One of the best things about having a puppy is all the fun you can have playing together – which in turn, has a lot of social and mental developmental benefits. It can also be a great way to get into good habits before you start training, or alongside a training programme. Find out more below.
Why should I play with my puppy?
It’s important to remember that play is a natural behaviour of all young mammals. Through play they can explore the world, experiment new ways of moving their body, test social interactions and boundaries – all the while developing their immature nervous system. Not to mention, spending quality time with your pup helps to cement your bond; it can even be relaxing.
If you haven’t got your puppy yet and you’re still researching, check out our blog full of tips to help you choose the right puppy for you.
Puppy play signs and signals
Your pup will often invite you to play. Look out for a relaxed open-mouthed curious face, or the ‘play-bow’ when your dog keeps its front legs low and bum high. These signals will often be accompanied with bouncy dashes back and forth in all directions. You can try initiating play with your pup by mimicking their excited body language.
Safe puppy toys
There are so many different types of puppy toys available. Some are purely for comfort, such as a blanket or soft toy that they may enjoy snuggling with in their basket. Or you may be looking for something specific to their developmental stage – like a puppy teething toy or puppy chew toy. Make sure any soft toys are designed for dogs (even better, puppies) and resistant to sharp little teeth. Children’s soft toys are not suitable for example as stuffing or parts may be easily chewed off and swallowed. The best puppy toys will always be made by a reputable manufacturer so it’s wise to read the labels and make sure you trust the ingredients and information provided.
What are the best puppy toys for independent play?
It’s likely you won’t always be available to play when your pup is feeling energetic and it’s important they learn to spend some time entertaining themselves – especially if they spend some of the day by themselves.
If your puppy gets bored of their toys, you’ll be pleased to know there are a growing number of high-tech and stimulating puppy toy solutions out there to combat that. Automatic ball launchers, erratically moving toys and puppy puzzle toys are all great options. Low tech options such as indestructible balls, or Kong puppy toys filled with their favourite treats can also provide hours of solo fun.
Puppy play to enhance their training
Pups love it when you’re engaged in play with them, darting around, getting just as excited and interacting in a fun way. Using play alongside puppy training classes will help speed their training along too. Here are a few simple ideas to get started.
Tug-of-War is always a favourite game where you can pretend your puppy is as strong as a fully grown Rottweiler. If your pup gets over excited or starts aggressive puppy play growling, then stop the game immediately until they calm down. Food treats may be offered when the toy is dropped with the command ‘drop it’. This will help form positive associations.
Throwing a toy for retrieval can be the beginning of learning how to fetch. Likewise toys may be hidden to challenge your pup’s sense of smell. A little obstacle course is a fun way to use up your pup’s energy and teach them how to use their body.
Puppy Play Biting - what it means and how to manage it
When puppies play with their littermates they learn about canine communication and socialisation. Through human-puppy play they can learn more about how to interact with people. Puppies like to explore the world with their mouths and it’s perfectly natural for puppies to display ‘mouthing’ behaviour. This involves pups putting human hands, arms, feet, legs etc. into their mouths. The intention is not to cause any harm, but little puppy teeth can be sharp.
It’s important that your pup learns that this mouthing behaviour is not good for humans. The best way to gently redirect your pup is to stop all interaction when their teeth touch human skin. Stop the game, move and look away, and avoid speaking. There is no need to scold, this can in fact be interpreted by your pup as encouraging attention. Once your pup has stopped, the game can resume. They will quickly learn that mouthing is not socially acceptable and will show their love in another way. Learning not to mouth through play is an important lesson for puppies to understand as it could otherwise lead to accidental harm or future behavioural issues.
Top tips for puppy play time
- Show excitement when your pup picks up their toy. This will help them to understand the difference between their doggy toys and appealing household objects, like your slippers!
- The best teething toys for puppies should be small enough for their little mouths and not so hard as to risk breaking teeth.
- If you’re looking for puppy toys for boredom, don’t forget variety is key and you don’t necessarily need to spend more. Try rotating your pup’s toys every so often to keep up their interest. The novelty of even the most exciting toys will wear off when presented day-after-day!
While play is important, puppies also need to be socialised to a variety of people and other dogs. Puppy classes are a great place to start. Your local veterinary practice may run a class or they’ll have a list of local providers.
We hope you and your puppy have lots of fun together! Sign up your pup to Protect My Pet this month and receive a FREE eco-friendly puppy teething toy. This rice-husk rubber toy is durable, kind to teeth and perfect for playing tug-of-war or fetch. Its shape and size make it easy to pick up and carry too. Get your pup off to a great start with Protect My Pet and have fun while staying parasite free.
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