If you’re wondering which games to play with your dog or puppy, the traditional choices are a good place to start. From fetch to tug-of-war, these tried-and-true activities can be fun for both you and your canine companion. (Pro tip: Make sure to offer treats for “wins” while you play.)
Plus, games teach your pet special skills. Structured play promotes focus, agility and obedience, all of which are especially important for puppies.
Here are some games you can try with your young dog, along with steps for teaching them.
Fetch is a classic game that can supplement your command training as it teaches your puppy the important skill of coming when called.
- Choose a toy, preferably one your dog already likes. If it’s new to them, offer praise and a treat when they interact with it. This will entice them to retrieve the object when thrown.
- In an enclosed space such as a room in your house, throw the toy a short distance. If they pick it up, call them back using a positive, encouraging tone. If they start to play with it on their own or fail to pick it up, start the process over and reduce the distance of your throw.
- Reward them with a treat and praise when they bring back the toy, even if it’s only part way.
- Teach your dog to drop the toy in front of you. If they don’t respond to the “drop it” command, start the process over until they do—and don’t forget to reward them once they get it right. Don’t fall into the trap of creating another game of trying to pull the toy out of their mouth. Instead, just ignore them if they don’t want to drop the toy. Eventually they will.
Find the Toy
Find-the-toy activities (sometimes referred to as nose or scent games) teach your pet to rely on their sense of smell while using their brain. These puppy games also prepare them to become trackers.
- Come up with a name for each of your dog’s toys. To start, hold and say the name of their favorite toy, like "squeaky toy.” If saying the name gets their attention, give it to them.
- Choose a command, such as "find," to use only for this game and for when you want them to find things later.
- Show your puppy the toy and hide it partially under a towel. Then say, "Find your squeaky toy.” If they find it, offer praise. If they don’t, repeat the command.
- Increase the challenge by hiding the toy in places that are harder to find, always rewarding them for success along the way. Eventually, hiding places should be completely out of sight. The end goal is to train them to find anything you’ve named. Try to aim for naming three to five toys, but two is a great start.
Tug-of-War is a favorite puppy training game among pet owners; it can be a useful tool for teaching your dog to drop a toy on command. Additionally, the intense activity is great aerobic exercise.
- Holding your puppy’s favorite toy, offer it to them until they grab it with their mouth.
- Tug back and forth. You can pretend you’re pulling harder than you really are (they’re a puppy, after all). Don’t forget to let them have it every once in a while.
- Praise when they “win” but make sure they play by the rules. Even if it is an accident, your puppy should not grab or bite anything that isn’t the toy. If they do, that’s your cue to end the game. You should also stop the game if your dog gets overexcited.
- Give kibbles of food or small treats if they drop the toy when you say “drop it” during the game. Eventually, they’ll learn to release it on command without expecting a treat.
Agility games—a fancy name for games that get your puppy moving and thinking—burn off calories and energy, and they increase your puppy’s coordination and confidence.
Puppies love the challenge of jumping, negotiating obstacles and receiving praise when they do well.
- Create an obstacle course in your living room with blankets and chairs.
- Use treats or kibble to lure your puppy. Follow alongside as they navigate the course, rewarding them when they conquer the obstacles and cheering as they progress.
- If you’re feeling ambitious, create a course outside in the yard or at the park with cones, hula hoops and other objects, and invite other puppies to join. Get creative!