How to Teach Your Dog to Put Away Toys
Train your dog to put his toys into a toy box
Would you like to train your dog to pick up his own toys on command and put them away in a toy box?
This is one of my favourite dog tricks and it's not at all difficult to teach your dog, if you do it with patience, training the behavior step by step. Your friends will be so impressed to see Fido run around collecting her own toys and dropping them into her toy box when you say "Tidy up!"
If you'd like to teach your dog how to do this cute (and very handy!) trick, keep reading for training tips and a two-part video tutorial. You too can teach your dog how to put his toys away!
Dog Trick: Put Your Toys Away - Watch as this pretty Golden Retriever shows off her tidying-up skills!
Can your dog put his or her toys away in a toy box, as Grace the Golden Retriever shows in this video?
Of course, you'll need Dog Toys and a Box...
Having a designated toy box of his very own helps the dog to learn what he is allowed to play with, and stop stealing your stuff!
(See below for Dog Toy Box suggestions, and a note about choosing a toy box for a small dog.)
Don't be tempted to settle for a cardboard box for dog toy storage! Cardboard gets chewed up and soggy and messy and generally really unattractive to have stuck in a corner of your living room. More importantly, it's sometimes hard for a dog to tell one cardboard box from another. You want your pooch to be very clear on which box is the one that holds his very own toys - what box in your home he's allowed to dig around in, and what's off limits for chewing and play.
But more on all that later!
For now, let's get on with the dog trick training -
Dog Training Videos
How to Teach Your Dog to Put Toys Away in a Box - Parts 1 & 2
How to... Part 1 - Teach your dog to put their toys away
What's all this Clicker Training?
In the Clicker Training method, one of the ways we train a new skill is to "shape" a dog's behavior in small steps toward the end goal
Just as you didn't learn to drive a car all in one day - you learned one skill at a time and practiced those skills until they became "fluent" over time - so we don't ask our dogs to learn a complex chain of behaviors all in one big leap.
Break down the "Put Away Toys" trick into its component parts, and you'll see we are asking our dogs to go find each toy, pick it up, take it to the toy box, and repeat the process with all the toys. But those are just the broad strokes - we can break all that down into smaller and smaller pieces, right down to such a small and simple act as the dog looking at the toy you want him to pick up.
To "shape" a new behavior, we start by looking for the dog to offer the smallest piece of that behavior. We click to mark the moment when our dog does something we like, clicking at the exact instant when the dog does the action or behavior we're hoping he'll do, and then we give him a treat or otherwise reward him in a way he really enjoys. The reward (positive reinforcement) will increase the chance of him repeating that behavior - that is science!
"Dogs do what works!"
If you're curious to learn more about this dog training method, see my article on Clicker Training for Dogs or check out the Clicker Training Basics section of Karen Pryor's Clicker Training website for a free online library of articles by expert dog trainers.
Meanwhile, let's get on to Part 2 of the video tutorial...
How to... Part 2 - Teach your dog to put their toys away
Gradually, as these video lessons have demonstrated, we hold out for a little more to be offered by the dog... and just a little more... step by step working towards the finished behavior, which in this case is to go pick up the dogs toys, carry them to the toy box, and drop them in.
Sometimes the trainer needs to exercise a little more patience until the dog starts to catch on, especially if it's a dog already trained to wait for instructions from his owner / handler. Once a dog learns that it's OK for him to try things out - that's known as the dog becoming "operant" - the training can, and often does, progress very quickly. Sometimes even a little faster than you might be ready for!
Besides your Clicker and your Sense of Humor, you'll need...
You'll Need a Box for Your Dog to Put His Toys In
There are a lot of really gorgeous dog toy storage boxes out there, but for young dogs and dogs who are just starting their training, I'd suggest going with a toy box that's quite tough, easy to clean, and not very expensive, as the toy box itself is likely to get dragged around and used as a dog toy. A bright and easy-to-clean fabric basket or tote, like the Canvas Dog Toy Storage Basket from DEI's Lucky Dog Collection shown below, is another good option.
This tough-but-attractive canvase tote/basket for dog toys comes in a couple of colors (blue, red, green, etc.) and can be smushed into cupboards or behind the kitchen door if company comes over and you need to declutter in a hurry. At this low price you may want to pick up a couple of these, so you'll have one to tuck into the car to contain all the dog gear on a road trip.
Dog Toy Box Height
Does the height of the toy box really matter, for smaller dogs?
Yes and no. Yes, it's true that a short little dog can always put his front paws into a toybox to get at the toys at the back or the bottom, but we already have an inherent challenge in teaching small and toy breed dogs to keep "four on the floor" - after all, from their perspective, most of the good things in the world are way up high!
From a day-to-day dog training perspective, I like to set it up so the dog gets the reward of being able to select a toy without needing to jump or climb, just to reinforce the idea that *not* jumping can sometimes lead to good things. Not a big deal, but just something you might want to keep in mind.
Dog Toy Boxes for Small Dogs
If you have a small dog, the sides of many dog toy storage boxes may be too high for your pup to easily get out his toys - or to put his toys away!
Measure up from the floor to the middle of his chest, and that will give you an idea of about the maximum height that will work best.
You'll find a few suggestions below, but do "think outside the box" and look around your home to see what boxes you already have on hand - you may already have a box that will do the trick.
A cute bone-shaped box with a lid is decorative, and its purpose as a container for dog toys is very clear. The small size, shown here, at 10 inches high is a convenient size for small dogs to reach in.
Alternatively, a bright wooden box with an open top and semi-circle cutout shape at the front lets even the tiniest pup get at his toys (or put them away).
Recommended Treats for Dog Training
For training, look for treats that are soft enough and small enough to make them suitable for training. You don't want your dog to get so busy chewing up a big crunchy treat that he forgets what he's supposed to be doing!
I like to mix in a few treats like these, below, just for variety - but mostly I just use small bits of mozzarella cheese, low-fat chicken hot dogs, cubes of the roll-style meat dog food, and my own homemade goodies (see my Easy Homemade Liver Treats Recipe for example) along with small bits of banana or half-dried apple.
Experiment to learn what kind of training treats will turn your own dog on and get him keen to earn some more.
Training treats can be expensive, but that doesn't necessarily have to be so. One of our dogs' all-time favorite choices is Roll-Over, which is sometimes available at PetSmart in my town. When it's not available, we go for the similar meat roll by Natural Balance. It comes in a bunch of different flavors, but we've found that most dogs like the Lamb version. It is easy to digest, too, and often a good choice for dogs with food sensitivities or picky eaters. Treats must be super-good to be a good pay-off for learning!
As for the Dog Toys... - If you are like most dog owners, you already have LOTS of dog toys that you can use for training the "Put Toys Away" trick!
Climbing into the box and hiding among the dog toys?
That's a trick for another day!