TRAINING THROUGH PLAY
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 fluffy family member. However, while you enjoy this time, it is a good idea to also work on fun training/bonding games that will playfully teach your pup to focus on YOU, and be a great teammate.
In my work as a professional dog breeder, I work with new puppy owners every single day. With my working breed puppies (especially Akitas) one thing is extremely important:
Doing the right things from the start will prevent future behaviour issues and build the foundation of great manners early on.
Today I will share a few 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 for both of you!
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
The most important skill any pup should learn is to come when called aka RECALL. It will not only make your life easier if your dog listens to you, but it could one day save your puppy’s 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 your pup, call him/her in a happy and cheerful voice. When he/she comes running towards you, praise and pet him profusely and give him/her more treats.
In this bonding game, you will let your puppy interact with his/her environment. Young pups want to (and need to!) explore the world around them as much as they can (preferably from our human perspective not with their needle-sharp teeth). It can be difficult to catch and keep our pup’s attention when he/she wants to go and climb on something — so make the environment part of the game!
In this game, you will lure your 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/her nose and then move it up so that your pup steps onto the object. Give him/her his/her treat and praise him/her!
This is a game that you can play with your pup wherever you go and is a fair alternative to the “give paw” command. Are you on a walk? Find some big bowlders to use to practice Paws Up. In the parking lot? Do Paws Up using the curbside. At the vet’s office? Use a chair in a waiting room. This game will show and teach your pup that wherever you are, whatever you do — he/she can always look towards you for fun interactions!
In this bonding game, we will generalize our puppy’s SIT cue. If your pup cannot yet sit, you can teach him/her easily by taking a treat and moving it slowly over his/her head towards his/her tail. As he/she is watching the treat, his/her hind end will plop down, and he/she would sit. Praise him/her and give him/her 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 well in your living room, but if you do not practice the Sit command in different locations, he/she won’t be able to rely on this command in a different environment like a park or during a walk.
As a new puppy owner you should strive to have your puppy 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!
As your puppy is growing up, it will be essential to touch him/her on all parts of his/her body. This is not only necessary so that you can brush him/her, trim his/her nails or remove any burrs that might get caught in his/her fur. For future visits to the vet, your dog must tolerate being touched and handled!
Take time to run your hands over his/her body every day. Give him/her a delicious chewing item, such as a bully stick or a filled rubber toy. Start with massaging and touching his/her back and shoulders. Let your hands wander over his/her legs down to his/her toes.
Many dogs do not initially like having their feet handled, so go slowly when you get your pup used to this.
Touch his/her tail and then move onto his/her head. Look into his/her ears and lift his/her lips to check the 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/her daily or every second day.
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!