Every puppy owner wants to know what activities they can do with puppy to burn off some of that puppy energy. The key is to play in a way that doesn’t encourage behaviors that, although normal for dog play, are unsafe for play with humans, like mouthing and jumping.
When puppies and dogs play with each other, play mimics fighting behavior. This is normal. Lots of mouthing, tackling, pinning, growling. Adrenaline runs high. But dogs give each other lots of cues through their body language that let each other know it’s all in good fun. And when it gets too intense, they have ways of letting each other know that, too.
When playing with us, we want puppy to play at a less intense level. We don’t want the play to be so stimulating that ‘fight’ behaviors emerge and puppy can’t calm down. This is especially important for households with children. A young child’s natural energy - and all that running, yelling, squealing, and grabbing - can be interpreted by puppy as invitations to play, which can easily ramp up to an unsafe level.
So what are the do’s and don’ts of puppy play?
Get a long training lead, which is a 15-foot or longer cotton leash (not to be confused with the anti-training ‘retractable’ leash) found at pet supply stores, which you will use throughout your dog’s life for training. Use it to take puppy into the front yard or another puppy-safe place to investigate and play with toys and kids.
Play “Gotcha” and “Boomerang” which reinforce puppy paying attention to you and coming when called.
Teach rules around toys. For example say “take it” when puppy takes a toy into her mouth, and “drop it” when it’s your turn to hold the toy. (Teach “drop it” by holding a treat in front of puppies nose and say “drop it” as she lets go of the toy to take the treat). If you like to play tug with your puppy, these rules are essential.
Offer puppy a toy to chew if she starts targeting your body parts.
Walk away from playtime if puppy gets too excited and starts biting or jumping. Tell kids to cross their arms (hands are prime targets for puppy play), turn their backs, and walk (not run) away.
Have a few 15-20-minute play sessions per day, and quit before puppy becomes exhausted.
Roughhouse – the dog equivalent of wrestling. Puppy is too young to pull this off without going over the edge. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never get to rough house with your dog, but at this stage, especially with kids, puppy teeth are still too sharp and impulse control hasn’t kicked in.
Encourage obsessive behavior or play over any one toy, such as a ball. We all know that dog that can’t be in close proximity of a ball without demanding it be thrown over and over again. The simple fact is that a ball-obsessed dog is in a constant state of fixation. This is not pleasant or relaxing for a dog and interferes with your relationship and training.
Mistake overly wired energy with natural energy. Like overly tired kids, puppies become unmanageable when they need to take a break.
At this age a little activity can go a long way in providing puppy a healthy way to burn energy. Remember to keep it low-key and consistent so puppy will take some nice naps and you can get some things done.