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Why are games and dog toys important

Many people do not fully appreciate the importance of play sessions with your puppy or young dog. Dog and puppy games allow each player to discover and learn about each other and build familiarity of strengths and weaknesses, as well as general traits.

Not only does this ensure your dog grows up to see humans as a source of pleasure and enjoyment, it also helps build a bond of trust between you that will become important for effective training in the future. Also, whilst your dog sees you as a consistent source of amusement, they will want to be near you waiting for the next interesting thing to happen. This has obvious benefits in terms of recall and avoiding your dog seeking amusement elsewhere (i.e. chasing other animals, wandering off etc)

When and how often?

Playing should be seen as a reward for good behaviour, so don’t start if your dog is being a nuisance. 3-4 short sessions a day should be sufficient, but also encourage other people and visitors to play games with your dog. This will help limit shyness of strangers.

What sort of dog toys should I get?

Dog toys are an instrumental part of playing games with your dog. There is now an enormous range of dog toys you can now buy. So much so, it is often difficult to decide which to purchase and which dog toys your dog is most likely to be interested in. This is a guide to the different types of toys available:

  • Activity Dog ToysThese toys are intended to encourage your dog to play on their own. Many of these toys hold food or treats and some require your dog to experiment to understand how the treats are released. ‘Kongs’ are a good example- they are flexible rubber products that have a small hole through which they can be filled with different things (food, treats, etc). These are particularly well suited for dogs when they are left alone or for dogs that are under-stimulated and have a low boredom threshold. It is a good idea to have a number of these toys and keep some of them aside and only introduce them when your dog is to be left alone or is required to keep itself amused. This helps build a positive association with being left alone.
  • Dog Chew ToysChewing is essential for your dog to maintain healthy teeth and jaws. It is also a very useful distraction from boredom and a means of focusing their concentration and excess energy. Dog chew toys focus your dog’s natural chewing instinct on the toy, rather than on being destructive with other, more valuable, items.
  • Play ToysThese are generally toys that you use to play with your dog or for dogs to play with each other. Most dog breeds have been bred for specific working purpose (hunting, retrieving, guarding etc). As they grow into adolescence, dogs tend to show a preference to games which accommodate the instinct for which they were bred. When buying dog toys, it is worth bearing in mind the games your dog is most likely to want to play:
    • Herding dogs, gun dogs and hounds:
      Have a preference for hunt, chase and retrieving games. Toys that can be easily thrown or rolled work best for these games. Examples are balls, Frisbees and slings.
    • Guarding and hunting dogs:
      These dogs like possession games such as tug-o-war. Toys which can be held by two or more players are best suited for this. Examples are rope knots and pull toys.
    • Terriers:
      Terriers like kill games which are best simulated with soft toys that can be grabbed, shaken and thrown around. Squeaky toys are often a favourite.
  • Puppy Toys Puppy teething occurs between the ages of 3-7 months. There is now an increasing range of toys and chew products specifically targeting the requirements of puppies which help ease the discomfort of teething. Generally the younger the puppy, the more pliable the chew toy needs to be. It is now even possible to get toys that can be frozen, thus having a mild numbing effect on the puppy’s gums.

Useful tips when using dog toys

  • Always allow some toys to be readily accessible to your dog.
  • Keep some ‘super toys’ to one side and only introduce when you are playing with your dog.
  • Rotate toys, put away those he has lost interest in, then re-introduce them at a later date to allow them to rediscover them.
  • Work on training your dog to stop playing and release toys at your request.
  • Withdraw and replace any toys that overexcite your dog or toys that your dog becomes obsessed with.
  • During chase games, training your dog to immediately come back when called
  • Always introduce new toys now and then to keep their interest up.
  • All toys should be large enough not to be swallow.
  • Toys should not be constructed of any material that can break into sharp pieces.
  • Always replace toys when they start to disintegrate into small pieces. This is especially important for puppies, to prevent them swallowing or choking on these pieces.