Top tips on playing with your puppy

Puppies, by nature, absolutely love to play. In fact, some owners will underestimate just how lively and eager a young dog can be. Most would play all day if we let them, rarely tiring of their toys. As an owner, it can be a challenge keeping these little mites entertained. Playing with your puppy is not just about having fun. It is also a means of burning calories, engaging brains and forming an even closer bond.

When can I start playing with my puppy?

When you bring home that little eight-week-old bundle of fur they may be a bit unsettled at first and often will sleep a lot. However, as soon as they come out of their shell (which rarely takes more than a day or two!) they will be raring to go. Initially, play sessions may not last very long as puppies have short attention spans but over time they will build up a greater tolerance.

Safety First

Remember, although your pup may not agree with you on this one, not everything is a toy. So, even if they try to insist that a stick, stone or snail that they found in the garden is the ‘best toy ever’, it’s up to us to remove these items from their sight and replace them with something more suitable.

Which Toys?

Walking into a pet shop, it soon becomes obvious that there is a plethora of toys to choose from. It can be tricky to know where our money is best spent. Toys should be appropriate for both the age and breed of the puppy and need to be able to withstand those razor-sharp teeth. Most little ones enjoy toys that squeak and we should try to choose ones that are different textures and sizes. It’s not unusual that toys will have to be replaced frequently during the first few months as they tend to get a real hammering!

Buy your puppy a new toy next time you visit your local veterinary practice >

A Toy Box

It’s a good idea to have a toy box and to select a few toys each day to play with. This is better than having all of the toys down at the same time as puppies quickly become bored. If you like, you can allow your pup to have a look at the box each morning and choose their own toys for the day!

What about Games?

It’s not just enough to pop your little one in their crate with a toy or two. They also need some interactive play time with us. Playing a variety of games with your puppy can sharpen their mind and you’ll be amazed at just how quickly they pick up on new things when given the opportunity.

  • Hide and Seek. Just like with children, this classic game is a real winner. There are two variants of this game. We can either hide strong-smelling treats (such as meat-flavoured biscuits) around the home and encourage our dogs to sniff them out OR we can become the treat! This entails having someone else holding the pup while we hide somewhere. Initially, make it quite easy for them to find you and feel free to help your fluff-ball out by making noises.
  • Pups love to both chase and be chased. A few minutes of running around after each other outside is sure to build up an appetite.
  • Fetch and Frisbee. Oldies but goodies, most dogs can’t resist the allure of an object in flight. Incorporate some basic training and see if you can get your pup to release the item once they’ve got it (Top Tip: Switch the item out for a treat!).

What if I’m too Busy for Play Time?

Play really is a fundamental part of a puppy’s life and it isn’t something that we can ignore. It forms a core part of their development so we must dedicate time to it every day. If unable to, try to find someone such as a family member or friend who can. For those who work long hours, consider ‘doggy day care’ where dogs can play with other dogs as well as people throughout the day.

Potential Problems

If play time is neglected or cut short, many dogs will become bored and frustrated. This is especially true for the working breeds such as Border Collies and German Shepherds, who need lots of stimulation to keep them engaged. When not played with enough, we may find that our dogs quickly develop nuisance behaviours such as incessant barking, furniture chewing and digging.