Bring Out The Best In Your Dog Through Play


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I get a lot of questions regarding appropriate play with a dog. Animals learn a lot of skills through play, so we don’t want to discourage play behaviors—we want to use the game to create appropriate behavior.

MOUTHING is a behavior I allow a puppy to do while playing, because this way the puppy learns appropriate bite pressure. This is something animals learn through play. If your pup bites too hard, say “Ouch!” loudly and stop moving your hand. Don’t pull it away—that causes the dog to inadvertently bite you a second time. Staying still stops the biting.

HIDE AND GO SEEK will help teach your dog to come and can be played inside or outside. First hide, then call your dog until it finds you. Then, with great excitement, reward your dog with lots of hugs and pats or a favorite toy.

TUG OF WAR is another good game to play with your pup. This game will help teach him about the appropriate excitement level during play. Most pups that play tug of war will escalate in excitement during the game. When your dog reaches an excitement level that you find uncomfortable, you stop tugging, keep your hand very still, and say, “Enough.” This stops the game. When your dog follows your lead and stops, then you can start the game again, stopping at the same point. Through this exercise, your dog learns what excitement level is okay for them to reach and where they need to stop.

FETCH is a good way to practice the “Come” command, and it helps teach focus, balance and coordination.

GO FIND is a game that will challenge your pup, requiring him to use his senses to find a treat and, later, a toy. Start with a treat; teach the dog to track the fairly strong scent of the treat; then later, you can introduce toys for your dog to find.

PET TRICKS are a great way to teach your pup to focus.

SHAKE: Hold a treat cupped in your hand in front of the pup while tapping behind your dog’s front leg near the carpus (wrist). When the pup lifts its paw, release the treat.

CIRCLE: Hold a treat by your pup’s tail, encouraging him to turn and come toward the treat. When he does a complete circle, give him the treat. Some dogs will only spin left or right.

ROLL OVER: When your dog is down, put a treat against the dog’s shoulder and move it back toward its spine, until the dog lies flat and eventually rolls all the way over. (Sometimes we need to help them at first.)

Bored pups are destructive and display bad behaviors. Playing with your pup in a productive way will keep him busy and happy!

Valerie Masi, owner of Best Paw Forward, can be reached at 760-885-9450 or visit


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