When it comes to doggie toys, it is important to understand that the type of toy and how you interact with your dog with the toy can have a large and lasting impact on your dog’s behavior.  This came to light last week when we were in Lawrenceville working with a new Home Dog Training Client and her six month old Bull Terrier. She told us that her puppy used to be great, but he recently started to become more and more headstrong and even aggressive.  She loves him and is always playing with him, but he is just becoming “annoying”.  Why is this?

Pick your puppy's toys to positively impact their behavior

After a short discussion, we found that even though she received tons of gold stars for loving and playing with him, there were some basic things she was doing incorrectly.  And, guess what, they related to her “playing techniques”.  She said that she and Mr. Pickles (that is the Bull Terrier’s name) loved to play tug of war with just about anything and he loves the squeaky toys she gets him from the pet store.

The first problem was the tug-or-war play activity…

Many people love playing tug-of-war with their dogs. Your dog pulls and growls and you pull back and laugh. This can go on for a pretty long time. Sometimes your dog will get the tug-of-war toy and run around the room while you chase him. You often end up with the tug-of-war toy and then make high pitched sounds encouraging your dog to jump and grab the toy again. Wow, isn’t that a lot of fun!

Now, do you wonder why your dog jumps, barks, and nips at people?

Dogs learn through repetition. When you constantly play tug-of-war with your dog, you are playing a game that includes the actions of biting, jumping, and barking. Oops!

Also, guess who normally ends up with the tug-of-war toy at the end of the game? Your dog normally ends up with the toy and takes it to his corner or into the other room. This is because you are now too busy with all of your “human activities” like answering the phone, getting the door, sitting down to the computer, etc. In your dog’s mind, he “won the game”. That is because he ended up with the toy.

So what does all this tell you?

  1. From your dog’s perspective, playing tug-of-war enforces that he is the leader and he can do whatever he wants. He is the leader.  Your actions told him.
  2. Jumping, nipping, barking, and other “bad habits” are enforced by playing tug-of-war because you are constantly condoning such actions.  Your constant play (practice) of those actions help turn your dog into “an expert” of these unwanted behaviors.

Bottom line, do not play tug-of-war with your dog. If you have multiple dogs, it is fine if they play tug-of-war between each other, just not with you.

Now, let’s turn our attention those “pesky squeaky toys”. 

The squeaky toy that you “harmlessly” give your dog can often cause aggression and heightened adrenaline.

Yes, I know that it is fun to give our dogs these toys and see how excited they get.  They growl at it, shake it in their mouth, bark at it, and run around the room.  As I said before, that is so entertaining to watch and many times it is just really funny. Do we have any idea what is going through our dog’s mind when that is going on? Do we know what we are teaching him?

Let me give you a little hint. The squeaky sound that the toy is making is very similar to the sound of a wounded or dying animal. You have thrown this “animal” to your dog and given him the “thumbs-up” to maim or kill it. Does that sound aggressive to you? (I hope so; if not, we have many other issues to discuss…)

In continuing this, you are promoting aggressive behavior and providing a repetitive situation that is part of the dog’s natural learning process. You must limit or eliminate all squeaky toys and replace them with toys that otherwise stimulate your pup’s mind and directs his focus in a manner that is acceptable to you.

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 fifteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.