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Toys for Treats!

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The reward after the click doesn't have to be food; it can be fun… with a toy, instead! A fast game of tug-o-war is a powerful reward.

How do you reward with toys?

  • Use a few exciting tug-type toys at the end of a clicker session, to signal that the session is over but the fun goes on!
  • Use tug play for a "jackpot" when the dog does something incredibly wonderful—
  • Use toys as an energy burner for the very active dog, between rounds of concentrated shaping with clicker and food.
  • Keep reinforcing toys out of sight except when you're ready to play, so it retains its reinforcing charm.

What if your dog doesn't play?

Teach him, (with clicker training, of course!) Bouncy flippy tug toys are hard to resist—click for looking at the moving toy, for trying to chase it and catch it, and for holding on.

What toys make good reinforcers?

Toys that your dog loves, of course. But as with treats, we clicker trainers also have a few other requirements. I like tug toys that:

  • Will conform themselves to the dogs teeth so that teeth won't get stuck
  • Retain their shape and colors and are machine washable
  • Have long handles so the inexperienced can play safely
  • Are indestructible (almost)
  • Don't look like every other toy
  • Are interestingly designed (for my amusement) while using safe natural materials (for my dog's health)

We've tug-tested different toys with own dogs. Phoebe the border collie loves a game of tug as a jackpot after heeling practice. Misha the poodle and Twitchett the terrier love to play tug side by side as an after-dinner special treat. Your dog will work for these tugs too!

Click here for the ones we like.

Remember

Play safely

  • Restrict tugging games to special toys—don't allow tugging on clothing or other people's property.
  • Stop the game and put the toy away if the dog tries to grab your end of the tug. That's a natural urge, but it can lead to nipped fingers.
  • If you let children play tug, keep the game short, so the dog doesn't get overly excited, and watch like a hawk to make sure hands and teeth stay at opposite ends of the toy.

Tip: Use a game of tug as a special treat for good manners for both the child and the dog.

About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

Tugs

Can the tug always be used after the clicker or does food need to be there right after the click and the tug offered only at the end or as a jackpot? In other words can you successfully train the behavior by never offering food after the click?

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