When you play with your puppy, she is learning her first lessons on how to be a good dog -- or a bad dog.
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When deciding which type of play to allow, ask yourself if you would tolerate this behavior in an adult dog. For instance, if your puppy jumps on you as you walk in the door, you may think it's adorable and feel like you've been welcomed home. But would you want your full-grown pet to do it every day, to you (even when you're wearing your good clothes), to a child, or to your dinner guests? If not, don't let your puppy do it, either.
Everyone in the family needs to know which kinds of play to discourage and which kinds to enjoy, so your puppy gets a clear, consistent message about behaviors that are and are not acceptable.
Play with your puppy for at least 20 minutes a day, in addition to giving him 20 to 30 minutes of exercise. A bored puppy is a destructive puppy. Playing is also a great way to bond with your puppy, and it helps her to interact with people in a positive manner.
These tips for appropriate play will help your puppy grow up properly socialized.
- Fetch and Seek. These two favorites are creative, stimulating ways to play with your dog. For Fetch, choose an object your puppy can pick up with his mouth, like a ball or a sticklike chew toy, and when you first start, don't throw it too far. (Sometimes it helps to play with another person, who can show your puppy what to do!) Seek is the classic find-the-hidden-object; is it behind your back? Around the corner? You might start this game by playing it with treats, which have a strong smell.
- Balls. Puppies may prefer a rolling ball to start and a bouncing ball later. Select one that's soft enough for your puppy to bite, but not one so small that the entire thing fits into his mouth.
- Chew toys. Offer your dog a selection of chew toys. Encourage your puppy to chew on his toys instead of inappropriate objects (like your slippers or your remote control). If he does put a forbidden object in his mouth, clap your hands, say "No!" firmly, and replace the contraband with a toy. Squeaking toys are vastly appealing to pups but you must make sure that your dog cannot remove the squeaker and swallow it or choke.
- Stuffed toys. Give your dog stuffed toys to cuddle, tote around, and mouth. You may choose to remove the eyes or noses of stuffed toys or look for ones without extruding features since those are the first things puppies try to chew off.
- Toy box. Keep your puppy's toys in a low, sturdy box or bin that she has access to. You may wish to rotate the selection of toys to keep play interesting, although some dogs become attached to one particular item and snub the rest of their toy collection.
- Tug-of-war. Tug-of-war is an aggressive game that confuses your puppy. If you win, you are dominant and your puppy feels timid and submissive. If you let your puppy win, he will mistakenly think that he is dominant. Another drawback to tug-of-war is that tearing action teaches the puppy that similar actions are acceptable ways to play with your clothing or household objects.
- Chase. Children quickly figure out that if they race around, the puppy will follow them. The downside of Chase is that such games interfere with learning the basic command to "come." Chasing tells a puppy, "If you come to me, I will run away," which is not the message you want to send.
- Biting. Do not let your dog bite any part of your body at any time. Do not permit "attack" games or use your fingers, hands, toes, or feet to "tease" your dog. If your puppy bites, grasp her collar and discourage her with a firm "No!" If your puppy does not stop biting, confine her in her crate until she has calmed down (like "time-out" for a human 2-year-old). Never reward biting behavior by continuing to play with your puppy when she is biting; she will think biting is part of the game. Biting can have tragic consequences -- not just in the injury to the person bitten but also in the destruction of the dog who bit.
- Jumping. Discourage your puppy from jumping or climbing on people. People tend to see this behavior as cute and friendly in a puppy. In a full-grown dog, jumping can result in human injury and damage to clothing. Train your puppy to sit when people (including you) enter your home. A puppy that sits on command deserves lavish praise.
- Wrestling. You should never wrestle with your dog, no matter how large and strong she is. Like tug-of-war, wrestling sends mixed messages about which of you is dominant, you or your dog. In addition, a dog's limbs are not built to withstand the stress of wrestling, so you could injure your pet.
- Unless you've got the patience and knowledge to train your dog on your own, plan to take your puppy to obedience classes at around six months of age. Well-behaved puppies benefit from the socialization of obedience class, and rowdy dogs learn self-control.
- In an obedience class you, too, are a student. Family members should attend or observe classes or you can teach your family what you have learned when you and your puppy practice new commands. The whole family must use the same commands to reinforce positive behavior. In addition, teach everyone to maintain eye contact and deliver commands in a firm tone.
- Discourage negative behaviors with sudden loud noises, like shaking a can of pennies of clapping your hands next to his ear. A slight spraying from a water pistol can also dissuade your puppy from engaging in undesirable behavior. Never hit or hurt your dog.