We encourage people to start playing games with their puppies from a really early age. It's a really important part of building a strong relationship with our dogs, that we're a source of great fun right from the word go. This becomes really valuable when we start letting them off the lead and they start exploring the world - whilst we want them to have freedom to socialise and check out new situations, we want them to understand that there's nothing more exciting than being with us.
Not all dogs love to play with toys, though most can be encouraged and learn to love a game of tug of war if introduced properly. That's our favourite game as we're included in it, rather than games that involving throwing the toy away from us and our dog's simply using us as a tool to throw it for them to chase. Tugging on a toy together is lots of fun and is a way of sharing the fun - plus using that as a reward is much easier than always having to have treats in your pocket. Our dogs love to tug so much they enjoy playing with their lead when we offer it to them - but don't panic, on our training courses we teach you how to offer the lead as a play-thing so that they're not constantly grabbing at the lead whilst you're walking down the street.
A common misconception among many dog owners is the belief that certain games played between dog and owner can cause behaviour problems. The biggest offenders are the tug-of-war and other rough-and-tumble games. The dominance myth would have us believe that if we allow our dogs to ‘win’ a game we’re in danger of losing our status as ‘pack leader’. In fact recent scientific studies of dogs and owners playing the game of tug comment that "Tugging games with humans seem to be about keeping the game going, not about possessing the object". The key here is that the game must have clear and simple rules for both parties, namely if I ask you to release your toy you must let me have it, regardless of how excited you are, and if your teeth make contact with my skin then I will end the game.
For more information about the dominance myth, check out Barry Eaton's "Dominance: Fact or Fiction". It's a great read and explains exactly how dogs view their lives with us - think family member rather than domineering dictatorships ;)
Once you've found a toy that your dog loves, we suggest you keep it for special occasions rather than leaving it out to play with themselves all the time. It's going to be much more interesting and valuable to them if they only get to play with it when you're around, and it's going to keep them much more focused on you because of it. During our foundation agility class we go into more depth about how useful a training aid your tuggy toy will become, not just for training games, but for real-life situations like building a great recall. I love the picture below of my Jade who has been captured on film just as she's called to play her favourite toy - utterly intent on getting to me as fast as she possibly can.
Please feel free to post questions below about how we can help you encourage the sort of drive and intensity that Jade is demonstrating above - there is a lot of FUN for you and your dog to have whilst doing so :)