Playing active games is a great way for pets and their owners to stay mentally and physically healthy. For young dogs, regular activity is especially important -- just observe the maniacal behavior of a puppy after being cooped up for too long. Some people may find it difficult to keep up with the energy of a precocious pooch, especially those for whom "cardio" means a mad dash for the fridge during commercial breaks. The good news is that providing your puppy with enough activity doesn’t need to take a lot of time or effort. In fact, young dogs need just as much down time as they do exercise.
Anyone who owns a dog knows that, no matter the breed, these animals love a good nap. Some breeds take several per day depending on how much exercise they get. For puppies, each day is filled with flurries of frenzied activity alternated with some serious snooze time. And just like young humans, skipping a sorely needed siesta is never a good idea. According to emergency veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson, sleep is an extremely important part of the growth and maturation process of puppies. If you let them play too hard or too long, you'll end up with a very grumpy pup.
Now that you have a sense of your puppy’s natural activity patterns, you’re probably wondering how to fill his wake time with fun and fitness. We’ve got you covered. Read on for a list of five active games for puppies.
Taking a stroll along the beach, in the park, or simply through your own neighborhood is an ideal activity for young dogs. Make each walk a game by giving your hound a chance to jump, balance along curbs, and smell the roses as he finds them. Just be sure to keep close. According to Dr. Nelson, using a 4 to 6 foot (1.2 to 1.8 meter) lead, not an extender leash, is a good way to keep your bowwow safe. Also, bear in mind that running should only be done on the puppy's terms. It’s not safe to go jogging with your fledgling fur ball until his joints are fully mature. Keep the walks short, about five minutes for each month of age (i.e. about 15 minutes for a 3-month-old puppy.)
Considering all the sights and sounds they experience, outdoor explorations can be intellectually stimulating for developing dogs. Walking with your young pet allows for interaction with other people and animals, providing much-needed socialization for both of you. Being out for a stroll is also a great time to reinforce a puppy’s training for commands like sitting and staying. When you meet a neighbor, be sure to show off your dog’s skills.
Who doesn’t love a game of hide and seek? And it’s even more fun with a furry friend. Games like these are great exercise and provide a wonderful outlet for honing your happy hound’s hunting skills. Start the game by having a friend hold your dog while you go and hide. Then, say his name every few seconds until he finds you. He’ll be very excited when he does – young dogs love this game. A great way to reinforce training is to command him to "come" while he is searching. If your dog truly doesn’t see where you’ve hidden, it’s sure to be a suspenseful -- albeit short -- game of hot pursuit.
Another fun game for around the house is to have your dog hunt for a toy or treat. The idea is that rather than having to find a hiding human, your best baby buddy must sniff out something that you’ve stealthily stashed away. Most dogs love this game just as much as hide-and-seek. In fact, the only downside is that puppies can become so excited that they bark, bite, or otherwise behave badly if they become frustrated by the hunt, so be sure to let them win sometimes.
For a great time with your best furry friend, there is nothing like a game of fetch. It’s best played in the park or along the shore, but it can be fantastic fun in the backyard or even the living room, assuming yours isn’t filled with irreplaceable figurines. What’s more, playing active games like fetch teaches a puppy to focus and follow instructions. If your pet has never played before, pique his interest by tossing the fetch toy and demonstrating how to chase after and retrieve it. He’ll master the concept in no time.
While fetch may seem pretty straightforward, there are some important do's and don’t for playing with a puppy. For starters, you’ll need an appropriate fetch object such as a small toy or soft doll. It needs to be light enough that your petit pooch won’t need to struggle to retrieve it. And try to avoid sticks if possible. They are rough on a young dog’s mouth and create the possibility of him swallowing woody bits. Also, be careful not to overwork your pet. A good rule of thumb is to take a rest after each 10-minute play session.
Most dogs love water, and water-based games are great for growing puppies. Swimming and water play also provide a fabulous, low-impact workout that won’t put stress on a dog’s developing joints. Introducing water to your pet early also makes it more likely that he’ll be confident in aquatic environments throughout life.
Even if your dog takes to water like a duck, it’s a good idea to use a pet-appropriate life vest until he’s proved himself to be a strong swimmer. If he’s never been in water before, you should also avoid strong tides. Instead, try a calm lake or swimming pool where you can get into the water with your dog. Bring plenty of his favorite fetch toys -- preferably ones that float -- and let the good times begin.
A word of caution: If you have a dog that doesn't like the water, don’t force the issue. Anxiety can quickly lead to panic, which can lead to tragedy in a watery environment. Also, give your pet a rest every 10 minutes or so. Puppies will become tired quickly when swimming, especially in an ocean or fast-moving river.
Perhaps the best active game for young dogs is simply learning tricks. This is a great way to combine exercise with the discipline your pet will need for a healthy and happy life. Start off with teaching basic training commands like "stay" and "come" outside or in a room large enough to allow him to practice. These skills not only teach your dog to focus; they will be critically important to his safety when you bring him out into the world. Later, you can move on to tricks such as lying down, rolling over, or playing dead.
Performing tricks is a mental and physical workout for your pet. A good rule of thumb is to spend only about 10 minutes at a time on each trick session, and then come back to it after a short break -- dogs learn best when trained early and often. Also, be sure to reward your puppy with plenty of treats, love and affection for performing well. Tricks and training are important for developing doggie discipline, but they also should provide an opportunity for bonding between you and your best buddy.