“Now what do you have”!?!  Despite the fact that we puppy proofed the house, this comment kept coming out of our mouths. The puppy had yet another item of contraband. A shoe, a sock, a bag of chips. The items just kept coming. It was time to play “Whatcha Got”?

Young puppies explore the world with their mouth.  It is totally normal for them to pick up and chew on pretty much everything within reach. In our house, we turn this into the “Whatcha Got?” game.  This game is much more fun and effective than the Steal It & Run Game.  You know the Steal It & Run Game, right?  It’s where your puppy steals an item and you get upset and chase after him while he tries to escape with his prize.

WARNING: the “Whatcha Got?” game is going to seem totally WRONG. It goes against what we instinctively want to do, which is to scold and punish. But the science tells us that scolding and punishing is not teaching — and what we really want to to do is teach.

Here is how to play (aka train):
Your young puppy just picked up a household item. Get really excited and ask her to bring it to you. As she is trotting in your direction, consider the following Two Questions:

  1. Is it dangerous?
  2. Is it expensive?

If the answer to either of these question is yes, we immediately trade the item for a treat or a toy. For example:

Bottle of cleaning solution = Dangerous.  TRADE, NO PLAY.

Your iPhone = Expensive.  TRADE, NO PLAY

An empty toilet paper roll = Not dangerous.  Not expensive.  A little messy, but it’s free entertainment. PLAY!

Your sneaker = Not dangerous. Possibly expensive. PLAY!  & then trade for an appropriate toy…

Why yes, we did just suggest that you let your puppy play with your sneaker.  Encourage your puppy to bring the sneaker, play tug or fetch for just a minute, and then trade out for something more appropriate. If the item is not dangerous or expensive, then it’s an opportunity. Teach your puppy to fetch you all manner of random things!

Zephyr, 19 weeks old, shows you what it looks like:

Don’t get us wrong — you should still do Puppy Proofing and put your shoes away!  Close the bathroom door so that pup doesn’t tear up the full toilet paper rolls. But we promise that your your puppy won’t become a Nike-shredding monster just because he gets his mouth on your shoes a time or two.  We have donated several socks to the cause over the past few weeks. But a few socks now is much better than losing couch cushions or other expensive items later.

Want some evidence? In the next video, 9 week old Zephyr and her brother, Scuttlebutt, attack the broom without mercy.  Just 2 months later, you can see that Zephyr has learned to be a civilized creature when the broom is in motion. No damage done!

Life with your new pup really can be all fun and games, even when you’re training a Very Important Skill.  Puppyhood doesn’t last long, so enjoy every minute!