Welcome to our series on Toy Play, this series will provide a step-by-step guide on how to develop toy play with your dog.
As dog trainers one of the questions, we are asked on a regular basis is ‘how do I get my dog to play?’
The first thing we need to cover is how to pick a toy that will suit your dog the best, before you start to think about selecting a toy, think about what you see your dog doing at home, it’s common that our dogs will give us lots of information into the material or the preference of toy that they might like. For example, you may have a toy box at home in the middle of the living room and your dog may go back and forth and select a particular type of toy all the time, if that’s the case we’ve hit the jackpot and you already likely know what type of toy your dog prefers.
Alternatively, you can look out for what they might like through naughty behaviours, for example, you may have a dog that’s really cheeky and steals tea towels off the side at home, as much as that is a problem behaviour it’s also giving us some information into the material type that your dog might like e.g a softer material. Conversely, you may find that your dog goes into the back garden grabs onto the hose pipe, steals it, and starts running around the garden, again it’s a problem behaviour but it would give us information that the dog prefers a rubberier type material.
So, a good example would be our Border Collie Duka, when she was a puppy she used to steal slippers so that showed that she preferred a softer type material. Now the sort of toy I’m going to choose for her is a softer tug toy so something like this:
If your dog is stealing tea towels off of the cooker at home what we could do is manage their access to tea towels and use this information when we select their toy, we could select them something a little bit softer like a sock or we could go with like a roadkill type toy like the squirrel here:
One of the observations we make quite often is that people are selecting toys that are a bit too hard for their dog to grip onto.
Sometimes people choose hard balls or ring-type toys which are really solid, what you’ll sometimes find is that the dog will start to readjust their grip and mouth the toy alot which makes it really difficult for us to get into a tuggy type game with them. This can lead to the dog biting onto the handle and this can mean they accidentally bite the handler’s hand and that’s often because the toy at the bottom of the handle is too difficult for them to grip onto.
When selecting a potential toy for your dog it’s best to consider the four S’s – Substance, Shape, Size, and Sight.
The first S is substance, or the material of the toy that you’re going to use, I tend to lean towards something a little bit softer and easier for the dog to grip onto so something like one of these toys is nice and soft and will be easy for any dog to grip on to:
Shape and Size
The next two S’s are shape and size and what we’re really thinking about is the dog’s ability to grip onto the toy nice and easily. If we look at the toy in the picture above, it’s going to be pretty suitable across the board unless you’ve got a really miniature or toy breed where it would be a little bit too big. It also has a nice substance as it is nice and soft with an easy shape and size to fit into most breed’s mouth.
Now if you think about this toy:
a larger breed will be able to grip onto the toy as they have a larger mouth, however, if we were to play with this toy with a smaller breed then it might be a little bit difficult for them to get grip as the bottom is a little bit wide for their mouths and that’s when we can end up with them biting onto the string part so the toy itself becomes redundant and they think more about the handle.
Lots of toys come with extensions on like this:
which I personally use all of the time, but sometimes if we use a toy with an extension on the choice to chase test which we’re going to talk through shortly, we may find that if the body of the toy is unsuitable for the dog to grip onto then they end up doing again is biting onto the handle.
So when I start off what I tend to do is use is a toy like the duck toy above that is big enough for the dog to be able to grip onto as the shape and size can fit in their mouth easily or if I was going to use a fluffier toy for a smaller dog it would be one like this:
without a handle on it.
If I was going to use a tennis ball, I would stick with a tennis ball by itself, and then we’d be able to switch over to a tennis ball on a rope a little bit later because again that’s when the dogs develop this desire to bite onto the handle of the toy rather than the actual ball.
The last S is for sight, if your dog already really loves to play then you might find that they’re happy to play with boring-looking toys but if your dog is developing their play then you might need to pick a toy at the start that is a bit more visually pleasing to help gain their interest.
The question now is how do we take that information and put it into place to find out which toy might be our dog’s favourite?
So, as a starting point get four different types of toys, we want something that’s a little bit fluffy, we want something that’s really soft and easy to grip onto, we want something that rolls like a tennis ball, and something that’s rubbery like this cage ball.
Alternatively, if there is a selection of toys that your dog likes at home or that they take out the toy basket on a regular basis we could put those into the mix as well, and then if your dog’s a bit of a sock draw thief and they steal socks regularly or items or material types that they like we could also add that into the mix as well.
Choice to Chase Test
The first thing that we need to think about when we’re arranging the choice to chase test is the environmental arrangement, we want to try to pick as boring an environment as possible like a corridor at home, because if we go to the park and there are dogs left, right, and center and people running around it might be a little bit too distracting for most dogs so we really want to set them up for success.
To start off get one toy at a time and you’re going to roll it back and forth to see which one your dog shows the most interest in. This is demonstrated in the video below.
When you try this test at home it would be better if you do a couple of reps with each toy so you are definitely clear which toy your dog prefers. If your dog shows absolutely no interest in any of the toys that you roll out for them, don’t worry, we’ve got a solution for that in our next blog!