How to Teach a Dog to Play With Toys

by Melodie Anne Google
    Interact with him during play sessions.

    Interact with him during play sessions.

    Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

    After picking up one of pretty much every single toy at the pet store, you get home to find that Rex wants nothing to do with them. He gives you a blank stare, runs off into your bedroom and grabs one of your shoes instead. When he was in the shelter he didn't get a lot of toys to play with so he doesn't know how exciting they can really be. With a little training and encouragement, your pooch will be playing in no time.

    Step 1

    Replace whatever Rex usually chews on with a new toy. If he tends to gnaw on your sofa cushions, startle him with a high-pitch "eh" sound, guide him off the couch and put a toy in his mouth instead. You're replacing the behavior you don't want with a behavior you want to encourage.

    Step 2

    Get excited. Sounds simple enough, but making a big deal and having a little party when Rex plays with his toys is important. He loves making you happy -- look how much his tail wags when you walk in the door. By patting him on the head and praising him for playing with his toys, he'll be more likely to do it again.

    Step 3

    Fill it up with treats. Sometimes your four-legged buddy might just need a little bribe to play with his toys while you're making dinner. Many dog toys are made of a hollow sturdy rubber material, giving you a perfect spot to hide some treats. He'll have to work hard to get the food out, keeping him busy and simultaneously teaching him to interact with his toys.

    Step 4

    Play with him. Don't use toys as a replacement for you. Rex adores you and wants to interact with you. Simply plopping him in a pile of toys and walking away won't do the trick. If he seems bored with his toys, show him the ones that squeak or throw that ball across the yard so he can see it bounce. He won't know all of the fun things his toys can do unless you show him and play alongside him.

    Items You Will Need

    • Dog toys
    • Treats
    • Peanut butter


    • Pick up a variety of toys. Each dog is different and has different preferences. Fido only plays with tennis balls, but Rex might prefer toy bones or squeaky toys.
    • If your pooch is highly food motivated, keep him busy by feeding him his dinner inside a hollow toy. Fill up the toy with his kibble and a touch of peanut butter to seal it in. He'll learn to love that toy and will run to get it when dinnertime comes around.
    • Even if you have a big stash of toys, they don't all need to be out all the time. Keep his mind working and feed his curiosity by rotating his toys every night. Before you head off to bed, pick up the toys he was playing with at dinner and replace them with his rubber bone and ball. He'll be less likely to get sick of his toys.


    • Watch your fingers when playing with your canine pal. He may unintentionally nip your hand if your fingers get in the way during a play session. If this happens, don't yell at him. Just leave him with his toy and walk away to attend to your wound. Yelling can scare him, making him think that you think playing with toys is bad. You'll have to start your training all over.
    • When introducing a new toy, make sure you supervise your furry friend in the beginning. If he shreds it apart he can choke on some of the small pieces. Quickly take away broken pieces or toys that are missing parts.

    Photo Credits

    • Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.

    Have a question? Get an answer from a Vet now!