Play is one of the best forms of exercise for a puppy. Fifteen minutes of vigorous play can be equivalent to an hour’s walk. Many owners do not realize that games are also good vocabulary builders. When it’s all part of a game that he enjoys, your puppy will very quickly learn the meaning of many words long before he is ready for formal training.
Playing with your puppy provides an excellent opportunity to observe his actions and reactions and to become acquainted with his innate character. Games develop alertness and intelligence and can also satisfy instincts for hunting, retrieving, and tracking. Terriers like to dig, wrestle, and fight, generally going for their mock adversary’s throat. Greyhounds chase, corgis nip heels, and many working dogs prefer practical exercises to playful games.
The earliest games of very young puppies are based on fighting, boxing, wrestling, biting, chasing, and tug of war. At 8 or 9 weeks, they develop an interest in retrieving – ball games, even all by themselves. Between 8 and 12 weeks, they enjoy playing with people as much as, or more than, with their littermates.
Your dogs playtime should be unrestricted pleasure, but for safety reasons, you need to find an enclosed area. Even a very intelligent dog, carried away by the excitement of his game will chase a ball right under the wheels of a passing car if that is where the ball rolls. If you cannot find a safe outdoor space, play with your dog only in your own home. He will enjoy almost as much.
One of the best indoor games is find the object. The object which is hidden while the dog is told to SIT, STAY should be a toy or glove or some other small article that bears a scent the dog knows well. If you guide your dog verbally, he will learn many words: SIT, STAY, NOW, SEEK THE BALL, NO, NOT THERE, THAT’S RIGHT! and GOOD DOG!
The resources of your playground, your own ingenuity and your dog’s will suggest many simple, harmless games, such as:
- Retrieving sticks and chew toys, all dogs enjoy this, and your dog will soon learn to watch your throwing motion in order to get a head start in the right direction.
- Playing ball, you roll it or toss it, but be sure to buy a ball that is right for your dog’s size.
- Playing tag is a favorite game puppies love to play with each other, but it is not a good game for adult dogs. They can become overexcited and bring out the attacking instinct. It is just as bad to chase your dog. He should be trained to come to you, (you are the leader), not to run away from you. Let your dog play tag with other friendly dogs, or run after a ball, but not after you.
- Wrestling is another early form of puppy play but should be avoided in older dogs, as it brings out his aggression. Resist your own impulse to get down on all fours and behave like a puppy. You are the pack leader and there are lots of games you can play together and still maintain your standing in your dogs eyes.
Finally, do not think there must be something wrong with your dog when he loses interest in games and playthings, as overexcitement can lead to fatigue. Follow active playtime with the opportunity for a drink, food, and rest, (you may need them too). Do not expect him to get the same pleasure you do from watching television. He may be intrigued at first, but he soon loses interest. Most adult dogs get the greatest pleasure simply from following you around, keeping you company, or lying quietly at your feet.