Games to Play with Your Puppy

Play is Training and We Shall Conquer the World, One Trained Puppy at a Time!

Playing games and teaching your puppy words early on in his or her relationship is crucial to the development of healthy neuropathways in the brain and good social relationships with those around him or her.

Word Games and Grouping Games

One of my favorite games I like to play with puppies is a cognitive development game that I call Which One? You start with one toy. You give this toy a name, i.e., “This is Froggy.” You play with Froggy for a bit, emphasizing Froggy. Then you get out a different toy and give it a different name, i.e., Sharky. Then you play with Sharky, emphasizing this new name. Then you start to mix the two. One toy in one hand and one in the other, ask “Which one is [insert toy name here]?” Let him play with the toy if he gets it right, gently tell him no if he gets it wrong. Eventually he will understand the game is to choose the right toy for the right name. You can start adding new toys to his list of toy names he knows. The Which One? Game can turn into the Go Find game, where you teach you puppy to go find and bring you the toy by name. This word association game is great for puppies but adult dogs enjoy it too. You will be surprised how many different words your dog can learn. Just make sure each toy name is distinctly different. Sheep and Ship, for instance, would not be a wise choice for a toy name. Sheep and Boat would be better.

Another game that I love to teach herding breeds is Make a Group. The object of the game is for the dog to gather her toys and put them in a pile altogether. You can start with the Go Find game, and then teach them to drop the toy, reward, then ask for a new toy. Get really excited when the toys are dropped next to each other. Also, be really excited about the group of toys piling up. Switch positions, and make a group again by calling for each toy one by one. Eventually start phasing in the phrase “Make a group!” Border Collies and Australian Shepherds go nuts for this game- it satisfies their inner obsessive compulsive and gives them some work to do.

Tug of War

Back in the days when we still practiced dominance training (See article The Death of Dominance Based Training) some people had some weird notions about playing with your your dog could NEVER win! How boring and defeatist is that for your dog? Let me put your fears to rest - you can let your dog win tug of war. Especially if he has a good grip on the toy and is giving a good effort, let him win. He'll be so pleased with himself that it will make the game all the much more fun (and easier on your hands). It builds his confidence.

Tug of war also does another very important thing for your puppy- it helps develop healthy hind-end muscles. These hind end muscles in turn help his joint develop properly back there. If you watch dogs play you will notice a lot of the older dogs will engage in tug of war play with the puppies in their packs. It is just as much about nurturing and building a bond as it is about building muscle. Dogs play tug of war with each other because they care about each other’s healthy development. How cool is that?


"My puppy does not want to bring back the ball" is what I hear all the time when I suggest fetch as a way to exercise your puppy. Fetch is important, especially for working dogs, because it teaches them early in life that play is a reward. Like anything in training in your dog, you must start small. Don't launch the ball across a field and expect your dog to go after it and bring it back. That's too challenging to start off with. Try tossing the toy within arm's reach. When your puppy pounces on it, guide her back to you and tug with the toy for a bit. Then get her to release and repeat, slowly working up the distance. Another tactic you can try is to have several toys. Once she retrieves the first toy, the second toy becomes the most interesting toy in the whole world. When she spits out the first toy, be really excited tha