Naming Your Dog’s Toys

Liz Palika

Teach your dog toy names

With three active herding dogs in the house – two Australian Shepherds and one English Shepherd – I am always looking for ways to keep their brains busy. After all, a bored dog is more apt to get into trouble.

Obedience training, trick training, and dog sports all help challenge my dogs, but I also like to teach fun things that can have some practical application. Bashir gets the newspaper in the morning, for example, and Sisko picks up dropped laundry and puts it in the hamper. Bones is in the process of learning the names of his toys. Once he knows them by name, then I’ll teach him to drop them in the toy basket.

Start with a Favorite Toy

This game is easy to teach if your dog already knows the touch command. If you haven’t already taught touch, then do that first.

Choose one of your dog’s favorite toys to begin the name game. For Bones, I began with his Planet Dog Orbee ball; his favorite. For teaching purposes I called it Orbee.

To refresh the touch exercise, with some good treats available, I held up one hand and asked Bones to touch. When he touched my hand with his nose I praised him and gave him a treat. I repeated that three or four times.

Then holding his Orbee in my hand facing him, I asked him, “Bones, TOUCH Orbee,” placing the emphasis on the touch command and saying Orbee softly. When he touched the ball, he was praised and got a treat. I repeated that three or four times and then let him have a break.

When he was touching the Orbee readily with no confusion, I would hold it in various positions – up, down, to the left and to the right – and ask him to touch it. I also placed it on the floor and asked him to touch it. I praised and rewarded each touch. At this point I also changed the emphasis of the words used to, “Bones, touch ORBEE.” This helped convey that the individual item was important.

When he could touch the Orbee when I asked him to, no matter where the Orbee was, then I put the Orbee away and brought out a second toy, a tug rope, and taught it the same way. When he understood that, then I added a third and fourth toy.

Bones Chooses

When Bones knew to touch four toys, then I needed to make sure he understood that each item had an identifying name and that I wasn’t just making noise when he was learning to touch them. This can be the tricky part of the training, so I take my time. I began with the Orbee and the rope (which was called Rope). I held one in each hand and asked Bones, “Bones, touch Orbee.” When he did, I praised him and popped a treat in his mouth.

If your dog should make a mistake, don’t correct or chastise him. Instead, don’t react at all – no smile, no verbal praise and no treat. Ask him again. If he’s still confused, repeat the first steps again and make a big deal over his correct responses.

No Limits

Bones is now up to four toys and is able to choose the named toy out of a pile of toys. But this is just the beginning. One of my previous dogs, Dax, knew more than two dozen toys by name and I stopped teaching her at that point because I was having trouble remembering the toys’ individual names. I figured if we kept going I was going to have to create a chart. She never forgot a toy’s name, though. 

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