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Without a doubt one of the most enjoyable aspects of having a puppy is the boundless energy and curiosity that they bring to the family. Making time to play with your puppy is probably the single most important aspect of helping your puppy become a well-adjusted, well-behaved dog. Playtime is when the puppy learns to trust their owners, when the bonding occurs and when the puppy learns how to interact with people. Puppies that are not played with and handled in positive and loving ways grow up to be aggressive or timid dogs, shy or very defensive and even vicious. Puppies that learn that people are kind, loving and safe will be calm, loving and social pets.
Puppy playtime needs to include several different elements beyond just having fun and bonding. Playtime is when owners can watch for signs of the puppies personality developing and also look for any possible problems in dominance, aggression or stubbornness. Puppies that are very aggressive in play are likely to be more dominant in training, less likely to be easy to work with and more likely to be dog aggressive without additional socialization and obedience training. Puppies that are very timid in play will be more likely to be hard to train because of submissive behaviors, more problematic to housetrain and less likely to be good dogs for families with kids. Thankfully both of these issues can be worked on through socialization, lots of positive interactions and time and energy on the part of the both the puppy and the owner.
To find the right type of play it is important to know about the general characteristics of your breed of puppy. Some puppies such as terriers, working breeds and gun dog breeds tend to like games that include a mental challenge. Games such as hide and seek, fetch and retrieve and even find specific items are all great for this group of puppies. They want to be both physically and mentally challenged when they are playing. These dogs are also likely to amaze owners with their problem solving abilities even at a young age.
Other breeds may enjoy play as more interactive with the owners. They will want to run along side, play with a rope toy by running with you or just romp around with the kids. Some dogs are not as playful by nature even as puppies however they will still enjoy being involved with the family in a game of tag or just playing alongside the family. Most puppies will play equally well inside as well as outside however the larger breeds typically are taught to only play outside due to space issues and possible destruction in the house if play gets to rough!
Toys to have on hand
No matter what breed of dog you have there are an amazing number of toys and chew items on the market. For very small and very large breeds of dogs the selection at pet stores may be limited, but the internet provides a wealth of sites selling specialty toys and games for all types of dogs. Some basics to have on hand for a variety of choice for playtime include:
Hard rubber balls of varying sizes. Be careful that there are no toys or balls small enough for the puppy to swallow, keep to bigger rather than smaller sizes.
Kongs or other hard rubber shaped toys that can be used for fetch or even for "Catch me if you can" type games of chase. Chase games should be avoided if you are teaching or planning to teach the fetch or retrieve command.
Knotted ropes. These are great for dogs to carry around and play with. Don't use them as tug of war toys with a puppy that is showing any signs of aggression or dominance or with a breed that is known for these traits.
Squeaky toys. These are great for small to medium sized puppies but large puppies usually destroy them very quickly to get at the noisemaker inside. Use these with extreme caution and don't leave them out as a toy for puppies to play with when unsupervised as they do pose a choking hazard if the puppy bites through the outer plastic.
Frisbees are great for older puppies but will be too hard for young puppies to follow as they move so fast. Always be careful to avoid throwing the Frisbee too high and encouraging the puppy to jump while running, this can lead to serious accidents.
Play can also involve setting up a fun kind of obstacle course for the puppy to play in. Puppies love to climb and explore, but be sure that everything is safe and secure to avoid any falls.
If the family has children it is very important to teach the kids how to play with the puppy. Even large breed puppies can be easily injured very unintentionally by a child, leaving the child feeling horrible and the puppy hurt. Simply reviewing some basic rules to playing with a puppy is usually all that parents have to do, especially with older children. Toy breed puppies typically should not be played with by kids in the traditional sense of the word simply because they really are fragile and easily very seriously hurt by any rough handling.
Play should always be safe for the puppy as well as the family. No rough behavior, aggression or biting on the part of the puppy towards any family member should be allowed. If the puppy does bite or show aggression the game should stop immediately until the puppy is calm and ready to play appropriately.
Playtime with other dogs and other pets is also a great way for a puppy to get exercise. If you do have an older dog or cat be sure to introduce the puppy to your current pet before leaving them alone unsupervised. If you have a puppy and a kitten it is a good idea to do the same, especially if one is much larger in physical sized than the other. Often dogs and cats will bond very closely to a puppy and will enjoy playing and interacting, but will also have to deal with the puppy's high energy level. If you have a senior dog you may need to find a way to allow the senior dog to get away from the puppy, especially if the puppy is a high-energy breed.
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