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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi guys! I was wondering if you have any tips on increasing a dog's toy and/or food drive? My dog will work for food pretty well, but I've done a lot of calming work, and as a result, his energy is always WAY down during training sessions. I'm looking for ways to really get him toy motivated in more distracting situations, and also to increase focus and motivation.
 

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What does your dog hone in on when playing? Does your dog like to "kill" play items when he has them in his jaws? Shaking them? Does your dog focus on quick movements? Do you have a consistent verbal cue for your dog before you train and play?

I appreciate the calming work you have done but maybe associate the desired calm behavior into an off switch with a verbal cue. That way you can have the best of both worlds an off switch and an on.

Not sure if this conflicts with the "always let a dog win in tug" but if your dog does enjoy tug, don't let him have it every time he lunges for it. Run the tug and be quicker than the dog's jaws, intentionally trying to make him miss but always within the dog's ability to grab it. Ramp the dog up before a session with physical contact which excites the dog as well as with your voice and body movements.
 

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You've already gotten some good advice :)

Does he currently like any toys? if so, you can build from that, if not, there are toys are geared toward getting non-toy but food driven dogs more interested, like this: https://www.cleanrun.com/index.cfm/product/1669/tug-it-original-toy.htm , this:
and this: [ame]https://www.cleanrun.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_ID=3098&ParentCat=10[/ame] . You could also try using "real" products like hide or fur to peak his interest, and/or a flirtpole to see if you can tap into his prey drive and get him to chase and tug- then transfer that interest to other toys later if you want.

If he already likes some toys, it's just a matter of building his interest in at least one type. Even very toy driven dogs usually have a type of toy that they prefer over all others, so if you start with that, you can build from there. It can be helpful to increase their desire for a given item by playing keepaway, playing with another dog with said toy where they can see it, or tying them back (with harness +/- shock absorbing line) and running the toy just out of their reach to build want before letting them have it. Outside of those times, wait until he's already excited, then bring the toy out briefly, play furiously with him for a minute of two, and put it away again. You want him to always want more. Very toy driven dogs may want more even if they're been playing all day, but many dogs won't have as much interest after a few minutes, and some will have interest only very briefly, so you have to try to catch them and build duration from that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
He's playful and he has toys he likes, but he definitely doesn't 'kill' his toys. Toys certainly last with him and he rarely destroys them. He does love tug! It's more that he loses interest and is hard to excite in certain situations. I looked up some articles and followed some advice here and already I found improvement from my last session. I take him to a little park nearby and do my training there as it's right by a playground so there's decent distraction. Last time, I couldn't encourage him to keep hold of the ball (he usually loves tug) or he would lose interest and sniff the grass. Today, I put the ball up in a tree so he had to work to get to it. I kept it just a little out of reach so he'd become frustrated. I figured, he loves chasing squirrels up trees, why not a ball? It worked! I attached it to a long rope and he chased it around on the ground, fetched it well, and tugged after I teased him a bit in the tree haha

 
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Play tug of war with your dog, but always let him win.

How to play tug the right way
I let him win about 50% of the time, the other half I make him let it go. He struggles with resource guarding (not towards me, but towards other dogs) so his drop it is always incorporated with play/training.
 

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I let him win about 50% of the time, the other half I make him let it go. He struggles with resource guarding (not towards me, but towards other dogs) so his drop it is always incorporated with play/training.
Use two tug toys as shown in the video.
 

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You might want to work on building toy drive away from bigger distractions, then reintroduce them once he's more able to focus. Or if you can consistently make the toy more interesting than whatever else is going on, you should do ok.

Some might disagree, and I have doubts that it applies to all cases, but the disengaging and sniffing around supposedly can be somewhat of a stress relieving behavior. I didn't buy too much into it, but I have seen Bus do it when asked something that's hard for him, like doing less familiar obedience stuff with his BALL. Right. THERE! On the ground! beside him. He normally has very good focus, and maybe it's just the distraction level of having the toy so nearby and clearly accessible (which he does ok with usually), but occasionally he'll just randomly veer off, avoiding both his toy and me, and sniff intently somewhere, then he'll stroll back over a couple seconds later. Initially I was annoyed that he was blowing me off, but this is a dog who is normally right beside me when we walk in the same area, and it seems related to his stress level, so now I try to lower my criteria a bit when he starts getting distracted or frustrated and it hasn't happened recently.

So I would wonder if he's not maybe a bit too stressed or distracted to value the toy appropriately in those situations. That's not saying that you can't build drive to overcome those factors, but it's something to keep in mind to avoid overfacing him.

You might have good luck with using a flirtpole to get better range/action on the ball on rope idea. The ball isn't necessarily the best flirtpole lure, but if he's like my dogs, it's the preferred item for play, so I get around that by putting a ball to get their attention, and a fabric item (hide or fabric scrap, or stuffed or unstuffed toy) for them to grip and to give it more prey-like action. The stick allows for better maneuvering to let him almost catch it, then rip it away at the last second! Or to wrestle it out of his grasp if he just barely snags it and doesn't have a good grip and watch him double his efforts to catch it again. Then you can transfer that intensity to tug and other games.

Also, make sure he's winning the toy/play often enough (while training and doing drive building work) to keep him interested. Ideally he will be so enthralled with the game that even when you let him win, he'll immediately be shoving the toy back at you for more. Two tugs/toys is a good idea, as you can use one to get him off the other without conflict (Bus won't take the tug from my hand, so I always throw it, but same general thing).

Make sure you end the game/remove the toys before he loses interest. Better to have 2 minutes of intense play and leave him wanting more, than to spend 20 minutes trying to entice him while he halfheartedly plays here and there, then eventually loses interest completely. It's ok to try different stuff, but when you get him interested, use it briefly then shelve it for later. You can always present the toy again, and eventually you should be able to work up to longer play sessions.
 
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