Toy Play

The following information has been adapted from Dr. Brenda Griffin’s Playing Games with Shelter Dogs.

Toy play is a fun way to engage and connect with a dog. It can also be the foundation for off lead control: Leash comes off – toy comes out. A key to successful toy play is finding a toy the dog really likes.

Fetch  dog icon

Fetch is a great game for any dog that can be enticed into the game and a great way for a potential adopter to connect with the dog. Everyone seems to love a good game of fetch with a dog!

An easy and fun way to teach a dog to play fetch is to use the two-toy fetch method.

Find a printable version of Fetch.

Two-Toy Fetch Method:


  • 2 identical dog toys — plush dog toys or tennis balls or whatever the dog likes

What to Do:

    1. Get two identical dog toys. It is very important that the two toys be exactly the same so the dog will like each of them just the same. If they are different, he will likely prefer one over the other, and this technique will not work!
    2. Offer the dog one of the two toys and let him play with it – don’t take it away from him!
    3. Then, wave the second other toy – he will likely drop the first one and grab the second one.
    4. Alternate the toys. You may playfully tease the dog to entice him.
    5. Next, begin tossing one of the toys, only a couple of feet at first.
    6. As soon as the dog goes to get the toy, call and encourage him to come back. Run backwards to encourage him to follow you if necessary.
    7. When he reaches you, show him the other toy. He will probably want to get that toy. He may drop the other one he has or you can trade him for a treat.
    8. Then, throw the second toy. He will then run after it and you can start the process over again.
light bulb iconStart slowly and build up over time. Always stop for the day before the dog tires of the game.

light bulb iconSpecial toys designated for fetch and tug should be put away unless you are actually playing the game with the dog. This will help to keep them fresh and enticing each time.

Tug  dog icon

dog playing tug of warTug is a great game for dogs with impulse control and arousal issues—there’s nothing better to help burn off some energy in a hurry, and it does not take a lot of space to play this game. Dogs learn to “turn it on” and “turn it off” while having fun. This is very important for those strong, excited, impulsive types of dogs.

Find a printable version of Tug.

  • Dog toy — one that he really likes
What to Do:
  • Encourage the dog to grab a toy by waving it in front of him. Reward him for getting it, by allowing him to have it.
  • Get it back from him after a minute by trading him the toy for a tasty treat.
  • Wave the toy again. Gradually work up to tugging – some dogs are naturals, others will need more encouragement. (Hint: Playing Chase It may get a reluctant dog into the game!)
Rules for Tug:

Once the dog is into the game, it is time to begin teaching him some rules to play by. As long as the dog plays by these rules, he can get as excited as he wants.

  • Teach him to leave the toy on your cue or command
  • Have a release command such as “out”, “leave it”, “mine” or “thank you”
  • The dog releases, gets a food reward, then cue him to re-take it (“tug”, “get it”, “yours”)
  • The dog gets used to having it, releasing it, receiving a reward, being presented with it again
  • The dog may not take or re-take the object until invited to do so – the penalty for doing so is ending the game
  • Zero tolerance for accidental nips – the consequence of a tooth nip is that the game immediately ends

Once the dog is committed to the game, TUG UP! Dogs engage in tugging by pulling the opposite way that you are pulling. When they are first learning, let them pull forward as they tug. If they pull too hard, let the toy go so your balance is not lost. Once you see that they are committed to the game and you have done the sequence a few times safely with them (i.e. they tug it, release it, receive a reward, you present it again, then repeat), then you can begin to PULL UP as they tug. This encourages them to pull down making it much easier for you. You can turn in a circle or move a step one way or the other while tugging up, as they tug down. This takes less effort on your part and also prevents the dog from pulling you off balance. Thus, tugging UP is easier and safer for the handler.

Chase It  dog icon

Chase It is a great game for all dogs and is very easy for humans to play. This can be very useful for encouraging shy dogs and getting them to play. It can also be a great energy burner for any dog who is into the game. For handlers that are not comfortable playing tug or fetch, this game is a nice choice as it will allow them to engage with the dog with a little more space between them, the toy and the dog’s mouth.

Find a printable version of Chase It 


  • A KONG® Chase It squirrel stick; or make your own using PVC pipe, rope, and a toy animal


  • Use the pole to move the toy animal on the ground using an erratic motion and a quick hop in the air
  • Let the dog capture it occasionally
  • Release for treat (toss treat to free the squirrel)
  • Take breaks (toy stops moving)
  • Finally, the toy stops altogether and the game ends
  • Finish the game before the dog loses interest

Section Feature