The first weeks and months with a new puppy are a wonderful experience. You want to spend as much time as possible snuggling and playing with your new best friend. While you enjoy this time, it is a good idea to also work on fun training or bonding games that will playfully teach your pup to focus on you, come when called and be a great teammate.
In my work as a professional dog trainer, I work with new puppy owners every single day. They have puppies of all sizes and breeds, but one thing holds for them all: Doing the right things from the start will prevent future behavior issues and build the foundation of great manners early on.
Today I will share the most important games you should play with your pup every day. Don’t worry – they are not boring Sit-Stay routines. These bonding games will make work seem like play!
1. Catch me if you can
The most important skill any pup should learn is to come when called. It will not only make your life easier if your dog listens to you, but it could one day save his life! Every year, millions of dogs get lost or are hit by a car when they run away. Teaching a reliable recall should always be a focus in puppy training.
Take delicious treats and show them to your pup. Now drop one of those treats on the ground and run away. Your pup will sniff for the treat on the ground, allowing you to get a headstart. Once you are about 15 feet away from him, call him in a happy and cheerful voice. When he comes running towards you, praise and pet him profusely and give him more treats.
2. Paws Up
In this bonding game, we will let our puppy interact with his environment. Young pups want to (and need to!) explore the world around them as much as they can. It can be difficult to catch and keep our dog’s attention when he wants to go and climb on something — so let’s make the environment part of the game!
In the Paws Up game, we will lure our puppy’s front feet onto different objects. Start with an easy one, such as a small stepping stool or a cardboard box. Hold a treat in front of his nose and then move it up so that your pup steps onto the object. Give him his treat and praise him!
This is a game that you can play with your pup wherever you go. Are you on a walk? Find some stones to use to practice Paws Up. In the parking lot at the vet? Do Paws Up using the curbside. It will show your pup that wherever you are, whatever you do — he can always look towards you for fun interactions!
3. Super sitter
In this bonding game, we will generalize our puppy’s Sit cue. If your pup cannot yet sit, you can teach him easily by taking a treat and moving it slowly over his head towards his tail. As he is watching the treat, his hind end will plop down, and he sits. Praise him and give him a treat.
Sitting is a skill that is often learned quickly inside but takes dogs a long time to do reliably in all situations. Your pup might sit really well in your living room, but if you do not practice the Sit in different locations, he won’t be able to later on also sit at the park, on a walk, or at a dog training class.
New puppy owners should strive to have their dog practice Sit in at least 5 different locations every day. You can get creative with those – how about having your pup sit in your garage? In the bathtub? On your back patio? At the gate of your driveway? The more different places you practice in, the faster your puppy will become a true sitting expert!
4. Touching time
As your dog is growing up, it will be essential to touch him on all parts of his body. This is not only necessary so that you can brush him, trim his toenails or remove any burrs that might get caught in his fur. For future visits to the vet, your dog must tolerate being touched and handled!
Take time to run your hands over his body every day. Give him a delicious chew item, such as a bully stick or a filled rubber toy. Start with massaging and touching his back and shoulders. Let your hands wander over his legs down to his toes. Many dogs do not initially like having their feet handled, so go slowly when you get your pup used to this.
Touch his tail and then move onto his head. Look into his ears and lift his lips to check his teeth. If you do this daily, your pup will view being handled and examined as just another part of life!
If your dog is from a long-coated breed, make sure that you also include a bit of brushing every day. While young pups have an easily managed coat, as your dog grows up, you might need to brush him daily or every second day.
The bottom line
These four bonding games will strengthen key skills that every pup should have: Coming when called, interacting with you even in distracting places, sitting when asked, and being still when touched and examined. You will find that the more you play and bond with your pup, the closer you will grow and the better you will understand each other!
The first weeks and months are a crucial time to build a lasting, positive relationship. Start your bonding games today!
Steffi Trott is a professional dog trainer from Albuquerque, NM. She specializes in a play-based approach to training that lets dogs and owners have fun and work together as a team. She offers online classes at spiritdogtraining.com.