Then you are right here. After many years with dogs who love little more than exercise and tug-of-war, I’ve owned just about every toy on the market and have a few favorites that I’d like to share with you.
Dog Training Toys: Tug Toys
These toys are just plain fun for dogs and humans! Because: An elastic bungee handle protects the back of the dog and owner during tugging games.
Bungee toy by Tug-E-Nuff Developed by dog trainers and handcrafted in the UK, this toy is ideal for training and tugging together. Due to the small ball, it is also wonderfully suitable for throwing.
Tug-E-Nuff Crazy Thing This bungee toy with lots of fleece fluff is great for puppies and small dogs. Because here the dog does not need to aim with pinpoint accuracy in order to be successful.
Tug toys from other suppliers
The best grid ball of all: The Hol-ee RollerThe Hol-ee Roller can do everything: it rolls, it can be thrown, it is stretchy enough for tugging games, and can be easily tied to a rope.
✔ Pay attention to the size!
✔ Very durable as a training toy
✔ Very versatile
Flat tug toy with wool This tug toy is particularly flat, making it ideal for puppies and small dogs.
✔ Flat shape
✔ Wool and bungee
Fluffy mop with ballThis chenille ball tug toy is easy to throw and has a bungee grip for a comfortable tug.
✔ Springy bungee handle
✔ Chenille shag encourages tearing
✔ Good casting weight
Elastic fleece ropeThanks to the special Scoubidou knot, this fleece tug toy is elastic when pulled, but wears out much more slowly than braids.
✔ Elastic and gentle on the back
✔ Doesn’t wear out so quickly
✔ Easy to stow in your pocket
If you have a few fleece strips left over from a craft project, you can quickly tie a stretchy crab rope together yourself:
Biting sausage with bungee grip With this thin bungee-grip bite you get the best of both worlds: sturdy bite plus springy bungee.
✔ Stable bite
✔ Bungee grip
✔ Different colors
Biting sausage made from fire hoseSome dogs need an extra strong biting sausage, since every other tugging toy is atomized in a flash.
✔ Made from a tear-resistant fire hose
✔ 30 cm long bite
✔ With two hand straps for extra grip
The pullerAdmittedly, the puller in the set of 2 is not very handy. On the other hand, it can withstand wild dogs for a long time and can swim. My friends love it and we’ve still had our original for years because it just doesn’t break.
✔ In a set of 2
✔ Extremely durable
✔ Available in different sizes
Food Dummies and Throwing Toys For Dog Training
Planet Dog OrbeeThe Orbee globes are super elastic and therefore super crumpleable. If you manage to thread a rope through the small openings, you have a bomb toy for all occasions!
✔ Super soft, but unfortunately the continents will come off at some point
✔ Very light, but very easy to throw
StarMark Everlasting BallThis Durafoam dog ball is one of the most durable balls you will find. The material, which is reminiscent of hard moor rubber, closes small holes as if by themselves.
✔ Very light, but still easy to cast
✔ Very, very durable
✔ Available from various suppliers
StarMark Swing n FlingThis wonderfully crushable ball is hollow on the inside and therefore wonderfully suitable for squeezing. And it’s durable too!
✔ Tried and tested balls for sporting dogs
✔ Delightful to crunch
✔ Available with and without rope and in different sizes
Food dummy ballThis fillable ball with Velcro fasteners is something different than the conventional food dummy. This throwable and rollable toy is also ideal for dogs that don’t know what to do with toys.
✔ Can be thrown and rolled
✔ With a loop for attaching a rope.
✔ You can also throw food in the dog park
Normal food dummyThis normal food dummy can be filled with both wet and dry food!
✔ Loop for easier throwing
✔ Concealed zip
You can see how to use toys correctly and how to design tug games for the dog in this well-made video about the most common mistakes in reward games:
Make Dog Toys Yourself?
Of course, you can make training toys for the dog yourself!
Be it as a handmade gift for dog lovers or as a cheap alternative, the dog shreds any toy, no matter how expensive it is, into a thousand snippets in no time at all.
An interim solution for rubber toys is to check whether the ball can also be bought without a loop. Because the dealers often hit it hard when the ball is sold directly with a wrist strap.
And to be honest: tying a rope to a ball with a hole is not rocket science.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to be under any illusions when it comes to homemade toys:
Loving handicrafts are also no more stable than bought dog toys.
It has proven to be a good idea for us to simply cut old textiles into strips and braid them into a braid.
Tip: A braided toy with the Scoubidou knot, which children use to tie their friendship bracelets, is particularly elastic and not very stretchy.
These toys are also nice enough to give as gifts.
You don’t have to put in so much effort for training at home.
Enthusiastic dogs will also play and tug with a piece of cardboard, an empty water bottle, or a broken soccer ball.
Even old socks with knots in them can be wonderfully used as dog toys before they are thrown into the bin.
A homemade dog toy becomes a bit more stable and throwable if you tie a rubber ball to it.
Ball in Socks is my favorite for a simple yet useful DIY dog training toy.
Of course, you have to make compromises in terms of durability. And of course, a homemade toy shouldn’t splinter or lint either.
Why Should You Use Toys in Dog Training?
If our four-legged friend does something right during training, we would like to communicate this to him.
However, since a pure “Well done” is worthless for most dogs (we don’t just work for a handshake), we underpin our training request with a reward.
Anyone who believes that their dog should obey them even without a reward has still not understood the basics of social interaction and learning.
For all others:
The dog decides what it considers a reward.
You wouldn’t be happy if you suddenly got a bag of rice crackers instead of your salary next month, would you?
Many dogs would do anything for food. Others like to roll across the meadow with their mistress.
And a lot of dogs like to play with their people.
And good toys support us in dog training. Because “simulated prey” can be carried around, shown off, bitten, or hunted to your heart’s content.
All things that dogs obviously enjoy very much.
Therefore, toys are an important tool in dog training for most dogs.
However, toys are not only popular as a reward for dogs.
It also lets us control how wildly and in which direction we want to reward our dog.
Because toys can be thrown, rolled, moved, and animated, and also placed in advance to send the dog in a certain direction.
Because for many exercises it is helpful if the dog expects its reward in a certain position.
In advance exercises in the various dog sports, the dog should think “forward”, which we can underpin by a skillful throw forward.
During footwork, he should stay in position and not react to the fact that a tug toy could appear in our right hand, we prefer to reward to the left and backward.
And with action-packed exercises, we can ensure that the dog’s level of excitement is maintained over a certain period of time with an extensive tug-of-war.
Because of course we always train the excitement level of the dog in our exercises.
And mere food or pats on the head are enough to motivate most dogs to perceive our training as a highlight and to carry out the exercises in the future with the happy expectation of a toy with lively dynamics.
If the dog understands that training is one big game, he will have no problem with focus and joy in training.
Because if you play properly with the dog, you will notice that there is nothing nicer than playing together with the dog and just sharing pure joie de vivre in the here and now for a short moment.
But playing with the dog is a bit like dancing. It’s only fun if you’re good at it and many processes are ritualized.
Playing with the dog is a skill that needs to be practiced!
It saddens me when I see someone just hollowly throwing balls at their dog over and over again or waving a rope around wildly in their irritated dog’s face.
Throwable toys such as balls are not exactly inviting for playing together. From a health point of view, they are unsuitable for permanent daily use, especially for adrenaline junkies among four-legged friends. Both mentally and physically.
And tugging games are more than a showdown or a boring jerking up and down of the dog’s head.
Because many people make an effort but do not understand that playing together means more than just somehow “switching on” the dog’s prey behavior.
I encourage you to watch other people play with their dogs. How do trainers reward your dog sport? What do you like? What could your dog enjoy doing? What movements can you incorporate into your game?
Also, try to pay attention to your dog’s reaction. Is he having fun or is gaming serious to him? Does he understand that you are playing or is he stressed? Does he think your way of playing is stupid?
Because playing with the dog does not just include the art of encouraging your dog to play.
It is also very important to create a certain flow in training, i.e. a smooth, frustration-free, and repeatable transition between practice, praise, and play.
Playing with the dog includes many elements that need to be practiced:
- The dog must want to play
- The dog must understand what toys are intended for him
- The dog must also want to give toys back
- The dog needs to know when, how, and where to bite into the toy
- The dog must learn the rules of the game
- The dog has to learn to assess and anticipate our movements during play
- The dog must understand how training works and when and for what he can have his toys
Therefore, good trainers start by playing with their young dogs and studying the right movements and ideas for the individual dog.
Small exercises are then integrated into this joint game. Not the other way around.
What Kind of Toy is Best for Training?
Basically, the toy has to please the dog, make sense for the planned training and be durable.
Many dogs love tug toys.
Dog toys with fur or strips of fabric seem to be particularly popular with dogs because they move while playing and are more interactive than pure rubber toys.
Bungee dog toys, i.e. toys with a spring-back handle, are particularly back-friendly for both humans and dogs. Then
A particularly long handle is not only suitable for puppies and small dogs.
Even with large, clumsy puppies, it is safer to teach the dog to grab a toy that is being dragged along the floor than to be snatched off its feet by the enthusiastic dog at play.
The toy must have a good-sized wrist strap or something to hold on to. After a few repetitions, the good piece is full of slobs and it becomes increasingly difficult to hold on to it during wild tugs.
For rope bungee balls and other throwing and retrieving toys, I prefer resilient materials like natural rubber and hollow-core TPR rubber over hard solid rubber.
On the one hand, crushable toys spring better, which takes away the “boom” for the back and fingers in wild tugging games.
On the other hand, I don’t run the risk of accidentally hitting my dog or a training partner with a hard solid rubber ball (yep, speaking from experience!). In addition, my dogs love to chew on their “squeaks”.
Also, keep in mind that training toys are usually not suitable for being freely available to the dog for self-amusement.
Because toys for dog training have different requirements in terms of design and durability than stuffed animals and chew toys,
The manufacturers strive for robust workmanship, but what is meant in this case is “withstands normal play with a normal dog” and not “indestructible”.
So when I put away these toys outside of training, it’s not my concern that the dog should only be allowed to experience toys with me.
Of course, out of sheer deprivation, he will have to interact with me if he wants to see his favorite ball up close.
This may be a useful starting point for training a headstrong dog, but not as a general philosophy.
Because in the long term, I want my dogs to want to play with me and not just with a certain toy.
I think much more than many interactive toys are so interesting for our dogs because they are made of (imitation) fur, fluff, and elastic materials and often have a long handle.
It’s fun to play with, but the dog will quickly tear it apart if you don’t supervise it.
And a “bungee toy with fur” is pretty much useless without a bungee and fur.
Toys that are not very robust are unsuitable for dog training. Cuddly toys just don’t stand up to any tug of war.
And toys with squeakers are also more suitable for playing alone and are not tolerable for me in the long run.
And if the materials are too rigid, you have to be aware of the increased risk of injury.
There are dogs who bang on the toy so energetically that they don’t take their own health into consideration.
It takes a bit of practice and tact to get these energy bombs safely through everyday life among the dogs.
The warning about sticks as a dog toy therefore also applies to training: hands off!
How to play with the dog and which training toys are best depends on the individual tastes of the dog and owner.
Some dogs like to chase moving objects. Other dogs also react very dynamically to stationary objects. Some dogs want to throw toys around their ears. Other dogs want to own toys and use them to show off in front of an audience.
The training goal and the style of play determine whether a throwing toy or a tugging toy makes more sense.
I prefer toys that offer many different play options, such as Zergel, which has a built-in ball that’s heavy enough to throw.
And I like toys that I can slip into my jacket pocket and don’t have to transport in a complicated way.
If the dog is to be able to recognize the toy from a distance, it must of course be a little larger.
In general, a training toy should be long and big enough for the dog to be able to grab it at full gallop without colliding with me or having my fingers in his mouth.
I like my dogs a bit “rougher” and I’m not an exercise prodigy myself.
It’s possible that my fingers get a little damaged in the heat of the moment.
My dogs have no bad intentions, but it can be avoided with good training (“please keep your fingers on”) and a suitable toy.
My Dog Gets Nervous When I Reward Them With Toys!
Especially for many working and herding dogs in dog sports there is such a preference for toys that food is sometimes even perceived as a punishment.
Also for my border collie, for example, food had become a kind of “conditioned inhibitor” early in training.
This meant food didn’t evoke positive feelings, but heralded punishment:
Food = Not a toy.
So every food reward I meant for my dog, no matter how well meant, was perceived as a disappointing flop.
Because the preference of many working dogs is clear:
Toys trump fodder.
You should of course work on this, because it always makes sense to have all options open during training and to know the value of these options for the dog well in order to be able to reward them sensibly.
If the dog turns off too much as soon as toys come into the picture, you should work on that too.
And please do not succumb to the fallacy:
Toys are fun. But too much is too much.
Just because some dogs like their toys and wild tug-and-throw games doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good for the dog or conducive to training. Especially if you can’t use it so skilfully that your dog doesn’t go completely crazy.
Because only “higher, faster, further” is of course not the point of good dog training, even if it’s fun.
And being easily excitable and having a tendency to enjoy themselves are breed-related traits that are desirable in working dogs that don’t break down on the job.
But you are not doing your dog a favor or satisfying a need by showering him with training toys and playing so much and so hard that the dog is only capable of hydraulic movements from sheer tension.
If the dog reacts very euphorically to toys, you should use them in moderation and with brains so as not to damage the dog and to preserve its mental well-being.
Game rules that are easy for the dog to understand and lots of impulse control games can help keep a wild dog in thinking mode when faced with a toy.
Because just because a dog would rush or crush its ball for hours doesn’t mean it needs it and doesn’t benefit from it either.
Action and ball junkies are not necessarily happy dogs!
And when playing with particularly excited dogs, safety must always be considered.
If you own a dog that would screw itself head-on into a wall or vertically into the air if you throw a ball clumsily, you have to be much more careful with throwing toys in dog training than the owner of a normal dog.
I hate those videos on the internet where you can see Malinois and Co. soaring through the air at insane heights after a toy.
Yes, these dogs can. But what message does that send to potential puppy prospects?
And also for your own safety, you have to be very careful how you present toys with such dogs.
Inexperienced trainers with wild dogs run the risk of leaving the training session with scratches.
And yes, if you train a German Shepherd, Border Collie, or young Molosser, you should have fun romping about wildly in the long term.
I (and many dog trainers) have bruises and one or two scratches after every training session.
And you know what? I love it! My dogs especially!
For me, there is nothing better than throwing myself into training with full physical exertion!
But with inexperienced training beginners, there is a risk of injury for the dog and owner. So stay sensible when playing and only drive the dog as high as it is healthy for the dog’s well-being on the one hand and still controllable for you on the other.
My Dog is Not Interested in Toys!
Now a few more words about the “rulers” among the dogs:
Many people suffer because their dog doesn’t like to play with toys.
On the one hand, you can’t buy all those beautiful things because the dog doesn’t know what to do with them.
On the other hand, you constantly have frustrating conversations with your dog trainer when he recommends “Now play with your dog!”.
Other dog owners often give you dozens of good and well-intentioned tips on the subject without being asked. But somehow they never work with your own dog.
But is this really a “problem” that needs to be solved?
Play-in dog training should be fun and reward the dog.
And the dog decides based on its individual inclinations what it sees as a reward and what not.
There are many good reasons for not wanting to play.
- Has the dog ever had pain while playing that he is now afraid of?
- Is your dog very soft-mouthed or doesn’t like having things in his mouth?
- Is your dog cautious and finds wildly moving toys creepy?
- Did the dog just never get to know playing with dog toys?
- Were your first attempts at play so irritating for the dog that it bolts when you put a toy in its face?
- Is the dog just a lazy sock who thinks “Get your dog toy back yourself”?
A naturally lazy dog does not necessarily have to learn to play. why?
If you think that somewhere in the dog there is a joy of playing that has not yet been awakened and would like to awaken it, you should simply approach the matter without pressure.
Practicing playing is not a competition and constant disappointments in the owner nip any fun in the bud right away.
While you may want a slightly more dynamic reward for training than a dry cookie, you don’t necessarily have to use toys to do so.
Because a thrown cheese cube is just as visible and can be chased by the dog or caught in the air. Only distorting games are then just not in it.
Training with food dummies (training pouches filled with food) is another proven method of being able to throw something to a dog that is only food-motivated during training.
Little by little you can transfer the value of food to moving objects and small hunting games.
And with a bit of luck, the dog will like it.
And if not, there are other things you can do to make your time with the dog worthwhile.