How to teach your dog to tidy up!

Now, we’re not talking about teaching your pooch to do the dishes, (wouldn’t that be wonderful!?) but you can at least teach him a very useful task – which is to pick up his own toys.  If your canine household is anything like mine there are always an array of soft toys scattered from one end of the house to the other, so training your dog to collect them up from time to time is helpful for you, as well as providing him with an extra stimulating ‘game’ that he will actually enjoy – (unlike me when I have to do the ironing!).

There are a few ways to teach this, some more in-depth than others.  This method is informal, but you will get results with a little patience.

To begin with, your dog needs to have a reasonably reliable retrieve, so if he doesn’t already know how, the first task is to teach him this.  It would also be really useful if you could teach the ‘leave it’ or ‘off’ command.

Select a container that you want your dog to put his toys in – he may already have one but make sure it’s an appropriate size, especially if you are teaching a small dog.

Next, is to teach your dog to be interested in the container and happy to put his head over or in it.  This is relatively easy to teach by placing a treat into the container, then click and treat again once his head is in the container.

Stand, or sit on the floor (much easier!) and place the container between your feet or knees.  Throw a toy for your dog and encourage him to bring it to you in such a way that his head is over the top of the box or basket (see what I mean about having a suitable receptacle?!).  Only use one toy to begin with, put any others away and out of sight.

Encourage your dog to drop the toy, (this is where the ‘leave it’ or ‘off’ command comes in).  Each time he drops a toy into the basket reward him by placing a treat inside the container; (using the clicker method is great for teaching this trick and makes things faster!).  Toss the toy out again for him to retrieve.

Once he is getting good at dropping the toy in the box you can pair the behaviour with a word or short phrase such as “pick up” as soon as your dog lets go of the toy and it drops into the basket.  Next, slow things down a little and get your dog to pick up a stationary toy.  Instead of throwing the toy from the box, place it a short distance away.

The next step is to get him to pick up all the toys!  To do this, add toys gradually, ask him to pick up one toy, then the next but reward for every toy dropped into the box just the same as before.

I tried this with Floss and she picked it up really quickly, but she is already interested in toys and knows how to retrieve and drop, which really helps.  However, to progress to the stage where you can ask your dog to pick up all of his toys in one go may take several weeks to achieve, training a few minutes each day.

A good tip is to utilise pointing.  Pointing into the box when your dog is approaching with the toy will attract him to that area.  Remember, dogs understand human pointing (even chimpanzees can’t do this!) and I found this was a useful signal when teaching Floss this trick.

Add more and more toys as you go along, but hold back on rewarding each and every time.  Sometimes reward when one toy is in the basket, sometimes when your dog has put three toys away and so on.  Eventually, you will be able to ask your dog to put every toy away before he earns his reward.

The next step……try it with the children!