In This Chapter
- Playing games that encourage cooperation
- Mixing games and obedience
Puppies learn best through playing. How you play together, especially in those first few months, influences your relationship more than my mere words can convey. This chapter presents ten groovy games for you to play with your puppy. Read them over, try them out, eliminate what doesn’t work, and invent your own.
The games you play with your pup should encourage cooperation and focus.
Soda Bottle Soccer
Soda Bottle Soccer encourages your puppy to follow you and to fetch.
Players: Any number of people and a puppy of any age.
To play: Get several plastic bottles (with the caps and labels removed). Place a few on the ground or floor. Let your puppy check the bottles out. When she’s comfortable, start kicking. No matter how many bottles are on the playing field, your puppy will want the one you have. Kick it to her only if she’s standing calmly (to discourage confrontational play, avoid challenging your puppy for one bottle). Then go off and play with another and another and another, until you’ve tuckered out your pup.
Rules: Play with your feet, not your hands (it’s soccer, after all). Always kick the bottle your puppy’s not chasing.
The Two-Toy Toss
The Two-Toy Toss helps your puppy focus on what you have, not the other way around. It also reinforces the “Come” and “Give” directions, as well as the grab-’n-show concept found in Chapter Dealing with Daily Hassles
Players: One puppy and one person. This game is good for pups over 12 weeks. However, younger pups may show interest for a couple of tosses.
To play: Gather two or more toys or balls. Toss one toy, and when your puppy races to get it, cheer her on. As she turns to you, say “Good puppy,” and then produce a different toy and start playing with it. When she wants the toy you have (and she will), make sure she sits politely before you toss it.
Rules: Never chase your pup or wrestle a toy out of her mouth because these actions are puppylike and will encourage confrontational play. You may exchange a toy for a treat by exchanging another toy or popping a treat into your puppy’s mouth.
The Squeak Toy Shuffle
The Squeak Toy Shuffle encourages following skills and can be played inside or out. This game is a great diversion for ankle-happy nippers.
Players: One person with one puppy. This game is good for pups under 12 weeks.
To play: Tie a squeak or rope toy onto a 4-foot leash or line and attach the other end of the line to your shoelace or ankle. Walk around, doing whatever you do. Puppies love to wrestle moving objects: Better the toy than your ankle.
Rules: Don’t move too quickly or snap the object out of your puppy’s mouth. If she starts to tug assertively, either ignore her or remove the toy from your ankle and clip it onto an immovable piece of furniture.
Fishing for Fido
Use Fishing for Fido to provide an outlet for your puppy’s chasing instincts. Because this game can be used to divert your puppy from attacking your legs, it’s great for morning foot traffic and outside runs.
Players: Good for puppies under 12 weeks and their people.
To play: Tie a squeak toy onto a 2- to 5-foot string and attach the other end of the string to a rod (anything can pass for a rod: a stick, an umbrella, and so on). By holding and moving the rod, bounce the toy in front of your puppy.
Rules: Let your pup grab the toy often to keep her interested. Avoid tug of war. If your puppy insists on tugging, look away until she gets bored, and then resume the animation.
If your puppy insists on tugging, slather the opening of a 1⁄2-gallon jug (cap and label removed) with a creamy spread. Instead of tugging, she will tackle and lick the jug. This tip also works well for the upcoming Extended Rope Toss game.
The Extended Rope Toss
The Extended Rope Toss is a great game for energy release. It also helps to relieve predatory energy (better to chase a bottle in a field than a biker on a busy street).
Players: One person and one puppy of any age.
To play: Tie an empty soda bottle (cap and label removed) or your pup’s favorite toy onto a 20- to 30-foot rope. In a yard or field, swing the object around so that your puppy chases it. If the yard or field has tall grass, use it as cover to hide the object from your puppy’s view — doing so will be much more exciting for her!
The Treat Cup Name Game
The Treat Cup Name Game encourages positive association to the direction “Come” while teaching your puppy name identification (her name and yours!).
Players: Start with two people and eventually add more as your pup masters the game. Any age puppy can play.
Make a treat cup as described in Chapter Using Cool Tools and Groovy Gadgets
. Shake the cup until your puppy associates the sound with a reward. Stand 6 feet from a friend and, using the other person’s name (John, for example), tell your puppy to “Find John!” as you point to John. When John hears his name, he shakes the cup and calls out your puppy’s name. When the puppy is at John’s side, John can send her back to you in the same way.
Rules: As your puppy gets better, increase your distance, eventually moving to different rooms and playing outside. Avoid correcting your puppy if she loses interest; limiting game time ensures fun.
After your puppy catches on to this game, play hide-and-seek. Either alone or with a partner, hide in gradually more concealed spots and call to your puppy as you shake your treat cup. Play this one inside and outside to encourage your puppy’s focus — whether she can see you or not!
Give (Or Drop)
The goal here is to get an automatic “spit out” reaction whenever you say the word “give.” Aside from being a handy playing skill, it has safety features that can’t be argued against. If your puppy has something you value in her mouth or an object that might endanger her, “Give” covers all bases. After you make “Give” less of a demand and more of a direction, your puppy will be eager to share her treasures.
Players: “Give” can be taught from the start, so it’s good for puppies of all ages.
To play: When your puppy is chewing on something (whether appropriate or not), approach her with a treat cup (or just a treat from your pocket) and say “Give” as you put the treat in her mouth. If she’s chewing on a puppy toy, don’t take it away from her. After you say “Give” and offer the treat, go away calmly.
If your puppy runs off with excitement, you can practice in a small bathroom to keep her confined. Or, leave a leash on her around the house to enable a calm catch.
Rules: If your puppy is growling or clamping the object too tightly, call a professional. Aggression is no joke.
If your puppy loves to carry things in her mouth, you have all you need to teach Take.
Players: Practice this game one on one with a puppy who’s at least 14 weeks old.
To play: Start with a toy or ball and go into a small room or hallway. Wave the object in front of your pup, tempting her for a few seconds before instructing “Take.” Cheer when she takes the object, letting her hold onto it for varying amounts of time. Encourage “Give” by using a treat or another toy if necessary.
Rules: Repeat this sequence no more than three to five times. Always quit while you’re ahead.
The Four-Footed Fax
The Four-Footed Fax game encourages interaction and responsibility.
Players: Two people (a sender and a receiver) and a puppy who’s at least 6 months old. Make sure your puppy has mastered the preceding three games.
To play: Ask your friend (John, for example) to stand 10 feet across the room. Encourage your puppy to “Take” a toy or other object (such as a folded newspaper) and send her to John, saying “Take it to John!” Have John kneel down and call to your puppy. When your puppy trots over, John rewards her with a treat.
If your puppy won’t carry the object all the way, have John stand right next to you and slowly inch back. With encouragement and love, your puppy will become everyone’s favorite fax machine.
Rules: Don’t discipline your puppy if she won’t cooperate. This game takes a lot of concentration.
Wiggle Giggle Freeze
The Wiggle Giggle Freeze game is a fun way to work on a challenging command such as “Sit,” “Wait,” or “Down.”
Players: Several people and, of course, a pooch. Someone who has practiced training with the puppy is chosen to give the directions. The puppy must be older than 12 weeks and must have mastered the direction that’s introduced.
To play: Pick one direction. Have everyone jump around and act goofy. Then suddenly have everyone freeze on cue. The chosen director calls out a direction. Whoever is closest to the puppy can position her calmly and then offer her a food reward or a hug. Resume goofing off. Repeat this sequence no more than five times.
Rules: Don’t repeat your direction. If your puppy doesn’t listen, help her into position before releasing her toy or treat. She’ll catch on soon enough.