Dog training with toys is becoming more popular in recent times.
The best part is you no longer have to keep your hands occupied with treats and worry about his diet.
It’s one of the best ways to train your dog without treats.
While I found it easier to train my German shepherd puppy with treats, but I think there are lots of dogs who aren’t that much food motivated.
In this post, I will take you through the steps that will make your dog learn basic commands with toy motivation. As a bonus, I mentioned some of the toys that are worth buying and simple dog games to play.
Let’s get started.
Benefits of dog training with toys.
- Turn practice sessions into the fun: Dogs love to have fun and toys are the best way to do so. Training with treats can become monotonous, and your dog might just get bored with it. With toys, your dog will never run out of the fun as there are hundreds of different ways to play with him.
- Increases motivation and reduce stress: Dogs become stressed out from training. And this might affect his learning curve. Toys, on the other hand, keeps your dog busy and motivated for doing more. Yes, you can use this as an alternative to exercise as well.
- Makes your relationship with your pup stronger: Problem with treats training is that your dog listens to you only because he loves eating. But if you change the reward to toys and playing, he will see you like a stronger leader that he can look up to.
- Keeps your dog’s weight under control: As training with toys eliminates the need for treats, it’s easier to track his daily food intake and keep his weight under control.
Why your dog isn’t food motivated?
Almost all dogs are motivated by food and treats. And that’s the reason, most dog trainers start with treat training.
But sometimes, your dog might repel to treats. And that’s why dog training with toys works as a great alternative.
Here are the reasons your dog is not responding to treat training:
The treats you are buying sucks.
If you start off with low-quality treats, your dog will quickly lose his desire.
The better the treat, the better your dog is likely to listen to you.
Start experimenting with certain treats and see what he likes best.
I have seen dog trainers start with low-quality treats and as the dog performs better, the treat also becomes better. This is a different way to motivate your dog to be at his best.
The food trap phenomena.
Some dogs identify food as a trap to make them do something. This is a situation where your dog might turn away or start licking his lips when he is presented with food during training.
If you trick your dog with food to do a certain activity which he is afraid of like bathing or brushing his teeth, he might start avoiding food.
You can reverse this by adding toys and playing as an additional reward.
It depends on your dog’s breed.
Some dog breeds are highly food motivated like Labrador. But breeds like terriers or guardians require just more than food to keep them working.
One of my neighbors recently adopted a terrier dog. The only thing that his puppy loved was playing with toys.
Do you free feed your dog?
Dogs that are free-fed throughout the day might not see treats as something special. And a good reason might be because he is not hungry.
You must have control of food intake in your hands. Otherwise, it’s going to be a tough time.
I use dog cakes as treats. But my GSD gets it only when I want it.
Getting to know dog toys.
Dog toys come in various shapes for various purposes. If you get to know them better, you will know which ones to use for training.
Interactive dog toys.
These are the toys that need your involvement. Highly recommended for training purposes:
- Fetch toys- Fetch toys are made so that you can throw them and your dog will run after them like nuts. Frisbees and Kongs are the most common fetch toys. You can also use other soft flying disks to fetch.
- Rope toys- Rope toy like the Tire Biter is my favorite toy to use in dog training. Dogs love tugging.
Chew toys are great for training your dog from a distance.
- Hard rubber toys- Hard rubber toys let dogs chew and have fun. These toys are hollow with holes at both ends. You can either throw them like fetch toys or fill it up with peanut butter for more fun.
- Dental Chews- Dental chew toys like Greenies, Petrodex, and Bully sticks are edible. But make sure he doesn’t eat large pieces. This also helps with your dog’s dental care.
You can make just about anything a toy if it’s safe to use. For example, a water bottle or even a pillowcase might be enough to keep your dog motivated.
5 steps to train your dogs with toys.
If you don’t want to read, just watch this short video from my favorite dog trainer Zak George. This basically sums up these steps nicely.
Step 1: Increase your dog’s play drive.
Dogs are naturally playful. But you need to teach them how to play first.
This is how you can create a play drive in your dog and use it as a form of reward.
Show him what to do.
First, show him how to play. Toss a toy in the air and start chasing. You need to act enthusiastically to get him encouraged to join.
After a few tosses and chasing, your dog will slowly understand that it’s really fun to play with the toy.
Praise and encourage him.
You need to keep that energy going during the play. And every time your pet gets the toy in his mouth, praise him with soft words and encourage him to play more.
Experiment with other forms of play.
Once your dog gets habituated to a particular form of playing, it’s time to try new stuff. This will let him know that toys and especially you are fun. This builds a stronger relationship with him.
Step 2: Pique your dog’s interest in a toy.
Now that your dog knows how to play, it’s time to start training. While teaching him how to play, you will find that certain toys really drive him nuts.
You need to find that toy and play more with him so that it piques his interest.
We will use this particular toy to train him in basic dog training commands. If you have already trained him using treats, this will become easier.
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Step-3: Associate dog training commands with toys.
This step is very similar to dog training with treats. We will just replace the reward.
I like to use rope toys for this as my dog loves it.
For example, if you want to teach him how to sit, use the command and let him sit.
As soon as he sits give him the toy to play.
As you repeat the drill for few times, your little buddy will associate sitting with something entertaining.
Once the dog learns a particular command, then proceed with other commands like stay, lie down, etc.
Step 4- Keep the session time low.
This is very crucial. The playing time must be concise and engaging.
I like to keep it in between 3-5 seconds.
Keeping playtime short will encourage him to do what you say. Otherwise, he will get distracted by only playing.
Step-5: Restrict your dog’s interaction with toys.
Don’t give your dog free access to toys. This is just like to treat training. If you free feed him, the trick won’t work anymore.
Make sure he only gets to play with the toy when you are there.
Remember toys are your dog’s currency. So you should use them wisely.
Games to play with your dog using toys.
While there are countless games, you can play with your dog. These are my most favorite games:
Tug of war
Dogs love the tugging game. Simply get any rope toy and let him try to snatch it from you.
You can also create a rule for more fun. As soon as his teeth touch your hand, the game is over.
In this way, your dog will learn a new behavior.
Fetching a frisbee is a great exercise. You can easily make your dog run miles and at the same time teach him to obey commands without giving him a clue.
Let him catch the frisbee and bring it to you!
You chasing the dog.
This doesn’t have to involve a toy. If you start chasing your dog, he will take you as a toy instead.
Use command and follow it up with chasing.
- 1 Benefits of dog training with toys.
- 2 Why your dog isn’t food motivated?
- 3 The treats you are buying sucks.
- 4 The food trap phenomena.
- 5 It depends on your dog’s breed.
- 6 Do you free feed your dog?
- 7 Getting to know dog toys.
- 8 Interactive dog toys.
- 9 Chew toys.
- 10 Homemade toys.
- 11 5 steps to train your dogs with toys.
- 12Step 1: Increase your dog’s play drive.
- 13 Step 2: Pique your dog’s interest in a toy.
- 14 Step-3: Associate dog training commands with toys.
- 15 Step 4- Keep the session time low.
- 16 Step-5: Restrict your dog’s interaction with toys.
- 17 Games to play with your dog using toys.
- 18 Tug of war
- 19 Frisbee fetch.
- 20 You chasing the dog.