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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Pet Care Library > Articles > Try Treating Your Dog With Toys To Reward Good Behavior

Try Treating Your Dog with Toys to Reward Good Behavior

ceebee Debbie McKnight / Accredited Petsmart Trainer

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While trainers often rely on food to train dogs, it can be easy and fun to reward using toys and play. For something to be useful as a reward, the dog has to be willing to work for it. So if you have a dog that enjoys playing, but not nearly as much as he enjoys eating or praise, rewarding with toys may not be a solution. However, if your dog likes a game of tug or fetch more than anything else, rewarding with play can create fast, happy, precise behaviors.

While trainers often rely on food to train dogs, it can be easy and fun to reward using toys and play. For something to be useful as a reward, the dog has to be willing to work for it. So if you have a dog that enjoys playing, but not nearly as much as he enjoys eating or praise, rewarding with toys may not be a solution. However, if your dog likes a game of tug or fetch more than anything else, rewarding with play can create fast, happy, precise behaviors.

If you’ve never asked your dog to “earn” his toy, start with these simple steps:

  • To begin, just ask Fido to sit before you throw the ball or present the tug toy. It may be hard for him in the beginning because he’s so excited, but if you are consistent, he’ll quickly catch on. 
  • Next, you need to make sure you can get the toy back without Fido being disappointed. If you’ve never taught your dog a “drop it” cue, now’s the time! Since you are working with a dog that loves to play, I’d suggest that instead of using a food treat when the dog drops it, you immediately re-engage him in the game by presenting the tug toy or throwing the ball again.
 
So now you have a dog that understands the concept of earning and happily relinquishing the toy. To train the rest of the behaviors you want, you’ll generally want to “catch the behavior.” This means that you will catch the dog in the act of doing the behavior and right as he does it, you’ll click and present the toy. For instance, if you were teaching the dog to heel, you’d have your dog’s toy and a clicker and take your dog to an enclosed area like your backyard. Since you have the toy, he’ll likely stick closely to you. When he ends up in heel position (walking at your left side), you would click and present the toy. Gradually you could extend the distance he walks at your left side before clicking and giving him the toy. If catching the behavior takes more patience than you have, you could always train the behavior initially by luring with a treat and then start using a toy to reward. 
 
Having lots of things to reward with is always a good idea, so don’t stick to just food. I really like using play to reinforce high-energy behaviors such as "come" and "heel" where I need a super-fast response. Remember, it’s only a reward if the dog is willing to work for it. Now that you have a new way to train… go play!
 
Debbie McKnight is an accredited PetSmart trainer in Hurst, Texas.

For information on PetSmart's Accredited Training, please visit PetSmart's training.

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Comments

23 Apr 2010 7:49 am

Emma.A said:

This is simply awesome. It isn't always a good idea for a pets weight or health to give them treats every time they do something good. Toys is great option. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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