Make toys an integral part of training all sorts of behaviors
Rewarding good behaviors can be fun for you and your dog. Toys can become tools that help communicate and reward the proper behavior that you are focusing on.
Regardless of whether your dog is a puppy and learning these behaviors for the first time or your dog is older and you are working to correct some bad behaviors, positive reinforcement is a method that will work on any dog.
The key is timing and consistancy.
Below you will find a number of behaviors that most dog owners will encounter which can be addressed with the help of toys and accessories. For some of these, there is a link to a page that goes into detail on the specific behavior and how to manage it with your dog. For the other sections, dedicated pages to the specific behavior will be coming out soon.
Being able to comfortably walk with your dog on a leash should be your first priority. Your goal should be to walk your dog down the street, in a park, running off-leash in a dog park or just hanging out at your local coffee shop, without incident.
Walking provides the neccessary exercise your dog needs. When done correctly, walking creates a healthy bond between you and your dog.
For leash training you will need a leash and a collar and there are a few things to consider for both pieces of equipment. The type of collar you use will depend on your dog. There are fixed or flat collars, similar to what most dogs wear. This type of collar would only be used if your dog already walks well on a leash and no training would be involved. There are Martingale collars which are flat collars that can tighten a small amount when pulled. There are slip collars which tighten a lot when pulled and there are prong collars which are a series of linked prongs which flex evenly around the neck when pulled.
There are several types of harnesses and head collars that are also useful for teaching a dog to walk on a leash.
See our page on collars and harnesses for the pros and cons of the different collars and which are more suitable to your own dog.
The type of leash you use will depend largely on personal preference. Stick with shorter leashes, 4 feet or less and avoid any of the variable length leashes like bungee cords or retractable types. For more information about leashes, see our discussion on different types of leashes.
Establish the ground rules from the start. Your goal is simple. You want your dog to walk next to you with the leash loose at your side. When you stop, your dog stops and preferably sits. When you turn, your dog turns in the same direction.
While toys do not play a role in leash training, using the correct gear combined with a consistent technique will give you the best chance for success. See our step by step process for training your dog to walk comfortably on a leash.
Walking on a leash is a learned behavior
Trainers unanamously agree, getting your dog used to being in a crate for short periods of time is beneficial to you and your dog. For puppies that are not house broken or not past the chewing/teething stage, this is a must.
Providing toys can help pass the time, however, its important to choose the right toys. Stuffed treat toys are ideal in this situation.
For a complete discussion of how to tackle crate training with the use of toys, see our page on crate training techniques.
Making them feel at home in their crate
Unwanted or destructive chewing
Destructive chewing has a root cause. For puppies, this could be as simple as teething. Your approach will in part depend on the root cause.
Its important to remember that chewing is a natural activity for dogs.
For a step-by-step discussion of the common causes of destructive chewing and how to correct the behavior see our page on Unwanted Chewing.
Providing chew toys as an alternative is an essential part of the process in correcting this behavior.
Learning what can and can not be chewed on is a process
About half the dogs take to fetch immediately. For the other half, most will become engaged once they have a positive experience playing fetch.
The command "come" is right at the top of the list as one of your most important commands. When you ask your dog to come, you want the response to be immediate.
The use of toys and the game of fetch are a good way to work on the recall command in a setting that is safe and fun for your dog. Our page, Fetch, A Training Tool takes you through the process.
The game of fetch is a great time to reinforce your recall command
The key to housebreaking is consistency. By getting your dog on a regular schedule, you can train them to eliminate in the yard. Success depends on training the correct behavior and not depending on correcting the undesired behavior. This is because you will seldom "catch them in the act". Scolding them after the fact only creates fear. It is frustrating, but no amount of yelling or placing their nose in the mess is going to potty train them.
A routine to their eating schedule promotes a routine to their bathroom schedule. The number of feedings per day will depend on whether your dog is a puppy or an adult. The trick is they need to go outside within 30 minutes of eating.
Take them on a leash to the same spot they've used in the past. Their own smells will encourage them to go. Have some high value treats ready so that when they do go you praise and reward them immediately.
Until your dog is housebroken, freely wandering around the house is off limits. This means they are either in a crate or on a leash tied to you (see our page for tips on crate training). In this way you control their access to water and if they suddenly look like they are about to urinate you can escort them immediately to their spot in the yard. Remember praise and reward.
The reward can vary. Sometimes its a treat, sometimes its a walk and sometimes its one-on-one time with a toy for a game of tug or fetch.
If they do have an accident in the house and it does happen, be sure to clean the spot thoroughly. The potty training process takes time and is different for every dog. Putting in the effort now will reward you for years to come.
Most dogs have a tell sign when they need to go. By recognizing the sign, you are teaching them to use it to get your attention and in the process you will accelerate potty training.
Regardless of whether they are in a crate or on a leash at your feet, now is a good time to provide them a chew toy or stuffed treat toy.
The question of using pee pads and newspaper comes up and is a polarized topic. Young puppies can not hold their bladder for more than a couple of hours. If they are placed in a confined area with pee pads or newspapers on the floor, they may learn to use them, but later on that behavior is very difficult to undo.
If you have a young puppy and no one will be available to walk them outside every couple of hours then consider using a larger crate during the day in which newspapers are placed at one end and their bedding at the opposite end. At night, place them in a properly sized crate so they learn to hold their pee until morning.
Confidence building activities
Target training and nose work are training exercises that can be a lot of fun for both you and your dog. These activities are particularly helpful if you have a shy dog or one that may have aversions to certain objects.
Using a positive reinforcement technique is also particularly helpful for dogs that have a timid personality. The motivation for food or playtime when associated with a non-threatening action on your part will begin to build trust with your dog.
Target training is teaching your dog to touch another object. In its simplest form, you teach him to touch his nose to your hand. Besides being fun, this is a great training exercise for a dog that may be hand shy. By rewarding them to make contact with your hand, you build their confidence as they become less afraid of hands.
As with all positive reinforcement training exercises, timing is everything.
To start, hold some treats in one hand that is out of sight. Next, with your other hand, present your palm, fingers down to your dog. Usually, they will approach and sniff or lick. The moment they touch your palm, praise and reward.
The praise should mark the behavior in a way that is obvious to your dog, an immediate "yes!" or "click" (if using a clicker) followed by a treat.
Repeat this step a number of times. If your dog starts to pay attention to the treat hand instead, switch the treats to your other hand. Now when you present him the palm that used to be holding the treats, it will smell of treats and usually they will sniff or lick it, praise and reward.
Once your dog seems to have the knack and will consistently touch your hand for a treat, you now want to add in the cue, "touch". Simply say "touch" just before your dog touches your hand. Repeatedly pairing the cue "touch" with the behavior of touching your hand will reinforce the behavior so that when you say "touch" your dog will touch your hand.
As with most positive reinforcement exercises, if there are no distractions, the treat is desirable and your timing to praise and reward is spot on, your dog will pick up on this quickly.
Once your dog consistently touches your hand on cue, you can have a lot of fun teaching them to touch different objects. Hold a ball in your hand now when you give the touch command. Your dog may try to touch your hand but instead touches the ball. When this happens praise and reward and now add the word "ball touch" to the cue. With repitition, associating the word "ball" with the word "touch" will teach them to touch the ball when you say "ball". Try just using the cue "ball" and if your dog touches the ball, praise and reward. If they don't quite have it continue with "ball touch".
Canine nose work
Many breeds of dog were originally developed because they were better suited to accomplish a task. These working dogs exhibited a behavior that made them superior at performing a task.
There are breeds of dogs that were specially bred because of their exceptional abilities to detect and identify specific scents. However, all dogs have good sense of smell and this gives you the opportunity to develop that into a game you can play with your dog.
This game is great for a shy or insecure dog because they must work independently using their own instincts and sense of smell.
You will need a few simple items to set up the game. When starting out, the easiest solution is to gather up 5 or 6 card board boxes. The boxes need to be large enough to hide the target but accessible to the dog. Whatever type of container you choose, it must have ventilation so your dog can smell something inside. In the beginning, make the game simple and leave the container open. As your dog gets better at searching containers you can close the containers so only a small opening provides the scent.
To start, the target must be a very high value treat, one that really entices your dog. This will motivate him to find it.
Make sure your dog knows you have his favorite treat.
With your dog restrained, go around to all of the boxes and discretely place the treat in one of them. Be sure to always use the same box as the target box. The treat will leave a residual smell in the box and if more than one box has the treat odor, your dog may become frustrated. Shuffle the boxes so its not obvious which box received the treat.
In the beginning, the boxes should be grouped and not spread out too much. As your dog becomes used to the game spread the boxes farther apart.
Release your dog to begin the search. Every dog will search differently. Its important that you let them act independently. If they hesitate in the beginning, simply stroll casually around the boxes and then let them take over.
When they find the hidden treat, its important to give them plenty of praise and an additional reward. You want them to know they accomplished something.
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