Wouldn't it be great if you knew how to teach your dog to put toys away instead of having to see those half-chewed ropes and balls lying around the house? Pleasingly, this isn't as hard a training task as you may think. If your dog already knows how to fetch, then getting them to tidy up after themselves is a relatively simple process. And it's a great party piece to show off to your friends!
Of course, learning a sequence of events such as automatically fetching and dropping objects in a specific place can be hard for a dog to grasp straight away. You need to break it down into easy-to-understand tasks and build up slowly from there. It's worth persevering with though as it is a fun training exercise that will help to mentally stimulate your four-legged friend and build your bond with them.
As with all training, slow and steady wins the race. It's best not to overwhelm your dog with too much too soon, and train for short times and regularly to help them cement each task in their minds.
The two main commands your furry pal needs to master are "Take it" and "Drop it", before they can learn the catch-all command "Toys away". To help you in their mastery of these you'll need a few things: their favorite dog toys, some tasty treats and an appropriately sized toy basket.
The 'take it' command
The first step is to get your dog to learn to pick up a toy. This is a variation on fetching and most dogs have already mastered the idea of fetch from a young age. Even if you have a more 'sit and stare at you after you've thrown a ball' type of dog, they should still master the 'take it' command if you make it interesting enough for them.
First, pick up your dog's favorite toy and move it around to get them interested in it. As the dog goes to take it out of your hand say "Take it". If you do praise your dog, make a big fuss of them and give them a pet.
The 'drop it' command
Once they are carrying a toy the next stage is to get them to drop it. Most of our furry friends don't like to let go of what they are carrying, especially if it's an opportunity to play tug of war with you, so you need to offer them something they would prefer to have – a tasty treat.
Say "Drop it" just as they open their mouth to go for the treat and then give them the treat and praise them lavishly after they've let the toy go.
Then it's a case of repeating the take it and drop it actions a few times more to help them connect the command with the action. Spread this training out over a few days. Once they are taking the toy and dropping it on command pretty much consistently it's time to move on to getting the toys into the basket.
Getting them to put the toy in the basket
Choose the permanent place you want the basket to stay as you may confuse your dog if you keep moving it to different locations. Now get a few of their toys and place them next to the basket. Position yourself behind or over the basket and call your four-legged friend over.
Now touch one of the toys and say "Take it". Once they have it in their mouth, entice their head over the basket with a treat and say "Drop it". When they do, hopefully it will land in the basket. If it does, put the treat inside the basket so they come to understand that good things are associated with this basket. Even if the toy doesn't land in the basket still give them the treat and praise them for carrying out the action correctly so they don't get confused.
Repeat this action until they are dropping the toys into the box nine times out of ten. Once this happens it's time to put it all together with a catch all command.
The 'toys away' command
Now you can start to throw the toys further away from the box in different locations around the room. Use the same "Take it" and "Drop it" commands, but as they go to retrieve the toy add the words 'Toys away". Again, lavish them with praise or a treat if they successfully put the toy in the box.
Repeat this for about 10 to 20 repetitions spread out over several days, slowly replacing the "Take It" and "Drop it" commands with the "Toys away" command. If they seem to get the idea, test your dog by instead of throwing the toys, when they are out of the room just placing the toys around the place. Then call them in and say "Toys away". If they do it, again reward them. If they don't, then some more repetitions are in order.
With a bit of practice you'll never have a dog toy in sight again!
Jamie Middleton is a freelance editor and writer - or at least he is when he is permitted to by his cat Pirate, who enjoys the warmth of laptops too much to allow being creative to get in the way.
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