So when most people think about positive reinforcement training they think food and praise BUT really it can be anything your dog considers good and every dog is different so the list varies. One of the best reinforcers can be play.
Most dog owners who train for dog sports like Obedience or Agility discover training with toys early on but many regular pet owners miss the boat using exlusively treats or praise. So you ask how do you train with toys? It's easy and we'll go over some concepts now.
Recall - Teaching Your Dog to Come
1. Start in your yard or home. Use a toy that your dog really likes. Some of my favourites are chuck-it balls or skinneez (stuff animals with squeakers but no stuffing). The toy you pick for training should only be available to your dog during the training session. As soon as your done put it away so it maintains a high value for your dog.
2. Call your dog "come" and run away from your dog. When he/she catches you pull out the toy and either throw the ball or play tug with your dog. The more exciting you can be the better.
3. If you've thrown the ball reward your dog with a treat if he/she brings it back. Don't focus on the retrieve part since you are practicing recall at this moment.
1. Same concept as recall. Use a special toy only for training and otherwise put it away.
2. You can start by holding the toy on the side you wish your dog to walk on and get him/her to focus on it while moving forward.
3. When your dog takes a few steps in heel position stop and play.
4. Stop the game, get your dog to take more steps and then stop and play again.
A ball can be held in your arm pit and occassionally dropped for your dog to grab. A tug toy can be easily held in your hand or pocket and brought out spontaneously.
Any skill you teach with food or praise can also be taught by playing. Remember it's important to teach your dog "leave it" so you can get the toy back in order to keep practicing.
I'll upload some YouTube videos shortly using toys as rewards so you can get a better concept of the idea. In all the classes at Where's Your Sit we suggest using toy rewards along with food, praise and petting. One of my dogs prefers toys as his BEST reward even over really good treats.
Look forward to our next entry on how to create "toy drive" in a dog that doesn't play naturally.