Playtime

Playtime is likely the part that we all look forward to the most when we adopt a puppy. Now, what we imagine is not likely what we get. Suddenly we wonder if we even know how to play!

Maybe our puppy plays more rough than we expected and the growling and nipping feels almost aggressive. 

Every dog will have their own play style and it’s just a matter of testing out a few kinds over time and seeing what sticks. We have to get creative, too! It’s just just a matter of throwing a ball and expecting them to bring it back – there are so many kinds of play! 

Let’s look at the most common types of play. Click the links to jump to the topic below:

Tug

Tug is a fabulous game to play with dogs! And no, it won’t cause dominance. I promise. It’s a natural game for canids and should be used as a reinforcer in addition to treats when it comes to training. The first thing to do is to find a tug toy that is sacred, meaning your dog has not seen or interacted with this toy before. Keep it sacred! This toy is only going to be used for the purposes of tug. This will also help down the road as your dog will hopefully not generalise tug to your pant leg, the leash, the drapes, etc.

Next, choose your cues. What do you want to say to your dog to let them know it’s time to grab on? “Get it!” is a popular one. What about when you want your dog to let it go? “Drop” or “out” are popular cues. Choose your cues now! Now, let’s build motivation. Bring out the toy and move it around, low to the ground and make like a squirrel’s tail. Shake it and freeze for a second. Move it and shake it and freeze. Don’t let them get it though – be faster than them! Get excited! Squirrels aren’t boring – that’s why your dog wants to chase them. After about 5-8 seconds, put it away and be boring. After about 30-60 seconds, lather, rinse, repeat! Do this until your dog is amped up and really wants that toy! The next phase is going to be to let your dog get a little taste of it. Amp them up a bit and then at the last second let them get it and engage with them. Be surprised and excited that they were so clever and fast! Shake the toy, move it side to side and pull back a little. Let them pull back on it too. After 5-8 seconds of this, you’re going to fold up that toy in your fist as much as you can and say your cue to ask them to drop it. As soon as you say it, you have to stop. The squirrel is dead. Your arm goes limp but they don’t get to keep the toy. Immediately drop 5-6 treats on the floor right beside their nose and scatter them around, pointing to all those pieces. You may have to hold the treats on your dog’s nose for them to drop the tug toy and take the food. Whichever works best for your dog!Tuck the tug toy away and go off and be boring. When playing tug, you’ll want to hide it behind your back, say your “get it” cue just once, then the tug comes out and is activated. Over time, you let them play for a little longer and try it in different environments. What if my dog gets really amped up with a game of tug and I can’t settle them down? That’s called over-arousal and we want to avoid it. Turn down the intensity in your game and also shorten the duration of play significantly. Take a break in between each tug for a training break – work on sit-stay, down-stay, some other impulse control based behaviours, and then take a real break from training AND tug. If that doesn’t help, stop tug altogether and get in touch with us! What if my dog grabs my hand or clothes when going for the tug? Ah, this is an instant penalty. You can say – “game over!” and then the tug goes away for a few minutes at least. You have to be consistent with this one or they won’t learn to avoid biting your hand or clothes.How often should my dog win? Well…it has to be fun. I like to let them win at least 50% of the time. If they feel like they can never win, they’ll stop playing. Caution: When playing tug with a young puppy who is still developing, a dog with dental issues, an older dog, or a dog with spine-related issues, you are simply holding on and letting them do all the tugging. Healthy, strong dogs can take a little more. There should not be any drastic direction changes and you should not lift your dog off the ground with this exercise! If you are unsure, speak with your vet before engaging in this game.

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Handsy-play

Handsy-play, bitey-face, wrestling, blanket-monster, whatever you call it, it exists! This is often a game that some people LOVE to play and some people REFUSE to play for various reasons. 

It depends on you, your lifestyle, whether or not there are (or will be) kids in the picture, and your dog as well. So many factors! 

I tend to play these types of games with my dog, but it’s very controlled and on cue. It’s never initiated by my dog, but only by me. I don’t let others play this way with him as I don’t want it to become a default. There’s also an end-cue (“no more”) so that he’s clear on when it’s over. 

Check out this fascinating video below, of our very own staff member, Ruff, playing with his dad. Jarvis is playing a handsy-game and Ruff is hesitating. He’s quite unsure and maybe a little overwhelmed…but then he gets into it. The remedy? Shorten your game a little and lessen the intensity. Problem solved! 

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Fetch

Fetch is always the dream! I think some dogs are built for it and others just aren’t into it. Retrievers tend to love it for obvious reasons. 

Start small by rolling the toy away from you and letting them chase it. Once they’ve got it, cheer them on like it’s your job! They might come closer to you and if they do, scatter a few little snacks on the floor and let them scarf them up while you grab the ball for round two. 

You might have a natural on your hands…or you might have to work at this a little! 

How do you get the ball back once they’ve got it? Use this opportunity to teach a “drop it” OR have another *identical* ball to trade off! 

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Chase

Chase can be a fun game, but I like to keep it short and sweet so that we are sticking with the exercise guidelines and ensuring that we’re not doing high-impact stuff with our growing pup.

I also don’t allow puppies (or dogs) to chase children. Ever. This is not an activity that is safe in the long term!

Instead, make a flirt pole and let them win 50% of the time to keep it exciting. Remember – no jumping for these wee pups – just chasing it at ground level is fine and avoiding going in circles non-stop – nobody enjoys that! 

How do you get it back once they’ve caught it? Use this opportunity to teach a “drop it”!

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Tricks & Brain-Games

Tricks and brain-games are FABULOUS for mental stimulation (just as important as physical exercise). Using food-dispensing toys for independent play is one way, and training tricks is another! 

Avoid tricks that hurt (like “roll over” on a hard floor) or might backfire on you later (like “speak”) and stick with easy ones like “weave” or “middle” or “sit pretty”. 

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Scent Games

Have someone hold your puppy (crate, gate, or tether them to something heavy for a moment if you’re flying solo) and let them watch you set this one up. Take a portion of their kibble at mealtime and create a little scavenger hunt. 

Set little piles of kibbles around the room on the floor where they are clearly visible, ending with a little trail from the closest pile to your waiting puppy. Release your puppy and watch them hoover up the piles! 

In the beginning, you need this game to be easy so they “win” quickly. Over time you can make it more and more challenging by setting the game up where they cannot see you do it, or doing a better job of hiding the kibbles. 

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Have fun!