The concept of any game with any puppy or dog is one of duality. A game should provide fun AND combine that fun with teaching. Games for dogs are not mind candy. They are tools to teach a puppy that listening to mommy or daddy is enhancing their experience by playing that game and each game should in some way reinforce the good behaviors we expect for our pups.
I’ve broken these incentive games into two groups as one is for the more advanced puppy and one for the beginners. Keep in mind though that these games are wonderful for dogs of any age and by starting simply, any dog can advance to all the games listed. Also keep in mind that games are not only for providing incentive and focus. They are the best way to keep your dog well exercised in any weather as these games can be played indoors or outdoors.
Games should combine trust building, confidence building and learning. Whatever you ask a puppy to do will be new. So if they do it, they trust you. If they do it right, you praise them and build confidence. And the final result is a new learned behavior!
Puppy Games 10 weeks-5 months
The simplest of games, but if not started right, can be problematic. I start this game with a puppy on a long line (30 feet) or a flexi-leash. You must always engage the puppy in the item you ask them to fetch BEFORE you throw it. So I suggest you play with the puppy till they are enamored by the item to be fetched. I toss closely at first (6ft). The puppy will almost always get it, then I use the leash and lots of encouragement to have the puppy bring it back. You then tell the puppy to “give” and immediately remove it from their mouths and throw again. If you do not do this in a timely fashion you miss out on teaching the puppy that to “give” means MORE of the game so they are more likely to release the fetched item for more of the game. Done right this game can avoid many future issues with dogs not willing to give thing up!
This is an amazing game that is so much fun and so exciting for the puppy, while reinforcing both learning their name, coming when called and believe it or not learning your name! You start the game in the same room with two people. Each of you has a bag of treats. Figure out what name you want the puppy to associate you with. One person will start the dog off by giving them a treat and telling them to “ GO TO Mary”. Mary is on the other side of the room and immediately calls the puppy and rewards with a treat. Then Mary will say “GO TO John” and she will send the puppy back and John will call the pups name. Repeat this game and eventually you will increase the distance between the people playing and you can add stairs and different rooms to make the puppy more excited. This is a powerful game for children and you can add people to the game as the puppy’s understanding accelerates.
Find the Toy
Get your puppy’s favorite toy and put it somewhere in the house. Put the puppy on leash and start your “search for the toy. Now I always name the toys. For example suppose your pup loves his ball toy. You start off in an excited manner by playing with the puppy with the toy. Get them intent on the toy. Then hide the toy and start the game. You lead the puppy through the house staying in an excited voice “find the toy!!!!”. Keep repeating this till the puppy finds the toy and their reward is to get to play full throttle with the toy. Repeat this according to the puppy’s attention span. You can substitute a treat in place of a toy and simply change the verbage to “find the treat”
At most local childrens’ toy stores they will sell these collapsible tunnels for kids to climb through. These tunnels are an incredible game for your puppy. You only need the tunnel and 4 safety cones you can purchase at a hardware outlet. Expand the tunnel and secure it with the cones to prevent it from moving. Then one person holds the puppy at one end and another calls the puppy with a treat from the other end. If the pup is tentative, do not expand the tunnel to full length and work your way to full extension. The person calling the pup on the end of the tunnel should always use the command “tunnel”. Two people are needed for this and both should be using high reward treats and TONS of praise. This is the best confidence builder for a puppy. Think about it. You are asking the puppy to go into a dark hole and come out the other end to a reward!! How much confidence and trust can u build in one exercise???
Hide and Seek
This is a game that teaches the puppy to find you by using one of their other senses. It teaches them that they have more tools at their disposal than just their eyes and it enhances the use of smell and sound. One person goes and hides in either a house or outside. Then another person takes the puppy to the area. Upon signal, the hiding person starts to call the dog. They keep calling till the dog responds and seeks them out. You may need to help guide the pup in the beginning towards the person calling them, but they will get it and you can eventually send the puppy out on their own to “seek” the “hider”.