It’s the Festive Season, the time of the year when we look to relax and unwind and enjoy well-deserved downtime, and if we’re lucky enough to have time off from work, we get to spend it with loved ones, and with our furry friends to boot.


The good news is that playing with a dog doesn’t require buying expensive toys. There are plenty of ways to do it for virtually no money at all, and we’ve unpacked five ideas for you below.


Find the kibble


Dogs love scent-based games, especially if their reward is a yummy bit of food at the end of it. Position dog kibble (in other words, pellets) around the house, or outside, and see if your dog can sniff it out. If it’s their first time playing, put the kibble in plain sight at first, then ramp up the challenge. This game will teach dogs to work for their food, and will also hone their incredible sense of smell, which is often underused due to the fact that dogs get served food on a plate without having to scavenge for it.


Tug of war


No doubt, you have a mental image of playing tug of war with a dog that doesn’t want to let go of the rope and starts to growl when you resist them. Well, before you get started, make sure your dog knows what “drop it” means and as ever, reinforce positive behaviors with treats, and ignore dogs that act antisocially. Once you’re underway, play long enough for your dog to work up a sweat, and don’t worry – it’s fine to let him win now and then.


Swing ‘n fling


The Starmark Swing and Fling Ball is a great way to play fetch. Weighing a few ounces, the ball is lightweight but durable, and bigger in size than a tennis ball, meaning it’s easier to find should it get lost, and a whole lot more resistant to repeated games of fetch. The ball is attached to a rope, letting you play tug of war with the dog before you throw it into the air. The ball is designed to travel great distances if you’ve got room to play with, but will work just as well in the yard. This is a great toy for any dog, but it’s probably best suited to bigger breeds, due to the size of the actual ball.


As an added benefit, the Swing and Fling Ball floats in water, so you don’t have to worry about it sinking to the bottom of a pond, never to be found again.


Which hand


Like the first activity, we’ll be using the kibble for this one. Put some kibble in one of your hands, close both of your hands, then present them to your dog. The aim of the game is for your dog to guess which hand the food is in. It’s not only a good test of your dog’s sense of smell, it’ll give you an idea of how well trained he is. It should go without saying, but a dog that claws at you or tries to bite the hand holding the food needs obedience training.


Soccer in the yard with friends


If you’ve got a group of people over at your house this Festive Season, go out into the yard with your dog, and use a soccer ball to give them a great dose of fun. Pass the ball amongst yourselves. Chances are, the dog will race after the ball. Let them catch it now and then but don’t make it too easy. Your dog will enjoy the challenge; the thrill of the chase. It’s also a great bonding exercise: doing something with your dog in a social setting like this strengthens your relationship in the long run.