The best ways to play with your puppy involve organized games. Natural puppy play like, chase, tug, hunting, scent tracking and racing all appeal to their instincts. I’ll share fifteen games to play with your puppy that will be safe, fun, and help your bond to grow even stronger as they grow and develop.
Studies show that repetitive jerking motions, jumping, and climbing stairs often lead to bone and joint problems later in life, so go easy on these types of puppy games. Also, after playtime, puppies often need an extra potty break! Playing with your puppy right after he’s eaten is not a good idea—he may lose his lunch or become gassy! Other than that, just enjoy playing with your new puppy!
Why Should You Play With Your Puppy?
Playing has been a part of social development for both humans and dogs since the days of hunting and gathering. Nowadays, our daily routine has been reduced to mostly hunting burgers and gathering fries, but playing still remains a critical part of human social development. This is true for our canine companions as well.
Ensuring adequate and healthy playtime is a big part of raising a well-rounded dog. Some types of puppy games are good for physical development, whereas others are important for mental and social development.
How To Play With A Puppy
Even if you’ve only had your puppy for only one week, you’re probably already wishing you had half his energy! So let’s get started with the most obvious ways to burn off some of that energy. Here are a few of my favorite twists on classic puppy games.
Puppy Running Games
1. Use a Flirt Pole
Flirt poles are fabulously simple and absolutely brilliant.
A flirt pole is simply a stick or pole with a rope or bungee hanging from the end. At the other end of the rope is a fabric-type toy that bounces and moves easily.
The concept is based on teasing a dog’s prey drive.
By bouncing the pole or dragging it slowly across the ground, the toy at the end of the rope becomes wildly animated like a small animal.
Your dog will go nuts chasing and trying to capture it.
2. Try a Good Old-Fashioned Game of Chase
Continuing to play on your pup’s prey drive, this one is pretty self-explanatory.
Just be aware that when puppies naturally play chase with each other, the “winner” is typically the one who pushes the other down, stands over, and chews the “loser’s” ears.
So don’t be surprised if your sweet little snuggle-bug starts barking, lightly snarling, or nipping at your heels.
It’s important to know when these behaviors are playful and when you should be concerned about mounting aggression.
The best place to turn if you have any concerns is your dog’s vet or a certified dog trainer.
I saw first-hand the fun and significance the hide-n-seek game can have in a puppy’s life working with Search & Rescue Canine teams.
Search & Rescue Canines are dogs trained to sniff out people who are trapped under rubble after disasters like earthquakes. But, how do their trainers first start them on that path?
To initiate the game, trot away from your puppy while looking over your shoulder and calling her name.
Stop after a few yards, squat down to your knees and scoop her up into a playful snuggle.
Repeat several times, each time going a bit further away and calling her less and less until you are no longer calling her at all.
Next, run off and hide from your puppy’s sight, like behind a tree.
This is where it becomes helpful to have a second person holding your puppy while you run and hide until she gets good at “stay”.
The final phase of hide-n-seek is to wait until your puppy is distracted (such as when they first go outside to use the loo!).
Then quietly hide from sight and call your puppy’s name once.
Wait and see if she can find you based on sound and smell cues alone.
Once you get well-versed in hide-n-seek together, add a level of fun by bringing your puppy’s favorite toy with you and surprising them when they find you!
How To Play With A Puppy Indoors
Around the time you are getting home from school or work and you’re ready to collapse on the couch for a break is when your pooch is ready to romp and roll.
Well, we’ve got you covered. The following games can be played with your puppy indoors, in the comfort of your sweatpants as your dinner simmers on the stove.
4. Blow bubbles
My shepherd mix Lily had a blast chomping at the bubbles and sneezing as they pop on her nose.
Ever since then, a jar of non-toxic children’s play bubbles has been a staple in my “rainy day” toy chest.
Be sure to dry off the floor afterward so nobody slips on the little bit of soapy residue bubble-blowing sessions will inevitably leave on the floor!
5. Tug & Release
Rather than traditional “tug of war,” variations of Tug & Release are better games for puppies indoors when you don’t have a lot of space.
Certain toys work better than others—a knotted rope, length of fabric, or Kong tug toys. (For more details, see the section on “What Do Puppies Like to Play With” further down.)
Rather than jerking and tugging in a continuous fight against the strength of your puppy’s jaw, play several shorter rounds and let your puppy win.
To keep the game nice and calm,“release” is a key component but will take a lot of practice.
Start by initiating tug with the toy. Then, release the tension on your end (without actually releasing the toy) and place your other hand on the back of your puppy’s head or collar.
If the puppy doesn’t release the toy right away from the distraction of your other hand, then just wait quietly for a few seconds.
Tug-of-war is only fun when two are playing, so your puppy will drop the toy eventually.
If you time it right, you can praise your puppy for dropping the toy and then re-initiate the game right away.
So your puppy will learn that if he releases the toy when you touch his head or collar, you’ll start it right back up again.
And the game will go on and on. Tug & release. And you won’t have to chase him down when he wins!
6. Snuggles, Massage, & Groom.
This is the easiest indoor game for puppies. Everyone’s favorite way to play with their new puppy is to snuggle! And it’s actually a great activity for both of you.
Spending a few moments running your hand over your puppy’s snout-to-tail, massaging her feet, and brushing her coat ensures you notice hygiene or health issues straight away.
It also helps your puppy become desensitized to being touched—useful for future grooming or vet visits!
How To Play With A Puppy Using Brain Games
Brain games are important for stimulating your puppy’s mental development. A bored puppy is a destructive puppy! So here are my favorite brain games for puppies.
7. Tracking Games
Tracking games are great for dogs to put their awesome olfactory system to work! All you have to do is drag a treat like a milk bone across the ground a few yards and hide.
The best hiding places are inside something like a box or overturned flowerpot. (It’s best to do this one out on your patio or yard, rather than leaving a crumb trail on the carpet!)
8. What’s That Smell?
To put Scruffy’s sniffer to work a bit more, add some unique smells to the mix.
Next time you go to the pet store for kibble, bring a few old rags and ask the staff if you can get some scents from the hamsters, birds, and maybe even the fish department!
Definitely play this outdoors, because your pup might feel threatened by other animal smells on his turf and you don’t want him marking his territory inside the house!
9. Classic Cups & Balls Trick–Puppy Style
For this game, three recycled butter tubs flipped upside-down are great.
Hide a treat under one of them while puppy’s watching.
Then move them around, mix them up, and let your puppy use his nose to knock over the tubs and find the right one.
Play Through Socialization
Socialization isn’t just about playing with other dogs. It’s about having a well-rounded dog in various environments and situations.
10. Leisurely Sniff-n-Strolls
Going for a walk is one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to socialize your puppy.
The point is to mix it up with keeping your puppy on a tight lead for polite walks, versus leisurely strolls with a little more leash to sniff around and explore.
If it’s raining you can always take a trip to pet-friendly retailers for added socialization and exploration.
Just make sure your puppy is fully vaccinated before introducing them to other pets.
11. What’s that sound?
A fun way to desensitize your puppy to a variety of noises is to play this game.
Gather a basket of objects from around the house and hide it behind your back.
One by one, make noise with each object while your dog looks on, probably confused.
Then show him the object and let him sniff it and explore it while you make the noise again with the object in plain sight.
This could include your shaking keys, dropping a small pan on the floor, crinkling some plastic wrap, or clicking a ball-point pen.
12. Meet the Car
It may not occur to you to introduce your puppy to the family car, but you should!
Not only will it be an interesting exploratory activity to do together, it will help next time you have to take your pup for a car ride so they won’t be scared of this steel moving giant!
Walking around the car together, opening and closing doors, honking the horn, and letting him jump in and out are good activities.
How To Play With A Puppy While Training
13. Crate games
Getting your puppy comfortable going into a crate or bed is one of the earliest goals of training. So why not make a game out of it?
Toss tiny treats inside and around the crate while she gets used to walking in and out without fear. Then up the ante by occasionally closing the door after she walks inside.
Then let her out again and start over.
14. Red Rover Red Rover, Send Rover Right Over!
This is one of those puppy training games for the whole family to get in on!
Have everyone stand in a big circle in the backyard. Simply take turns calling your pup’s name and give big snuggles and a treat when she trots over to you.
It seems simple, but we always end up having a laugh at the antics that puppies get into when they start running around the circle looking for who has called!
15. Teach Your Puppy Some Words
You don’t have to be a trainer to teach your puppy words with this simple game.
Pick two objects and set them in front of your puppy. Say the name of one object a few times, and wait.
When your puppy eventually sniffs the correct object, say “GOOD GIRL!” and give her a treat.
Repeat, using the same object as the target a few times before repeating the same thing with another object.
Then alternate back and forth and see how many sessions of this game it takes for your dog to know the names of the objects!
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website