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How to Play the Right Way with Your Puppy

Sometimes it can seem like life with a puppy is all work and no play. But play is just as important as training. Play helps a puppy with his social skills (many early skills are developed by playing with litter mates). It is a way to model real life, help your puppy learn to follow directions, use up excessive energy and have fun. Playing with your puppy also helps you better understand your puppy and communicate with him better. It continues to build that precious bond between you.

By "play," we mean "games" and not sports. Games do usually have a goal and there is competition in the moment but there is no pressure for you or dog to place or win a ribbon. They are fun and might be instructional but that's a secondary goal. So, what are some good games to play with your pup? There are many established ones and, of course, you can make up your own.

Games to Play with Your Puppy

Follow the Leader - Set up an obstacle course with cones if you have them or anything from the house or garage like boxes and crates. Set a toy at the end of the course. Get your puppy excited and tell him "Follow me!" You can use a treat to entice him. Go through the course back and forth a few times. Don't let him grab the toy until you end the game.

Find the Treat - "Sit!" your puppy and show him several treats, also letting him smell them. Go into another room and hide them. Stay in the room and use "Come!" to get him to come to you. You may have to show him one hiding place but then he should look for the others on his own.

Hide and Seek - Instruct your puppy to "Sit!" or go "Down!" then hide without him seeing you. You have to hide well because you're going to yell "Come!" when you want him to seek you.

Clean Up Your Toys - One that's sure to please every dog owner. Scatter some well-loved toys in a small pile on the floor. Share your enthusiasm with your puppy (because we know you're enthusiastic about some help around the house) and get him to take a toy in his mouth while saying "Get it!" Place your hand underneath the toy and gently lift it up and out of his mouth while saying "Give!" When you take the toy say "Thank you!" and praise him and reward him with a treat. Move your hand further and further away asking for the toy with the command "Give!" Eventually bring your pup closer to the toy box, or whatever you want the toys placed in, and show him how to drop the toy in the box with a command such as "Drop!" Eventually, you'll be able to say "Get it!" and then "Drop!" and the toys will magically be cleaned up.

Believe it or not, there are even games you can buy to play with your pup such as "Funagle" and "Do You Mind?" In Funagle, each human player lands on a subject on the board and takes a card from that category. The goal is to get your dog to do the trick on the card. The tricks are very creative and make for a lot of laughs. "Do You Mind?" is a dice game with a similar goal. The more people and dogs who play, the more fun!

If a puppy doesn't play, his senses don't develop as well and he easily becomes bored. It may seem like with training and behavioral corrections and vet visits, there isn't time to play but playing actually helps your puppy behave better and remain calmer. Afterall, all work and no play makes puppy a dull dog.

Advice from Other Dog Owners 

Puppies Eat Less When They are Teething

When my dog was teething his appetite decreased quite a bit. Our vet recommended adding water to his food to soften it up, which worked great. He did not recommend that we do that all the time because the hard food helps their dental hygiene. That worked for us! Ice cubes and toys in the freezer also helped (i.e. water down a rope toy and freeze).

~TALIE D., owner of Labrador Retriever

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