Not toy motivated
Usually, the toy itself isn’t fun. It’s what you make of it! Not all toys have the same values for dogs, and some are more interesting than others. Try to find what kind of toy might be fun for your dog: a ball, a squeaky toy, a rope, a plush, a rubber toy, etc. Once you find it, make sure it’s not always available to your dog. Take it out when you’re ready to play, and make sure to shake it and make it fun and captivating. It can take some time to get there but stay patient, and you’ll have a toy-motivated dog at one point!
Loses interest fast
One key point about playing with your dog is to keep the sessions short and fun!
Doesn’t give the toy back
One smart thing to make it work is to use two identical toys:
- Shake the first one on the ground.
- Tug with this toy with your dog.
- Stop moving your hand and playing tug with your dog (the toy is “dead”).
- Animate and move around the second toy, make it fun and interesting.
- Say ‘’give back.’’
- When your dog leaves the first one and grabs the second, click or say ‘’yes.’’
- Tug with the second toy.
- Start again.
Most common mistakes
Not letting your dog win
Your dog needs a few wins during the session. For example, you pull on the rope for a few seconds, then let it go so your dog can have it as a prize. When the dog walks back to you with the toy, praise your dog, grab it back and pull for a few seconds again. Remember that if your dog wins, they will want more!
Playing at the wrong moment
Make sure your dog is in the mood to play but not too overexcited. For example, for some dogs, after a walk might not be the right moment. Walks are full of exciting things, and these dogs need to relax after it. Remember that an overexcited dog might get easily frustrated or might nip on your hands while playing. On the opposite, a calm or tired dog might not want to play at all. Try to find the best time for your dog.
Leaving the toys available to the dog
If the toys are always available to the dog, there’s a good chance they will lose interest in playing with them. If you have a basket full of toys, it’s a good idea to rotate the toys: hide half of them, and when you take them out, hide the other half. The special toys that you want to use for tugging and reinforcing should always be hidden, except when playing together or training.
Running after your dog while he has the toy in the mouth
What a fun and reinforcing game for your dog! Nothing beats being chased by a human! If your dog runs with the toy in the mouth and you run after, the dog will most likely repeat the behavior again and again. Tugging should be a proximity game, not a chase game. Tug game is a good reward after an excellent recall, but only if the dog doesn’t run away with the toy after. If it happens, stop giving attention to your dog and walk away. As soon as the dog comes back to you, reward them. Practice again at another time and location where the dog can’t practice the “running away” behavior.
If your dog is not toy motivated at all, try to build their interest slowly. Here is an exercise that can help you:
- Ask the dog to stand or sit in front of you.
- Hide your hands behind your back: one hand with some treats, the other one with the tug toy
- Show the toy to the dog.
- Click and reward as soon as the dog (increase the difficulty from one session to the other):
- Looks at it
- Touches it with their nose
- Takes it in the mouth
- Takes it in the mouth and pulls
Over time your dog should take tugging as a reward, and the treats will not be needed anymore.