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Bored of toy story
By Drewbles, KPA-DTF
Oct 2015

Many people bring a toy back home, put it in front of their dog and then go off to do their own thing.  Meanwhile the dog sniffs at the toy, perhaps even takes a nibble, and then loses interest.  People will often lament that their dog is just not into toys.

 

While it is true that some dogs will not innately want to play with toys, you can still create the desire within them with a little work on your part.  If your dog is really motivated by food, take the toy and smear some peanut butter on it.  This might make the toy more attractive to your dog - but be careful, it may become so attractive he will want to EAT it.  

 

If they are not motivated by food, then this is a whole other topic by itself.  In a nutshell, the solution is to starve the dog.  Yes, starve the dog.  Now before you start stoning me for dog abuse, have a read of the full article here.  Back to playing with toys.  There are two key principles to training old Rover to play with you and your toy.  The first is that you must be SINCERELY interested in playing with your dog.  Pay attention to your own energy and don't lie to yourself or your dog.  If you are truly not having fun, your dog will quickly realize this and will be even more reluctant to join in.  So be sure that you are both enjoying yourselves.  If it doesn’t happen the first few times, don’t get annoyed and sulk, it will just make things worse!

 

The second is to understand what would drive a dog to play with objects.  Dogs don't play with toys the same way a human child would.  They don't build castles out of Lego or dress up a Barbie doll.  You don't just buy a toy and then simply give it to your dog and expect him to do something.  Instead, the prime motivator is their prey drive - anything that resembles what they would do if they were chasing, hunting, trapping and tearing apart a prey animal.  They must work to get it.  So think fast movement, sound (especially high pitched squeaky), smell (of food) and chewing (textures).   


You are not going to allow the dog to have this toy at any time, except for when you and he are playing with it. When you are not playing, keep the toy someplace where your dog can't get his paws on it.


Act like an idiot and tease your dog with excited, goofy chatter about the toy – i.e. “Where is it?  What is it?  Do you want it?  Do you need it?  Where’s the toy?”  When he is showing signs of excitement, go and get the toy, while continuing to chatter to him excitedly, and show the toy to your dog – be real dramatic, the more dramatic the better.


Start teasing your dog with the toy, for example, by swinging it around his face and your body.  The aim is to get the dog to start chasing the toy, but don't let him get it yet.  You can even tie a string to the toy and swing it around for your dog to chase (this device is also known as a flirt pole).  Another thing you can do is throw the toy and then outrun your dog to retrieve it first.  Do this for about 2-3 minutes and then end the game by putting the toy away.  We want to stop the activity while the dog is still in anticipation, not when he is tired and doesn't want to play.  This way we leave the dog wanting more.

In the next sessions, repeat the same but slowly allow the dog to touch the toy.  For example, at first let him touch it with his nose, then allow him to bite it for a few seconds, then a little longer.  Once again, the aim is to build anticipation in the dog.  Remember to end every session while the dog is still wanting to play.  Keep it short and sweet!   

Ask Drewbles a question via behave@hiccupdog.hk


About the Author: 

Drewbles is a part-time dog behaviorist in Hong Kong and KPA-DTF (Karen Pryor Academy-Dog Trainer Foundations) course certified. The course is officially approved by the two foremost dog training and animal behavior consulting accreditation bodies in the world, CCPDT (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers) and IAABC (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants).  

The Karen Pryor Academy is a leading educational institution for animal training and behavior, based in the USA.  Karen Pryor is a pioneer in the development of positive training methods and one of the founders of clicker-training.  Her work with dolphins in the 1960s revolutionized animal training by pioneering and popularizing force-free training methods based on operant conditioning and the conditioned reinforcer.

Drewbles uses a mix of traditional and positive-reinforcement techniques, and natural dog psychology to help troubled dogs in his free time.  His own dog is so well behaved that she accompanies him to the cinema and even Michelin starred restaurants!  Feel free to ask him a question via behave@hiccupdog.hk.