Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog Training Tips: 4 Steps to Building a Toy Obsession

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Pip spells the word obsession: K-O-N-G. Her Cool Kong (aka: KONG Aqua Dog Toy)* is her “precious”, causing her to leap and bark at the mere suggestion of play. Nothing gets her attention when that kong toy is present. That intense focus can be used to great advantage in training so this blog gives you dog training tips on how to create this level of attention.

First step: Toy selection.
For pet dog work, I like toys on a rope. The rope makes it easy to toss and to tug, simple to tempt and taunt the dog with and relatively simple to get back from the dog. The toys linked to above have a single rope rather than a loop. I’ve seen dogs tripped up getting tangled in the loop so generally stick to one rope toys such as StarMark Everlasting Fun Ball on a Rope Dog ToyStarMark Fantastic Foam Ball on a Rope Dog Toy, Medium, as well as the kong above.

Warning: If your dog is possessive of things, this is not your game. If not, here’s how you begin:

Rule #1: We obsess over things we cannot have.

So creating scarcity is the first step in this process. Store the toy out of your dog’s reach but easily within yours. The top of the fridge is a standard place for me (pick someplace else if you have an agile great dane or Irish wolfhound).

This special toy is never left out. EVER. It is a toy you use exclusively with your dog then put away.

Rule #2: We obsess over things others want.

Several times a day, pick up the toy. Oooo and Ahhhh over it. Make it sound like the best thing in the world. If your dog shows interest (and most will if you sound thrilled by something near the ‘fridge), let them have a look then turn away from them as you covet it some more. Then, suddenly, put it away and walk away. Elapsed time: about 10 seconds.

Rule #3: We obsess over things we only get briefly.

Once your dog gets interested the moment you pick the toy up, tease them with it. Show it to them and then pull it away. Dangle it enticingly. If this doesn’t spark their interest, try dragging it along the floor or flicking it back and forth in front of them. Movement engages most dogs. Hint: make sure your dog has good footing, no slippery surfaces for this stage. If your dog really wants it, let them grab it for a few seconds. Tug, if they will, but do not let them run off with it so keep your dog on leash if you need to. **

Rule #4: Leave them wanting more.

Then put it away. Our goal is for your dog to stand there with a “What?? I want to play some more!” look on their face. Good. That’s what we want for now. Your dog has other toys they can play with whenever they wish, this one is special.

Using these four rules, you can start to build a focus on and drive for a specific dog toy. Then, when your dog is obsessed with the toy, you can use it to help solve dog behavior problems. One such use is for come when called, explained in:  For Dogs Who Chase: Using Prey Drive to Control Prey Drive.

* I use these with inner foam plug removed because, if that plug is swallowed, that can be a problem. Such things rarely happen but easy to avoid.

** If, at any point, your dog gets too excited stop. Gets hands on help.

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