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Dog Toys: Using Them Effectively for Training

“The cure for boredom is curiosity.” -Dorothy Parker

Dog with toys

So you've got a new puppy or dog. First thing you do is go to the pet store, or maybe Amazon or Chewy, and max out your credit card on toys. Everything you can find, especially anything marked "Boredom Buster". You've got a huge bin full of these toys, at your dog's disposal anytime he wants it. Little Bella has more toys than a sex shop on Bourbon street during Mardi Gras.

I mean, not that I'd know or anything.

And yet Bella still chose to chew a nice hole in your leather sofa.


I see it all the time during my dog training sessions. The big box full of toys. Guess're doing it wrong, and your dog is still bored. So let's figure this out, how to bust your dog's boredom, and how to get the most bang for your buck out of the toys your dog already has. Breaking it down:

Your Dog's Toys are Old News

Let's face it, if you have access to something any time you want, what makes it interesting. You can have 3 toys or 33, and your dog will still be bored. The problem is you're leaving them out all the time. So break it down a little. You can do this a couple ways.

Take the number of toys you have and divide by 4.

So I've got 12 toys for my new puppy. I'm going to group them by 3, and then each day, only give my puppy access to those 3 at a time. You can swap them daily for a dog, but for a puppy (or my Arwen, who's only 6 months), swap them out 2-3 times a day. They don't get access to the toys they previously had until you've cycled through all of them. Then what's old is new again.

When my daughters were very little, I had what I called Restaurant Toys. We ate out quite a bit, even when they were 1 and 3 years old. To keep them occupied, I would keep a small box of toddler toys in my car, only to be brought out at a restaurant. Even if we ate out 3 times in a week, those were the only 3 times the girls were able to have access to those toys, and therefore they were thoroughly engrossed with them when we brought them out. You are essentially doing the same thing with your dog. A lot of dog trainers won't admit it, but there are a lot of similarities between Piloting dogs and parenting kids.

Segregate by activity/room/area

This is my personal preference.

- I keep a stash of calm chewing intensive toys (think Kongs, antlers, the skulls of my enemies) in my office;

- a very high energy stash in the basement (where we get most of our activity and dog training done) with things like lures, frisbees, tennis balls and rope toys for a game of tug. The stashes should be appropriate to the situation of the area.

- a moderate activity stash on the first floor, for a game of fetch

- enrichment toys, which only come out during meal times.

So when I'm trying to work on blog posts, or call clients back in my office, my dogs are silently chewing on their toys in the background. Calm is the game in my office. Energy burning only happens in the basement, hence the types of toys I store there. And while wrestling and rope toys are inappropriate for the first floor, a game of fetch is allowed.

The toys are not allowed to migrate to other parts of the house, otherwise this won't work. And since my dogs don't have access to the basement or my office if I'm not in those areas with them, this works out beautifully. I also will remove a few from rotation entirely, and then reintroduce them. No matter how old and raggedy, my dogs gravitate towards the new item, and are engaged with it.

I've also been playing around with "dog training toys". Arwen is a lot more play driven than Ellis is (and that's saying something). Ellis has problems making the connection between doing a trick properly and having the tennis ball thrown for him, but Arwen is all for that. So we have a special box of toys that are only when we're learning a new trick, and I have to say it's been working out well.

So forget the unlimited access pass, and use those (expensive) toys in a better fashion. You may find that you actually need less toys, and just a more judicious application of them.

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.

But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio


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