Make the Most out of Toys

I enter a lot of houses in my work and I see a lot of wonderful toy baskets. People love their dogs and generously buy them toys to show their dogs how they love them. Unfortunately, dogs aren't very materialistic. Those full toy baskets just don't get used the way they should. Get ready to change that!

Dogs do what works. When they do something (a behavior) and get what they want (a toy...your attention) they repeat the scenario until it makes you nuts. A classic situation is this: you are sitting watching the tv show of your choice. Your dog drops a ball in your lap. You tell him to go away....several times, until you get sick of repeating yourself and you toss it. YAY!!! Win for the dog. He has nothing better to do than to bother you until he gets what he wants. You have taught him to do that. This is all possible because you have provided him with toys and left them out. Dogs do what works.

Now, consider this scenario: you watch your favorite show and ignore your dog. Your dog has been so well behaved and left you in peace, that you go get his favorite toy from a drawer and invite him to play with you. Win for you! You have rewarded good behavior and reinforced leaving you alone. You are also teaching him that YOU initiate play, not him.

It all depends on access. Don't give away your power! Don't give your dog access to the very things you can use to encourage good behavior. Toys are the second most powerful motivator and reinforcer in most dogs' lives!

Toys can mean many things -I divide them into categories for usefulness. Toys that you fill with food are the most important -Kongs, Kibble Nibbles, Treat Balls and the like. Chews are Bully Sticks, Whimzies, and other tasty, edible chews. The last category is toys that are only fun with human interaction -Tail Teaser, Jolly Ball, Tug Toys, tennis balls, etc. If you keep these toys away from your dog, you can decide when it's best to bring them out.

For really avid chewers and dogs that need to be kept busy, feed breakfast from a stuffed Kong and dinner in a Kibble Nibble. As soon as they are empty, wash them and put them away -do not leave them on the floor to become boring to your dog. Bring out a Tail Teaser and the jolly ball for 10 minutes twice a day and give him a bully stick at night when you are ready to settle down. This is a great use of toys. Your dog gets quality time with you, when you decide and he gets plenty of appropriate chew time. If you want to leave a couple of toys out, something like a rubber tire or a nylabone is a good choice.

The fact is, dogs need a lot more structure for their day than most owners supply. They get bored and make mistakes. Prevent mistakes by being ready to reinforce what you like when you see it. Keep him busy before he makes a bad choice. Keep him mentally stimulated through play and training and your dog will be happy and peaceful. Dogs are really smart, but they depend on us and shouldn't be expected to know what to do if we don't teach them.