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5 great games for puppies that will keep them entertained for hours

great games for puppies
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Playtime is an essential part of your puppy’s daily routine. Not only does playing burn calories and improve strength and stamina, but it’s also an important part of your puppy’s mental and social development.

But playing with a puppy is about more than just buying the best puppy toys. To keep your puppy mentally stimulated, knowing how to play with a puppy is a must. It’s also a perfect time to bond, improve your puppy’s behavior, and even teach them a few new tricks. To help you get started, try incorporating these five great games for puppies into your daily playtime routine.

1. Play fetch with your puppy

This old classic is still one of the best games for you and your pup. A rousing game of fetch is not only a good form of exercise for your dog, but it’s also a great opportunity to get in some training. This is the perfect time to work on commands such as drop, sit, down, and stay.

Using the ball as your reward also means you won’t need to use as many puppy treats during training, which is a big plus for your puppy’s waistline. Just be careful not to push your puppy too hard – some dogs love to fetch so much that they’ll run until they’re completely exhausted. Too much running can be detrimental to your puppy’s growing bones and joints, so keep the fetch sessions short until he’s fully grown.

A good rule of thumb is that a puppy should not be exercised more than what he would participate in with other puppies of his own age. So, short bursts of running after the ball are okay, but sustained exercise – such as playing fetch for an hour straight – is too much for his growing body.


2. Get your friends involved with the recall game

The recall game is a fun way to teach your dog to come when he is called. It’s also an exciting way to socialize your puppy and teach him that new people are fun. To play the recall game, you’ll need a bunch of friends and a big open space.

Give each person some of your puppy’s favorite treats, then have them all stand in a large circle with your puppy in the middle. Have everyone take turns calling your puppy and rewarding him with the treats for coming to them. Pretty soon, he’ll be dashing across the circle to get his treats.

Keep the game upbeat and energetic. Encourage everyone to praise and reward your puppy as soon as he reaches the person that called him. If possible, incorporate people of different ages and in different outfits so that your puppy becomes accustomed to new experiences. The goal is to teach your puppy that it’s fun and rewarding to come when he’s called, so he’ll return to you reliably when he’s off the leash.

3. Try some basic nose work

Nose work is a fun and mentally stimulating activity that many dogs will love. Scent hounds and other breeds with a highly developed sense of smell particularly enjoy these games, but any dog can learn to play.

For pet owners with a competitive spirit, finding a nose work training class or attending trials through the National Association of Canine Scent Work are great ways to get started. But even those looking for a more casual atmosphere can practice some basic nose work games at home.

Start by creating a nose work obstacle course for your dog by hiding some extra smelly treats underneath an overturned cardboard box. You may need to guide your puppy at first until he gets the idea. As your puppy learns, you can start to make the obstacles more complicated and hide fewer treats so your puppy has to work harder to find the reward. You’ll be keeping his brain and his nose busy at the same time.

great games for puppies

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4. Revamp an old classic with tug of war

It’s a myth that tug of war causes puppy behavior problems – this old classic is still a great game to play with your pup. Just be sure to set some basic ground rules for safe and appropriate play. First, make sure your puppy is already reliably trained with a “drop” command. You don’t want to take away an object only for it to turn into an unintentional game of tug.

Second, never let your puppy initiate the game by tugging on your body or clothing.  Always start the game yourself, or let your puppy initiate it by bringing you an appropriate rope dog toy. Finally, if your puppy grabs you or your clothing during the game – even by accident – stop all play immediately. This will teach your puppy that tugging on you or nipping your hands is never acceptable play behavior.

5. Use puzzle toys for some peace and quiet

Need a game to keep your puppy occupied while you’re busy with other things? The best dog puzzle toys are a great tool to keep your puppy mentally stimulated. These toys are typically filled with treats or your puppy’s kibble, and your puppy will have to work to get the reward.

Puzzle toys are readily available at most pet stores and they come in varying sizes and difficulties. As your puppy learns about puzzle toys, you may need to upgrade to a more difficult toy to keep him busy. You can also build your own puzzle toys at home – try using paper towel rolls, empty egg cartons, or an ice cube tray to hide small treats or pieces of your puppy’s kibble. Just make sure to supervise your puppy so that he doesn’t ingest any pieces that aren’t actually edible.

Most importantly, have fun!

Playtime is all about positive experiences and socialization for your puppy. Keep your play sessions short, upbeat, and highly rewarding and your puppy will always be eager for more. For more fun games for your puppy, check out books such as Brain Games For Dogs or ask your trainer for ideas on incorporating your puppy’s training in a fun new way.

Elizabeth Racine, DVM

Since obtaining her doctorate in veterinary medicine, Dr. Racine has worked exclusively in small animal general practice. Her work has been featured in blog posts, articles, newsletters, journals, and even video scripts.