We were at a new Home Dog Training client last Tuesday in Snellville working with her and her four month old Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Ronnie was a great dog and just needed some guidance regarding the right and wrong things he could do around the house. We worked on standard obedience such as Come, Sit, Walk, and Stay. We made sure that he understood it was not right to jump on people, steal food from the kitchen counter, or run out the front door.
For a four month old puppy, he was also very good on the walk. We showed our client how to use the Easy Walk harness for Ronnie and he wasn’t pulling and paying attention to our client for the entire twenty minute walk. Our client was really excited to see how much progress we had made in such a short time and was looking forward in continuing her training with Ronnie. As we were finishing up, she had one more question. She had purchased several doggie toys for Ronnie, but was wondering if they were the right toys for him and if she was properly using them.
We told our client that all doggies love toys and we love giving them toys! But, watch out! Those “pesky dog toy marketers” often like to get us to buy toys that cause active and crazy behavior or send the inappropriate signals to our doggies. Watching your dog go crazy when chasing a toy may be fun to watch, but are we sending them the right social signal?
It is important that we look at toys as a tool to achieve specific results. The first, and obvious result is having a non-adrenalized dog. All dogs, just like people, need to let off some steam from time to time. For us it may be going to the gym, playing a game of basketball, or going on a hike. For our dogs, it can be something quite simple. Over the years we have found that the easiest way to get our dog to “let off some steam” is to run after something. The most important thing to remember is “that something” can’t be you. In this case, I use tennis balls as my “toy of choice”.
I take my dog outside to my enclosed back yard, become animated, and throw a tennis ball into the yard while I say something like “Go get it!” or “Where is the ball?”. After my dog runs to the ball, I throw another ball in a different direction and repeat the process. As I throw one ball, I calmly walk over to the previously thrown ball (now lying on the ground), and pick it up. The balls are easy to throw and their “normally bright colors” and tendency to bounce will get my dog’s focus and heighten his adrenaline. This tires my dog while focuses him on doing something I have directed him to do. It is a good toy for the right activity.
Some dogs are chewers. This can be caused by a nervous habit, boredom, or teething. No matter the case, I don’t want them chewing on “my good stuff”. In this case, I try to pick a toy or object that is completely different from the stuff I don’t want him to chew. It is also implicitly implied that I want the toy completely safe for him to chew. I suggest Kong Treat Toys or Deer Antlers in this situation. Since most of the things we normally don’t want our dog to chew are things like fuzzy slippers or pillows, I want to pick something that gives my dog a completely different tactile experience. The Kong Toys and Deer Antlers fit the need.
I put some peanut butter in the Kong Chew Toys or spray some low sodium chicken broth on the deer antlers and then give them to my dog. I give them to him in a location that will allow him to walk around with it in his mouth for a moment as he experiences the sensation of the toy in his mouth while he explores for a place to sit down to play with it. I have allowed him to internalize “the chew” and not roam to look for the things I don’t want him to chew. As before, I was in charge and directed him to the right outcome by picking the right toy for the situation.
Sometimes our clients have “the right toy”, but they are using it in an inappropriate manner. One of the key foundations of the canine training process is to assure that all our interactions with our dog are on our terms. In other words, everything is our idea. This assures that our dog will provide us focus that will, in turn, allow us to show and guide our dog to the proper solution. Sometimes we don’t do this with our toys.
The classic example of “this failure” takes place when we are playing fetch. I am sure that this has happened to you many times with your dog. You throw the toy, your dog runs and gets it, runs back to you with the toy, and appears ready to hand it over to you. You reach for the toy and your dog often does two things. First, as you almost have the toy in hand, he runs off about five feet, turns around, and waits for you to chase him with the toy. The other “classic dog response” is where you actually get the toy in hand, but the fetch game turns into a game of tug-of-war”.
Guess what, you started the process as a game of fetch. The rules were for you to throw the toy, your dog to run and get the toy, him to return it to you, and your ability to calmly retrieve it from him so you could throw the toy again. The process will repeat until you have the toy, tell him “Good Boy” for playing the game, and the both of you go inside. In the above two scenarios, that didn’t happen. Your dog decided to change the rules in the middle of the game. “No more fetch. I want to play follow-the-leader or tug-of-war.”
You cannot let your dog change rules and take the leadership or dominant role in the process. Your process of playing, even if you are using the right toy, must assert your leadership and dominance. This doesn’t mean that you are trying to be mean or a bully. You are simply the leader.
So we have briefly discussed types of toys and the appropriate way to use the toys. Let’s look at one more thing. Why are we doing all this? Why give our dogs toys? Why are we playing with them?
As I started off this article, I mentioned that toys are used to achieve a specific result. For us and our dog, toys allow us to stimulate play and focus. They are done through our passively supplying the toy or actively engaging them with the toy. This interaction allows us to bond with them in a safe and secure environment. The engagement of this bonding helps demonstrate that we are their leader, their caregiver, and their protector. All dogs need this reinforcement on a regular basis to affirm in their minds that “all is well”. It is our responsibility to provide our dogs with that understanding.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 or (770) 718-7716 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over sixteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.