Put Away Your Toys!

Your dog will love learning to pick up after herself.

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A tennis ball, a stuffed animal shaped like a hedgehog, a plastic ball, a squeaky bone, another stuffed animal… These are just some of the dog toys strewn around many households at the end of the day. But now it’s clean-up time, when you have to keep bending over to put all the fun stuff in your pet’s toy box or basket as you tidy. What if you could get your dog to do it instead?

You can! Training your pet to clean up her own toys is easy. And she will love learning the trick. Better still, any time your dog can follow through on your cue it deepens your bond with her. Your pet wants to understand what you expect of her and loves when you are happy with her behavior. Here are the steps.

First, get the toy in your dog’s mouth. If your pet knows the names of her toys, you can just say something enthusiastically like, “Go get your fuzzy squirrel!” If she hasn’t learned to apply specific words to her different toys, you can simply hand one to her. Keep it fun and upbeat, and offer enthusiastic praise when she complies.

Now you will want to teach “Basket” or whatever other cue you would like to use for her to drop it in the toy container. Stay very close to the toy box, maybe even sitting on the floor right next to it, and let your dog see that you have a delicious reward in your hand, maybe a morsel of chicken. That will make it easier for her to loosen her grip on her much-loved toy so she can take the treat. Once she drops the toy into the receptacle, let her know her proud you are with warm words — and also let her immediately have the treat. That might be all the training that’s right for her that day. When you think she’s ready for more, either right then, later on in the day, or the next day…

Ask her to get a different toy — or hand her a different toy — and, again, while you are right next to the toy box, utter the cue you have chosen for her to drop it in. Once she does, repeat the enthusiastic praise and hand over another delicious morsel.

The next step, when you think your dog might be ready, is to keep a bit of a distance between you and the toy box as you go through the motions of having her retrieve the toy (or handing it to her) and then giving her the “Basket” or “Box” cue. (If you use “Drop it” and you have already taught her that for when she picks up something outside that she shouldn’t, she will drop the toy wherever she is standing rather than take it over to the toy receptacle.) As soon as she drops the toy where it’s supposed to go, heap on the delighted praise and have her come over to you for her reward. If you see she’s not getting it, don’t get frustrated. Just go back to staying right next to the box and ask her to follow through for you there, then try moving farther away a couple of days later. She’ll come forward in her learning if you remain both upbeat and relaxed about it.

Within a few weeks, maybe sooner, you’ll be able to have your dog retrieve her toys from other rooms to drop into the container. You won’t always have to offer her a treat once she gets the hang of the routine, but “here and there” is never a bad idea to help reinforce the lesson she has learned. Alternatively, you can make a ritual of handing out her usual nighttime treats in return for her heeding your “Basket” cues.

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