Below is an article that I wrote many years ago… it’s one that you may be familiar with and may have even shared with your dog training buddies or students. But, it has never been on my blog! So here we have it, the article that has helped so many dogs who were not ‘into’ toys come to love playing with them and viewing a toy as a great reward.
Take time to really study your dog. What does he “LOVE” to put in his mouth? Is it something of size, shape, texture, material, flavour? i.e. paper, round things, cloth things (cotton, plastic, leather to name a few). Before a dog can tug he has got to be willing to put ‘something’ in his mouth! Get THAT first! Observe your dog over the next few days and record everything he will put in his mouth. Once you have that, you can use it to create a motivating toy. For tips on what your dog might like, check out 65 Unique Tug Toy Ideas!
How to Create a Motivating Toy
Many times in agility training the need will arise to use a toy to motivate your dog to move on without you (example: teaching a “get out” or doing weave poles or any sequence of obstacles for a gamble). People will ofren lament that their dog is not “into” toys.
Some dogs will not innately want to play with toys but you can create the desire within them with a little work on your part. If your dog is really motivated by food and has never shown any interest in toys, an option available to you is to take the motivating toy you have chosen to work with and simmer it in a pot of liver, or chicken broth to make it more attractive to your finicky hound. BE LEERY–if you choose to go this route, be very careful your dog is never given an opportunity to be alone with this wonderful smelling toy or THEY MAY EAT IT. Surgery to remove this from their gut will be neither pleasant nor cheap.
The key to training old Rover to play with you and your toy is that you are SINCERELY interested in playing with your dog. If you are not truly having fun, your dog will quickly realize this and will be even more reluctant to join in. So be sure that you are both enjoying yourselves.
Many dogs enjoy dairy milker inflations (cow milkers) as toys.
Now let’s begin!
- Choose a throwable toy–i.e. one that you can toss, but won’t roll too much, like a tug rope, or a ball in a sock or a stuffed animal.
- Attach this toy to a light line, string or lead that is about 3 meters long.
- Put the toy in a drawer in the midst of your living area–example, in the kitchen or somewhere else that is easily accessible at all times.
- Before each meal start to act a bit loony. While saying really fun things to your dog (like “oh no”, “what is it”, “do you want this”, “where’s your toy”, etc.) walk, dance, skip…basically act goofy while you make your way over to the special drawer.
- S-l-o-w-l-y open up the drawer while continuing to say nutty things to your dog.
- Stop talking momentarily (a pause for effect) and then pull the toy out of the drawer, like you just unexpectedly came across a $50 bill and run with it into the next room.
- Swing the toy above the ground while acting nutty to show the dog what a great time you are having with this fun toy.
- Dance around for a few more seconds and then toss the toy out like a lure on the end of a fishing pole.
- Drag it around but BE SURE THE DOG DOES NOT GET HIS MOUTH ON IT.
- This whole process should only take 1-2 minutes the first time you do it.
- End your fun game, which didn’t include your poor dog, by running back to the drawer, your toy in tow, snatching it up and quickly putting it back in the drawer with a phrase like “oh no, it’s gone”.
- You may then proceed to go about your regular routine as if nothing out of the ordinary just happened.
- Re-enact this bizarre performance 2-3 times a day. After the second day, allow the dog to get his mouth on the toy if he is really keen–but only for a few seconds. Pull on the line to try and steal it from him. Once you get it away (be sure you are taking it from him in a very informal, fun way), play with it a little more by yourself before quickly putting the toy away.
- Gradually progress, letting him play with you and the toy (tug of war style) a little more each time until you have a dog who loves to see the toy come out.
- Do not allow him to play with this toy at any other time except during this routine and, when he is ready, at agility class.
- Ideally, you should remove any other toys that are lying around the house during this time. Leave out only things your dog can lay down and chew on by himself, such as his chew bones.
- Before you know it you will have a dog who is as nutty about this toy as you apparently have been!
- This method works particularly well on new puppies.
Let us know in the comments what you have chosen for your ‘motivating toy’. Remember it’s a game to enjoy WITH your dog.
Today I am grateful for our dogs and all the varied things they consider toys, it sure keeps life interesting and fun.
Neither my Boxer or Samoyed put anything in their mouths.
I always used this method and having “proofed”the toy, found it invaluable in training a perfect rapid recall in any circumstances. It was the method taught by John Rogerson in the 80s and 90s ” control the toy, control the dog”
However, I recently mentioned it to other dog people and was told its now considered aversive, as the dog becomes frustrated when they see the toy put away
I get very confused by things like this, what really is and isn’t aversive? Would this only be aversive for some dogs? How would you know if a dog who is uninterested in toys was becoming so frustrated because the toy was put away that you should avoid this method?
I’m not a trainer or behaviorist BUT I have one dog that frustrated totally stop thinking, and the other one that frustrated starts being able to think. Like in every teaching spheres – the most appropriate is to observe/know your dog needs. Frustration can be a kind of motivation like food, toy or social needs. Remember that we live in times when dogs psychological needs matters and some people are more touchy then others. Dogs are dogs, they are not poeple and their psyche is other then ours. We cannot use the same tools.
For all you people out there that doubt that this will work, give it a try.
I have two dogs, one is super high drive and the other is super relaxed.
The relaxed dog was NEVER keen on tugging until I tried this, of course with the knowledge of what she likes to put in her mouth.
Now after a month of grating value for a tug toy she is willing to play tug with serious commitment.
We are having such fun together 🙂
I urge ALL to have a try…
Key words “once you get it away”. Our trainer used a tug in a “give” exercise with our Malinois puppy and she did joyous speed laps with it around the practice room for more than 5 minutes as soon as she had possession. The only way she would drop it was to trade for another toy. Sometimes patience and a sense of humour is the only way to win.
Except for balls – I cant leave any toy with my 5 year old dog. – or else he chews it and pulls it apart. It doesn’t matter what kind of toy it is – plushy, plastic, hard rope etc. Even his “tug” toy he will chew and unravel if I leave him alone with it. I play tug of war with him – then divert him while I put it away. (He doesn’t chew other things he shouldn’t). Any suggestions to help with this?
Hi! I was always told to not use a sock as a toy because the dog cannot distinguish between their “toy” sock and my good socks. Is this true? If so, would I have to give up wearing socks so my dogs can use them to play tug a war with?
I’ve read all the comments and this is now part of our training plan for the next week. My dog is currently lying peacefully in her hot zone. She doesn’t yet know what’s coming….
I have done this with my dog some time ago but didn’t manage to get her interested at all . It’s been suggested that I try it again so I will.
I am looking forward to trying this method of getting my rescue dog interested in toys. I rescued her 4 months ago. She came from Turkey and I am sure leaving her rescuer after being with her and a bunch of her dog friends for 6 months has been traumatic. She is almost 2 years old. No training and I have been trying like crazy to make training fun and with the help of your videos. I have to keep sessions really short as she has loses interest and goes to lie down. I have tried to engage in playing with toys but she has zero interest. I have all kinds of toys included tug toys. I am not sure what her mix is but a few people think she is part border collie. We are following your videos and instructions and grateful for them. But she is not a playful dog and is very sensitive and sometimes timid. We are working on the collar grab and I have to start with touching the collar as before I saw your video, I held her collar and she was frightened and froze. If you have other tips for helping her want to play with toys, I’d appreciate it.
My dog loves tugging— thanks to some advice you gave several years ago and that I did when I got my puppy 4 years ago. You said to introduce ttugging on day one and practice every day— which I did. Four years later and my dog still loves to tug and while she has some favorite tug toys she will tug with anything I ask her too!! Thank you!!
So what is the next step if this doesn’t work?
I am still struggling to find anything to get my Aussie to play! She was on a cattle farm for the first two years of her life and has no idea how to play (except with cows 🙂
Getting a show OES to play with a toy to motivate him to do obedience via attention and fun. He loves to carry his soccer ball around. I am going to open this up for suggestions on how to move from carrying it to using it as a toy motivator for obedience. Gonna be a challenge…
I love your article! Love the dogs and good timing as I was thinking which toy should I buy for my dog! Thanks for posting this!
I hope this will help us (my dog and myself) rediscover his desire to retrieve. He did as a puppy but doesn’t really have desire motivation to retrieve or really really tug. I am starting this training hoping for success. Love your programs
Wisp learned to love toys and bring them back from H360 and Agility Nation. It took awhile before he wanted to bring it back. I used a toy tied to a long thin line and if he didn’t bring it back, I recoiled the toy and line, among other things. On one of your videos you showed a new toy for Momentum that was long. I made a homemade one, and Wisp turned on! He liked that he still had his own space but could tug with me, too. I saw the lightbulb go on! Not long after I was at a trial and Naomi was there with her rugs to sell. She had a long one with a bungee handle. He now trains agility with this toy and not treats. He went from a dog that wouldn’t play with a toy while doing agility, to knocking me over to get his toy after a short sequence! ( he came barreling out of a tunnel faster than I expected and I had the toy hanging close to me. He caught me right behind the knee grabbing for it. I was fine and thrilled at his drive to his long tuggy!)
I’d very much like to know more about the toy in the first picture. It looks like cord wrapped around a core of some sort. I’d like to work out how to make it (I know it’s the kind of thing my guys would love)
i find the sleeve of an old fleece jacket is great, slice it up in three (towards the cuff )and plait it 3/4 ways down, tie it off securely and fringe the bits left loose, my dog loves it, it is easy to shove in your pocket/belt and also washes well.
I LOVE this method! Thanks so much for re-sharing it with all of us. I have the original weblink that I send to all of my beginning sports students in their first week and, within a few weeks, everyone who has done their homework can use motivating toys in class. I have a wonderful video of 4 dogs all tugging on their toys out in our training yard – with a dog park adjacent to the yard – and each dog only cares about his/her person. Thanks so much, Susan. So much of what you do and share with us is amazing, but this method is the very best!
This is incredible! I used this method with my dog, along with proper food reinforcement (the food only came out when I was getting an enthusiastic tug and disappeared if she were to ever let go.) I got the hardest, roughest, most happy tugging I have ever gotten from any dog! I must admit it seams very simple to someone looking for a magical cure to an unmotivated dog but IT WORKS!