Search Party

During the section discussing toys I encouraged you not to throw a ball constantly for your puppy. A fun alternative game is to make the puppy search for hidden ball or a toy instead.

For this game you need to get your puppy focusing on a toy it really likes such as a tuggy or on this occasion a ball. You will also need either some treats or a second toy that you have hidden in a pocket.

Play the “Play and Swap” game with your puppy in a small, enclosed environment so that it really likes the toy or ball. Once it is focused on the toy or ball:

  1. Hide the toy but allow your puppy clearly to see where you are hiding it
  2. Let your puppy search for the toy, you can even give a “Find it” or “Search” command as it is searching. This should be a relatively easy task as the puppy watched where you hid it.
  3. When your puppy finds the toy use your clicker and then either get the second toy out of your pocket and use it to play the “Play and Swap” game or reward with a food treat.
  4. Play with your puppy; make finding the toy a big event.
  5. Gradually start increasing the distance and the difficulty of the search.

A useful tip if your puppy does not bring back the object is to keep your puppy on the lead or long lead.

This game is not only great entertainment but encourages your puppy to use their sense of smell. The game is suitable not only for puppies but for dogs of all ages and can be played in a wide range of locations. As examples you can play the game in virtually any room, along a forest track, or in a field in long grass.

You never know maybe someday you could teach your puppy to find your missing keys or your phone (I wished I had taught this to Manouk!).


“Catch” encourages your puppy to focus on you as your puppy must really concentrate to catch the food. “Catch” also encourages your puppy to keep all 4 feet on the floor rather than jumping and helps to bring the proximity required for good heel work and loose lead walking practice.

You may think that “Catch” will encourage your puppy to jump but in fact the opposite is true in most cases. This is because you puppy concentrates on looking for the treat falling near to its mouth during the game.

I love this game for boisterous and excitable dogs and puppies that need to learn some self-control and focus.

As the name indicates, “Catch” involves your puppy catching a food treat that is being dropped. The important skill is in how the treat is dropped.  The treat should not be thrown at the puppy as this might encourage the puppy to jump. Instead, drop the treat just in front of your dog’s nose in a straight line.

 To play the “Catch” game:

  1. Try to have your hand roughly above your dog’s nose. Start quite low, too big a distance between your hand and your puppy’s nose may make the game difficult to start with.
  2. Drop the treat. This should fall right in front of your puppy’s nose.
  3. Your puppy should try to catch the treat.
  4. When your puppy is managing to catch the food, you can add the word “Catch” to the behaviour.

It is a difficult game for a young puppy to learn. Some puppies initially really struggle to catch the treats. If the puppy finds it too difficult and does not open its mouth use your clicker and click as soon as the puppy attempts to open his mouth to encourage the behaviour.

Emergency Recalls

We are now going to cover the steps to teach an efficient emergency recall to your puppy.

Start the game in your garden. Make sure you have a long lead so that if your puppy is getting distracted you will have a means to get control over it. All that is required is to place a foot on the lead if your puppy tries to run too far away from you.

Set yourself up so that every recall you try should be a success. A one-meter successful recall is much more valuable to condition your puppy in the long term to come back to you than attempting a 30-metre recall where you puppy runs away and/or must be called lots of times before acknowledging you.

A successful recall means that your puppy answers to your recall straight away and attempts to make physical contact with you at the end of the recall. Use one of the proximity games you have learnt such as “Say Hello”, “Grab my collar” or a game of tug when your puppy returns. Finally, your puppy should not be running away from you after the recall, which is a quite common behaviour.

The steps for “Restrained Recall” are:

  • Using a long lead, start to recall in a no arousal environment, in your garden for example.
  • Decide on a word that you are only going to use for an incredibly fun recall. I teach people to use “Heel” which will mean “come back to me on my left side”. The word you choose should be called with as high a pitch and exciting voice as possible. We want to condition your puppy to turn back quickly to you when your puppy hears that specific sound.
  • Ask someone that your puppy knows well to hold your puppy by its shoulders or its harness if your puppy is wearing one, or the long lead.
  • If your puppy is on a long lead, make sure the long lead is trailed on the floor behind it to avoid the lead getting entangled around your puppy or the person who is restraining it.
  • Set your puppy up for success. Make sure your puppy has a desire to come to you before releasing it. Desire is key to the success of this method. Tease your puppy with its tuggy, some food, its push bowl, or anything else it is really stimulated by.
  • Start running! Your puppy must see you running away. Importantly while you are running:
    • Show the tuggy or the treats from your left hand.
    • Turn your head to your left side so that you can watch your puppy from over your left shoulder as it runs towards you.
    • Showing the toy or food from your left hand and turning your head to the left will entice your puppy towards your left side.
  • Call your puppy with your “Heel” command (HeeL is on your Left Leg) whilst running.
  • Make the command and your actions exciting and have your helper immediately release your puppy
  • To start with you only need to be running a couple of metres away from your puppy. The game needs to be easy, so the puppy does not give up.
  • When your puppy reaches you, the reward should be immediate and fun; make that reward a special event! In a normal environment you will be competing against so many arousing stimuli and you need your puppy to think that you are more fun than any of these.
  • When rewarding, try to make physical contact with your puppy to build confidence and optimism so your puppy learns that moving your hand toward your puppy does not mean the end of the game.
  • Grab your puppy’s collar so your puppy cannot escape, but if possible, keep playing.

Do not forget:

  • To grab the collar of your puppy and keep on playing. Your puppy should not be able to run away at the end of the recall.
  • If your puppy does not chase you, you may have made the game too difficult (too far a distance or too many other distractions) or you might not have instilled enough of a desire to chase you before starting the game.
  • You should not need to call your puppy multiple times. If you have to repeat your puppy’s name to get its attention you are simply teaching your puppy to ignore you. I usually do not need to use my puppy’s name at all; I only use the specific sound that I have chosen for the recall.

If you are on your own one trick is to throw a treat behind your puppy. The treat needs to be big enough, so your puppy does not spend time smelling to search for it. Run in the other direction whilst your puppy is getting the treat.

Learn to play

Interacting with your puppy with a toy is not only enjoyable, but also a powerful tool that can be so influential on your puppy’s behaviour. It helps to develop a strong bond between you both and can make you truly become the centre of attention of your puppy’s world.

I always aim to play with a puppy with a purpose in mind. It does not make the game less interesting for the puppy; it is just another way to play. All the toy games I advocate playing with your puppy aim to develop a strong will for your puppy to want to be in your proximity and make some sort of contact with you. This will be useful to develop sharp recalls and to teach your puppy to bring back an object to you, rather than the puppy enjoying being chased around.

Chasing your puppy is fun for your puppy, but what are you achieving other than reinforcing the behaviour to run away from you? I often see this in household with children. Usually, the children love chasing the puppy and the puppy loves being chased. But then when it comes to teaching an emergency recall, your puppy will not be so keen! Children can engage in a lot of other toy play with your puppy as described in this video.

As you are training your puppy always aim at developing games that promote your puppy to enjoy coming directly back to you.

Playing a game of tug is a good interaction as the puppy needs to come to you to play tug. I especially love using toys for working with recalls. You will also find that with a puppy that mouths your hands or clothes it is possible to transfer the mouthing behaviour on to the toy.

Some puppies will take to playing a game of tug with a toy very quickly and will love it, for others it will take longer.

At the start of training, the main mistake people make is to try to place the toy in the dog’s mouth. This is invasive, the puppy generally will not like it and it will move away.

The first step is to make the toy interesting to the puppy, start to agitate the toy on the floor not too far from your puppy’s nose. This should trigger its curiosity as well stimulating its chasing instinct. I tend to do some “snake like” movement with the tuggy, this works really well.

With time your puppy may start to grab the tuggy in its mouth, which is the behaviour that we want. Some puppies initially might just paw the tuggy. Just be patient, it just shows that your puppy is interested.

When your puppy starts tugging, try to shake the tuggy gently from side to side, and keep a bit of tension on the tuggy. If you shake it too violently initially there is a chance your puppy will leave go and be reluctant to take it again for a while. Try to imitate the behaviour that 2 dogs do when they tug.

It is also important to let your puppy win a game of tug sometimes otherwise there is a good chance your puppy will begin to lose interest and no longer consider this as a fun game.

When your puppy really likes the game, start to cuddle it a little whilst playing, tap your puppy gently on its shoulders or anywhere along his body whilst playing. It is a great way for your puppy not to learn to anticipate that the movement of your free hand coming close to his collar is an indicator that the game is over. It is just another approach of “Grab my collar” game.

If you struggle with the tugging, do not give up, it can take time for some puppies to get the idea.