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.
  • 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.