The magic of toy holding

Last week on our facebook page, we posted a photo of Doodlebug holding a tennis ball, and asked folks why they thought it might be useful to teach a dog to hold a toy. We were amazed at how many thoughtful, creative ideas everyone came up with!

In Doodlebug’s basic obedience class, our homework one week was to only pay attention to our dog when he was holding a toy in his mouth. If he came seeking affection, we were to offer a toy. If he took the toy, we could pet him and play with him for as long as he wanted. But the second he dropped the toy, we lost all interest and the toy disappeared. We stashed toys in all corners of the house, and took our assignment very seriously.


We wanted to work on Dude’s play drive — he didn’t have much interest in playing fetch, chase, tug, or other toy games. If we could teach him to develop warm, fuzzy feelings about holding a toy in his mouth while hanging out with us, we were well on our way — our hope was that his urge would be to find toys and bring them to us, which is — essentially — fetch. Some of our clever facebook readers guessed this reason right away: “Holding something in their mouth without chewing it is step 1 of shaping item retrieval behavior.” We also learned in class that petting a dog who is holding a toy promotes sharing rather than guarding behavior — “If I bring my treasure to you, you will love on me, not take it away.” A worthy lesson for sure!

Our Facebook fans also came up with many of the other great reasons a handler may want to teach a dog to hold a toy. Here are some highlights.

Limiting inappropriate mouthing or play:

  • I trained my Lilly to play with a ball in her mouth when she was a puppy, so she’d stop chomping on her sister Abby.
  • Luna learned early on to pick up a toy when people came in the door, as it kept her out of trouble as she can’t “love bite” when she has a toy in her mouth. That way she can still be excited but it’s a better way for her to use her toy.
  • I worked with a dog who had a mild case of PICA and at home he loved to carry toys and his bowl in his mouth so we worked on teaching the dog to carry a ball or a bone on walks to help prevent him from eating every little thing he wasn’t supposed to. 
  • My friend’s dog had anxiety issues when people left the house. He physically displaced by biting shoes pant legs etc. She taught him to find and hold a toy to keep him from biting; over time it seemed to help lessen his anxiety.
  • We’ve trained our pooch to “hold” something when we roughhouse. She doesn’t attempt to bite, but having her mouth closed around something prevents any accidental teeth-skin contact.

Boosting focus by giving the dog a “job” to do:

  • It’s like they have a “job” to do, something to stay focused on when out for walks rather than worrying about the passing dog or person.
  • Holding a ball in her mouth seems to make Harley a little less anxious. Not sure what the mechanism is here, but maybe like a human stress ball, it gives her something to let out a little crazy and focus on. 
  • Helps my girl Nina when we’re walking the neighborhood and she sees a dog that she would normally want to spark off at. Since she’s determined not to let go of her ball until she gets home, she doesn’t bark.
  • Both of mine know the “hold” command, kinda important when they are retrieving birds for us. We also like to make it into a game where we get them to carry things between the two of us. VERY handy when one is outside and needs something from inside. They get to be the messengers.

Have you taught a dog to hold a toy? If so, how, and for what reason?


Just over a year ago, we started Chick’s popular Chix-a-Lot Friday series. Exactly a year ago, Chick told the story of how he became ours — one of our favorite stories to this day.

Love and a Six-Foot Leash

So I was in the slammer, see. I got brought in for running loose on the town. Pit bull running at large, they said. And so they brought me in. It was an ok place, the slammer. The people gave me my very own room made of fence and concrete, and I had a water bowl full of water, and they would bring food, too. Some of the people who worked there weren’t too sure about me — a pit bull. But there’s this test they give the dogs to decide whether they get to be in the nicer dog hotel in the front where all the people walk by or the sad dog hotel in the back where nobody ever goes except the workers. I knew I had to woo them, and I did. I wooed and wooed, and I got straight A’s on my test. They gave me…

View original post 478 more words

%d bloggers like this: