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TOY RULES: The key to clear high drive obedience.


Many big issues that handlers have in their obedience and protection training are connected with the toy. When there are no clear rules about playing, it reflects on all the training that is connected with your reward. Also, when the rules are not clear, it can make it difficult to use different kinds of methods in training.

I have taught handlers FOUR key rules needed before they can even use the toy in obedience training. 


The main thing prior for teaching rules is to get your playing enjoyable. The dog needs to be excited about it. 

1. Returning with the toy to the handler. 

2. Hold.

3. Out and informal out. 

4. Do not touch the toy without permission. 

RETURNING with the toy typically comes easily if the dog has learned to play and enjoy it with the handler. The dog WANTS to engage during playing. I never teach the exchange game where the dog runs back, drops the toy and gets another one. This can cause issues in your dumbbell training. Coming back to the handler with the toy can be an indicator on how successful you are in your playing sessions, because if the dog wants to continue, it shows you have been a good playing partner. Also, if the dog offers the toy to the handler, it can be huge help in your dumbbells especially if you use playing for the grip and reward. This offering of the toy keeps the dog more open and active front of the handler.

The HOLD command is very important for developing grip with the dumbbells. You need the hold command for protection training as well since the dog needs to learn to hold a sleeve with the handler (cradle).It will also be a huge help for your transition to phases in protection training, since we use the “hold” cue there to counteract any out anticipation or chewy grips. With the transition phase, I mean the time just before the out command. 

In these exercises, I don’t just teach the command “hold”, I also teach the command “OK" which means that the dog can start to play again.  You learn to control the hold vs the fighting/ playing, and this is used in a variety of areas.

OUT is one of the most important commands for a protection dog. I typically use two different kind of out commands. The informal out command can be more sloppy and I don’t demand it to be fast all the time. Typically, I never do informal out command from playing. Instead, I let the dog have the toy with a dead moment (nothing happening) and then I give the informal out command.


With the primary out,  I want to see that the dog shows the same behaviour every time and I save that only for bite work (on a helper or while I’m practicing with a tug) or for outing from the dumbbell. For the dog, “Out” always means the play continues after the outing. This keeps it very sharp.


The biggest problem for working dogs with out is the dog has learned to fight against the command.  Make sure that the association with the command is that the dog knows it is

the way to continue the game.

DON'T TOUCH THE TOY. This is the behavior before you reward, begin playing or after the informal out command. It means that when you take the toy from the dog, he is not trying to take it from you constantly. This allows you to use the toy as a target. If the dog doesn’t know how to follow the toy, it can make problems, for example, in your heeling training. Maybe you have done an excellent foundation for your heeling with food, but the toy rules are not clear and the dog is trying to take the toy from you all the time. In this case, your focus is no longer the heeling training and now you are trying to teach toy rules rules during heeling. Not good.

Generally, I use lots of time for toy rules for a young dog, taking 2 to 3 months to teach most of it. At the same time, I can do my food obedience in separate sessions. When I go to play with the toy, I’m having fun and also teaching the toy rules and my body language. Once our corporation with the toy is excellent, then I can start to combine technical obedience and the toy.


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