Learning through play

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Play time with your puppy: it's a serious business

Playing with your new puppy is both fun and exciting. It's also at the very heart of his early training. Playing games will help you to form a strong, enduring bond very quickly. There are health benefits, too. During those days when he's so young that you won't be able to take him outside, play time exercise will aid development of growing muscles, and healthy bones and joints.

Any old toy just won't do

One of the first rules of toys for your puppy is to keep his toys and your family's belongings separate. You mustn't allow your puppy to have access to family shoes, for example, or your children's own toys, since old habits are hard to shake off.

Suitable and safe toys include "raggers". These can be used to play a variety of games and they're also something your puppy can shake. Then there are "Kongs', hollow cones made of virtually indestructible rubber. The beauty of Kongs is that they can be filled with little treats which help to keep your puppy occupied if he has to be left alone for a while.

It's your puppy's play time, but control is the name of the game

Let's look to the future for a moment; ideally, you'll want your puppy to grow into an obedient and stress-free adult dog. That's why it's imperative that during games with your puppy, you teach him some control. This will certainly pay dividends in the future when there's bound to be a need to control him in excitable or stressful situations. And with you in control of the games, you're in control of your puppy. But remember, your puppy is still very young, and you should be patient with him as you help him to learn how to behave in a restrained way.

Some important "play and learn" games

Chase games

These games bring out your puppy's natural instinct to chase, so control is an important aspect. He will need to learn how to resist moving when a toy is thrown, for example, until you give him the command to fetch. And he'll have to get used to being asked to return, even though he's sprinting to retrieve his favourite toy.

Shake and "kill" games

These games often involve squeaky toys and place emphasis on your puppy's predatory nature, so some form of control is desirable. For example, teach him to stop "killing" the toy and drop it, and to return to you on command, even though he would love to keep it.

Tug-of-war games

These games will enable you to teach your puppy to stop pulling his ragger and let go at the command of "Drop!", for which you can reward with a treat. You should practise this little and often until he lets go of his toy immediately at your command.

Play time is just the beginning

Once you've helped your puppy to master the basics of control, you might consider something a little more advanced, such as joining a training club. Your vet will be happy to give you details of clubs and facilities in your area, as well as recommending detailed training books and manuals.

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