We all love to play with our puppies, but do we really stop and think about the importance of play? Not just with puppies but with our dogs throughout their lives?
Playing games right from the start helps to build a bond with your new family member, instils confidence, and provides mental enrichment. Games are not only fun but provide both social and physical benefits.
So let’s look at the reasons to play games…
The stronger the bond you build with your pup, the greater relationship benefits through your life together. Just think about it: your best friends, the ones you can fully trust are the ones you enjoy the most time and fun with …it’s the same with your dog.
Games have physical and mental benefits for your puppy’s heart and joint health as well as their coordination. Play also helps to keep their mind active. Even before you are able to take your pup for walks, play games at home that encourage focus and engagement with you or that promote calmness.
Prepare your pup for the outside world by practicing at home and in the garden.
Boundary games, calming games on a bed or mat, encourage your puppy to settle, they help with jumping up on visitors, counter surfing, barking, nipping and more.
We all look forward to that day when we can clip the lead on their harness and take our puppy for their first short walk. No matter how short, all walks with your puppy should have an element of training. Keep playing focus games: throw out a piece of food, let you pup eat it, and when they turn back to you, praise and reward. Or say their name, when they look up at you celebrate & reward. Start playing these games at home and then take them outside for walks.
Puppies love to be close to you, they have been used to the security provided by their mum and littermates – now you’re their primary caregiver. To begin with you will be thrilled at how good their recall appears to be, but puppies soon become more independent and inquisitive, so you keep on rewarding recall on every walk from the start. Play around the house and garden…call your pup to you, play hide and seek, or ‘catch me if you can’, where you are running away from them – encouraging them to chase you, instead of you them.
Grow confidence in your puppy and provide mental stimulation: puppies are usually very confident – we should aim to nurture this and encourage their desire for adventure. Games like ‘cardboard chaos’ are great for both confidence and mental stimulation. Gather together some various sized cardboard boxes (check there’s no staples!) and arrange them on the floor. Hide a few treats in the boxes (smelly food like cheese works really well) and send your pup to find the treasure. Watch how they tackles this game, do they dive on in or are they more methodical? Does they approach with confidence or hesitation? Observing how your puppy plays can tell you so much about their personality.
Similarly there is the noise box game…fill a bucket, washing up bowl, or – even better – a child’s paddling pool with items that make different sounds…plastic balls, screwed up paper, plastic bottles..the list is endless. Scatter some small pieces of food inside the box and let your pup search for the food. They’ll be getting tasty treats while exploring the sounds!
No rules too soon! Play should be fun, not forced, and also not fast or frenzied. Gentle, fun play with either a toy or food, which is light hearted will help create an optimistic dog. When playing with toys, such as tug toys, observe your puppy and you will soon see what play they favour. Spaniels, for example, might like to play with a toy that can be moved around or that they can carry, whereas a border collie loves to stalk – so may prefer a long handled squeaky chaser toy. Dogs who prefer food over toys may benefit from treat holding toys, from which they have to work to remove the food. Check out the CLAM from our friends at Tug-E-Nuff and save 10% with code “Barket”.
Instead of throwing toys, to begin with play with toys close to you, zig-zagging on the ground. The more your pup hangs out with you, the stronger his desire to stay close. Add in variety – switching between toy and food play.
Never force play on your pup – if they’ve had enough, allow them a break. Long periods of quality rest is so important in between any walks, training, or play. Keep tug toys just for play time with you, then put them away. Don’t leave them out for your pup to be able to access all of the time… or they might lose their appeal. A great way to see if your pup is really enjoying their play session is to film yourself playing!
Try and add a little bit of play into your daily life, but puppies tire easily so while you’re having fun, keep those sessions short. Most of all, enjoy bonding with your puppy over your play time!