this game, start very simple. You can set down a novel object (like a box or any household item) next to the dog, then reward them for looking at it or sniffing it, etc. Don’t reward the same thing more than once. Once your dog gets the hang of the game, you can expand it to lots of fun new tricks.
  • Advanced hide and seek: Do the same basic thing as a normal hide and seek game, but add more human players to increase the difficulty. 
  • Advanced retrieving: If your dog has already mastered retrieving, there are lots of fun ways you can step up the retrieval behavior to make it more challenging. Whole Dog Journal has a great list of the different types of retrievals, and how to shape them.

You can also make any of the exercises we’ve talked about “advanced” by stepping up the difficulty gradually. Get creative!

For more fun outdoor activity ideas, check out our list of 10 unconventional ways to exercise your dog.

Sniffspot Dog running on field

Get safe exercise for your dog by renting a private dog park near you

Trainer Review of this Article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers.  

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Olivia Peterson, CCS
Owner - Sound Connection Dog Training
WSU Bachelors in Animal Science Business Management
Northwest School of Canine Studies (NWSCS) Certification

David Adams photo

David Adams

March 05, 2024

Dog Training

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