How to teach your dog to love toys

One of the biggest challenges with caring for a dog is providing adequate daily physical and mental exercise. If a dog loves toys, it is often much easier to find games and training strategies to keep him entertained. For those of you out there that have a dog that doesn't like toys, this is for you.

How to Get Your Dog to Love Toys

You can increase the chances that your dog will like toys by following the suggestions found here. You can practice these strategies with any age dog, but an older dog might take some time before he shows any interest. Think of this strategy as an investment in your dog's future.

I adopted Trooper; one of my Collies, when he was two-years-old and it took him a long time before he became interested in toys. He is still not as toy-crazy as my other dogs that played with toys since they were puppies, but his increased interest gives me more ways to keep him interested in training, reward him and exercise him.

Here are some general suggestions for increasing interest in toys:

  1. Buy a variety of toys and see what your dog gravitates towards. Most dogs show some interest in toys that squeak, but you should experiment with hard rubber, soft rubber, cloth, furry, tennis balls, and the huge variety of styles that can be found at stores or online.
  2. Feed your dog occasionally out of Kongs or other stuffable toys. I consider these toys "food dispensers" and nothing else. If dogs play with these toys when they are empty, great, but that is just a bonus. If used correctly, these toys provide you a way to keep your dog occupied for hours.
  3. Put toys away when you are not training or actively using them to keep your dog occupied. Dogs definitely get bored with toys that they have access to all the time. Keep them novel and interesting.
  4. Keep an "outside only" toy that your dog loves to use for leash walking or other outside training exercises when you are competing against distractions. Reward your dog with the toy from your pocket when your dog walks nicely, looks away from a distraction on cue, or sits before greeting another dog.
  5. Learn how to safely Play Tug with your dog
  6. Show a lot of interest when your dog plays with toys. Start petting him, get excited, make all the fun START when he touches the toy!

Exercise: Increase Motivation to Play With Toys

Here is a really fun way for you to teach your dog to like toys more. You can do this exercise with any toy including a Frisbee, tennis ball, Kong or squeaky toy. Make sure you put all the toys away when you are not there to encourage your dog. You don't want him to get bored of it. It should be FUN when toys are around! One very important strategy is to do really short training sessions so your dog does not get bored. You might even just do this exercise for 1-2 minutes a couple times a day and put it away when you are not using it. You know you can increase the length of the sessions when your dog actively shows excitement when you bring it out.

  1. Have 10-20 pea-sized treats that your dog LOVES
  2. Hold the toy 1-2 inches away from your dog's nose
  3. As soon as your dog sniffs the toy, say, "Yes!" and give your dog a treat
  4. Move the toy to a new location, still only 1-2 inches from your dog's nose and repeat
  5. As your dog shows more reliability with his behavior, don't reward each touch, but every other or more
  6. Put the toy away BEFORE your dog gets bored. You want your dog to want to play with the toy because good things happen. If he gets bored, or gets sick of the treats, the motivation is decreased.

More Advanced

  1. As you get more reliable behaviors, then you can increase the expectations between rewards. You know you are ready for this stage when your dog is more motivated to interact with the toy. This might not happen for some time. Don't get frustrated, just focus on keeping your dog REALLY interested in the toy for short sessions. Eventually it will pay off.
  2. Move the toy around so your dog has to chase it to touch it
  3. Put it above your dog's head so he has to jump for it
  4. Wait until he grabs it before rewarding (this might happen sooner than this step, great!)
  5. Throw the toy and when he touches or mouths the toy, say,"Yes!" and give him a treat

Get more and more touches or grabs between rewards. Eventually your dog will just enjoy playing with the toy without the need to motivate with treats.

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