How to Train Your Older Dog to Put Toys Away

Hard
2-8 Weeks
Chores

Introduction

Have you grown used to seeing dog toys in the corner of the room? 

At the end of a busy day, there are plenty of chores to do such as tidying up and securing the house, without having to add in tidying up after the dog. 

Wouldn't it be nice if the dog would clear up after himself? 

Even if you don't go the whole way and expect the dog to do the housework, it's perfectly plausible to teach him to put his toys away in a basket. Whether you want this to be a party-piece trick or a genuine way of tidying up, is up to you. Whatever your reasons, know that training a dog in this way actually provides valuable mental stimulation and helps the dog bond with you. Indeed, even dogs with dementia can benefit from training of this sort (when done with patience) as it keeps their minds active and slows up mental decline. 

Defining Tasks

In a perfect world, the dog would tidy his own toys and the children would clear away their discarded clothes. The good news is that the first part of this (dogs tidying up toys) can be a reality with a little careful training. 

The sequence of fetching a toy and dropping it in a box is complex for a dog, so training is best broken down into baby steps. The trick is to teach each step independently and only move on when the dog has mastered the former. 

In this case, the dog is taught to pick up toys on command and drop them. Then to drop the toy into a box, and finally to retrieve a toy and drop it into the box. 

Getting Started

Teaching an older dog has much in common with a puppy; both are prone to get tired easily and both may have a limited ability to concentrate. With this in mind, train for short times but regularly. Also be sure to keep the sessions fun, because a dog that enjoys himself is eager to learn and will pick things up more quickly. 

When starting out, it's helpful to train in a quiet room with few distractions. This helps the dog to concentrate. In addition, you will need: 

  • Favorite toys
  • Tasty treats
  • A treat bag or pouch for easy access to the rewards
  • A basket

The Suiting an Older Dog Method

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Step
1
Recognize his limitations
Does your older dog have problems such as poor eyesight or hearing? Take this into account before you start and plan accordingly. For example, if the dog is blind, consider scent marking the toys by spritzing them with a diluted essential oil. This will help him to find them. Also, if the dog is deaf, then use hand signal cues in addition to spoken ones (some dogs can lip read!)
Step
2
Acknowledge physical frailties
Does the dog suffer from arthritis or dental disease? This impacts on his mobility or ability to pick up toys. Again, compensate for this with his training by not asking him to cover large areas on his way to retrieve a toy and by giving him soft toys to hold rather than awkward hard toys.
Step
3
Use reward-based methods
Your older dog will learn more quickly for praise and rewards than for being punished. Be sure to keep things fun and upbeat, using liberal amounts of praise to keep the dog motivated. If he is struggling with a particular part of the chain of learning, then ease back and work on the step before in order to build his confidence ahead of moving forward again.
Step
4
Little and often
The older dog may have a shortened attention span. Rather than tire the dog and have him dread the training sessions, aim for several short but sweet lessons during the day. This gives the dog something to look forward to, rather than resent.
Step
5
Know older dogs are like puppies
Older dogs can learn new tricks! It just takes time, persistence, and patience. In this respect an older dog is just like a puppy, so don't be discouraged from training your older dog - he will enjoy it and it will help keep his mind sharp!
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The Take It Step by Step Method

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Step
1
Understand the idea
Putting toys away involves a long sequence of events. This includes picking up a toy, walking to the box, releasing the toy. In order to teach this you need to break this sequence down into bite-sized pieces. Teach these steps one at a time, and only progress onto the next step in the sequence when the dog has fully grasped the previous step. This is known as 'chaining' and is a proven way to teach complex activities such as tidying up toys.
Step
2
Teach 'take it'
Step one is to have the dog pick up a toy. If you want to get really fancy you can even teach the dog the name of individual toys - but this is the advanced version and for another day!
Step
3
Make the toy interesting
Hold your dog's favorite toy and wiggle it around to catch his attention. Engage him in a game so that he wants the toy, and then let him have it. As he takes the toy in his mouth say "take it." Then praise him big time and reward him. Keep practicing this until you the dog easily takes the toy out of your hand just on the 'take it' command.
Step
4
Place the toy on the floor
Once the dog is repeatedly taking the toy from your hand, try placing the object on the floor. Point to the toy and say "take it". When the dog obliges, give him a ton of praise and let him know how well he has done.
Step
5
Several objects
Now place several toys on the floor. Let the dog sniff around and as he approaches a toy say "take it" and praise him for picking the object up. Once he is doing this nine times out of ten, you can move onto the next step.
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The Drop It Step by Step Method

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Step
1
Understand the idea
Now you have a dog that picks things up on command, but you want him to tidy them away. This involves teaching the 'drop it' command, so he lets go, and also teaching him to target a box when dropping the item.
Step
2
Set things up
Choose a box or receptacle into which you want the dog to drop the toys. Locate this somewhere convenient for the dog and where you can leave the box out. During the next part of the training, sit close to the box o that you can simply move your hand over the box when teaching the dog to drop an object.
Step
3
The power of treats
Have the dog 'take it' with a toy. With a treat in your fist, uncurl you fingers to show him the tasty titbit and say "drop it". For something super special, most dogs will drop even a treasured possession in order to get a snack. As he drops the object into your outstretched hand, be sure to give him a big fuss.
Step
4
Use tastier treats
If the dog is stubborn about giving up his treasured toy, then up the ante in the form of even tastier treats. Most dogs have a treat they will do anything for, such as cheese, chicken, or steak, so play around with different rewards to see what motivates him.
Step
5
Drop in the box
Once the dog has learned to drop toys on command, move your hand over the box you want him to place the toys in. Repeat the 'drop it' command, but this time let the toy fall into the box, and then praise the dog.
Step
6
Add it all together
The dog now knows how to pick up and drop toys into a box. The final step is to have him pick up a toy and walk over to the box to drop it in. Place a toy on the floor a short distance from the box. Have him 'take it', then when the toy is in his mouth, use a treat to lure him over to the basket and say "drop it". Reward the dog for a successful drop. Repeat, but this time say "tidy up", ahead of the dog going to pick up the toy, in order to label the activity.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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