As puppies, all dogs love to play. A young puppy’s day just isn’t complete without a couple of really good play sessions. But older dogs can learn new tricks, too. Games are also great opportunities to socialise young and old dogs and to teach them basic obedience in a fun way.
Here are some ground rules for your games to get you started.
• Be careful with young puppies; they’re often more fragile than they seem.
• Don’t do too much competitive or aggressive play – tug-of-war can damage dogs’ teeth and wrestling bouts could teach your dog to be aggressive with other people or other dogs.
• Never play with sticks or stones – sticks could splinter in your dog’s mouth and stones can break their teeth or be swallowed.
• Never play with plastic Frisbees – the spinning disc can damage teeth as the dog jumps up to catch it in their mouth.
• Never play with tennis balls – the enamel of dogs teeth is thinner than that of human teeth and is easily worn away by the abrasion of the fibres against the surface of the tooth.
• Your dog needs to learn to listen to you – if they’re not doing as you ask, then stop playing and ignore them.
• If your dog bites or nips you during play, stop the game immediately and ignore them until they’ve calmed down.
Choose safe toys made especially for dogs that are safe for their teeth and that can’t be swallowed and won’t splinter.
Games to try with your dog
Your dog can learn co-operation and self-control by playing “fetch!” and “drop!” Top dog trainers say that good fetch skills are where it all begins. Retrievers are bred for exactly these skills, but most other breeds will really love this game too.
Hide and seek
One person holds onto the dog while another person hides. Once the first person (let’s call him Johnny) is hidden, you say, “Where’s Johnny? Find Johnny!” and you walk around the house with your dog. When they find Johnny, give them loads of praise or a treat. Soon they’ll be charging around, finding each family member by name. Hounds will have a great time playing this game, and it’s also very useful if you have a large house!
This is the same as hide and seek, but played with your dog’s favourite toys or treats. With regular play, they can learn lots of new words.
Beat the clock
This game teaches your dog to respond quickly to commands no matter how excited they are. Put your dog on the lead and get them playing in an excited way. Then, suddenly, give a command they know well, like “sit”. Make sure you go still and silent. Guide your dog into position if you need to.
When your dog sits, praise them, and then restart the game. If you do this consistently, they’ll learn to obey you instantly no matter what.