Is your puppy feeling at home with you after the stressful first few days? Then now is the best time to start attending a puppy play group. We will explain why learning through play under the supervision of a dog trainer is important, how to find a good puppy play group as well as puppy games for at home.
Puppy Play Group: Learning for Life Through Play
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Socialisation and the first rules
As soon as a puppy opens its eyes at the age of three weeks, it becomes aware of its environment and would like to learn and discover as much as possible. From this point, a puppy's brain is construed to collect new sensations in order to get a picture of its future habitat. This picture should be as complete as possible, because the socialisation phase cannot be repeated once it is finished at 16 or 17 weeks. For your puppy, this means that if it doesn't get to know any other dogs following its mother and siblings, fellow canines will remain a red rag.
Canine brains also store negative experiences on a long-term basis. If a strange dog chases a puppy through the park and bites it, this can leave its mark forever. It's very possible that every walk in future will be like running the gauntlet. One-off bad experiences can lessen positive experiences that build the self-confidence of young dogs. It's important for your young dog to learn during this phase how fellow canines look, smell and behave. Puppy play groups are an ideal environment in this sense, because contact between dogs can take place in a controlled manner under the supervision of an experienced trainer. In addition, you will get plenty of important tips for the puppy phase.
Play & training: what happens in puppy play group?
A puppy play group commencing doesn't mean that all participants let their puppies off the lead and collect them again an hour later! Training is more than just play. In puppy play group, you and your canine companion learn the following:
- Controlled contact with other dogs: Puppies are curious and like running to other dogs or people. They learn how to be close to them but still concentrate on you. In theory or question and answer sessions, puppies see each other but remain on their lead, therefore learn to wait calmly alongside their owner despite distractions.
- Small basic obedience exercises: There is usually alternation between play, rest and training sessions. The dog trainer gives practical tips for day-to-day life with puppies. For instance, puppies become familiar with exchanging treats for practising abort signals.
- Strengthening the bond with humans: If dogs and their owners go on tours of discovery together and share exciting experiences with fellow dogs, this will strengthen their bond. Many dog schools offer a little tour of discovery with different surfaces, sniffing areas or tunnels.
- Fun and games: Games with other dogs are of course on the agenda too. The dog trainer will ideally pick two dogs with a similar temperament and give them a few minutes to play with one another. Over time, your puppy will become familiar with different playing habits through contact with different dogs.
Why long play sessions aren't good for puppies
The serious aspects of life begin soon enough. What shouldn't you let puppies play with each other at their whim, not in a puppy play group or outdoors? This can be harmful for several reasons. Your puppy should always feel safe and at ease, but wellbeing off gets out of kilter during uncontrolled play. Puppies can over- or underestimate their strength. If more than two dogs are playing, there is the danger of more cautious dogs getting bullied. Frightening experiences with other puppies can define a dog's entire life. A boisterous Malinois can frighten a Dachshund puppy on a lasting basis. Hence, it's important that dogs are always supervised and that the dog trainer intervenes before a dog starts to feel ill at ease.
In addition, long play sessions make dogs enter into a state of excitement, so they become boisterous. Puppy owners are familiar with their little one's five minutes of madness. This can often be observed following exciting walks. Dogs have experienced so much that they can barely process it. If dogs enter into a state of excitement, it can at times be difficult to subdue them. This is also possible with overly long walks and leads to rowdy behaviour like biting and jostling. Playing in this way doesn't have positive learning value for future interactions with other dogs for either party.
Puppies tire quickly so your little companion will be happy to be allowed to rest at the end of the puppy play group during a question and answer session. However, puppies do not take breaks of their own accord. Uncontrolled play would be too exhausting for young pups.
Find out more about puppy training!
Tips: how to find a good puppy play group
A dog school with nothing to hide will happily let you observe a regular puppy play group without your dog. This allows you to establish whether you feel at ease. Here are a few characteristics of a good puppy play group:
- No more than five puppies should be present
- Alternation between play and training sessions as well as rest periods
- Dogs that are allowed to play with one another are well-matched in terms of size and temperament
- The trainer teaches theory regarding canine body language and behaviour
- Positive reinforcement to reward desirable conduct
- Misbehaviour is ignored rather than punished
- No bullying of individual dogs by little rascals
- There are no young dogs (17 weeks and above) in the puppy group
- The dog trainer gives exercise tips for the coming week and leaves room for practical day-to-day questions
Tip: Find out before purchasing your dog about good puppy play groups close to you. The period of time for attendance is limited by your dog's age to around two months. If the dog school has waiting lists, you may miss this period.
Who are puppy play groups suitable for?
Even if you're an old hand when it comes to dog training, dogs and owners always benefit from a well-led puppy play group. You and your dog will gain a lot of valuable experience together. Puppy play groups are particularly recommended for all newcomers. After all, there are things to learn for both dogs and owners. Even dog owners who can't offer regular contact with other dogs should let their dog attend puppy play group. Many dog schools then offer courses for young dogs.
Puppy games for at home
Playing with your puppy at home is hugely important. Varied puppy games aren't just beneficial for your dog's exercise. Play sessions with your puppy also play a central role in social behaviour and dog training. For instance, there will be the opportunity to practise bite inhibition with your puppy when playing. As soon as your puppy is overzealous with its teeth, cry out briefly or push its snout away gently. Along with stopping play for a short period, this signals to your puppy that it has crossed a line. Appropriate breaks are also important during play so that your puppy isn't overwhelmed.
What puppy games are there for at home?
- Intelligence games
- Battle games
- Sniffing games
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