How Do I Get the Toy Back? Toy Switching Prevents Keep Away

Sep 14, 2020

Toy play helps to engage and motivate dogs, and if your puppy is chewing, providing appropriate toys help prevent chomping people's hands. One of the most common errors is playing "keep away", where the handler tries to grab the toy (or the dog's collar) and the dog runs away. This can quickly become a happy game for the dog, but it's certainly inconvenient for the handler.

Keep away frequently happens because the handler focused on taking the toy away from the dog. Some of the best retrievers don't want to give up the toy. From the dog's point of view, playing with the toy is rewarding, and when you take it away it's punishment. So how do you get the toy back? 

The video above demonstrates a better strategy: toy switching, which makes tug a more interactive, cooperative game you enjoy together. It's not just about the toy, it's about playing an exciting game with you. When you focus on having fun, instead of taking the dog's reward away, it's a win-win situation.  


  • You need 2 equal value toys.
  • Get the dog to play with the first toy (and tuck the other one in your pocket). Move the toy away from the dog to get them excited enough to chase and grab it in their mouth.
  • IGNORE toy #1 that your dog has in their mouth. Do not approach your dog and try to grab it. Play a while then let the dog have that toy. 
  • Think of the first toy as "dead" (not as fun as what you have to offer via interactive play). 
  • Pull toy #2 out of your pocket and activate it, by moving it away from your dog, pressing the squeaker, making a strange noise, whatever you need to do to make it more fun and catpure your dog's attention. 
  • Your dog should drop the first toy to come back to you and grab the toy you're playing with. (You can say, "get it", to give the dog permission to grab the toy.)

When the dog is about to grab any toy, make sure the part you want them to grab is at nose level. If the fuzzy part is on the ground, and the rope handle is at nose level, most dogs will grab the rope. If your dog grabs the rope, lift the toy higher next time. 


  • Play in a hallway without any distractions with the doors closed. This cuts down on the options available, making you very attractive.
  • You MUST have more than one toy with you. If you don't, you're setting up the keep away game, where your dog rehearses running away from you. 
  • Your dog will trade the toy they have for an equal or higher value toy. Don't try to trade a great toy for a lousy one. You can experiment to see if your dog will trade a toy for food (shown at the end of the video). But ideally, toy play is about the toy. You don't need to give a food reward when the toy play is fun. 
  • Never shove toys or food in your dog's face. If somebody tried to shove something in your mouth, you'd back away too.
  • Move the toy away from the dog, like an erratic rabbit, to tap into instinctive drive to chase.
  • If your dog wanders away, put a long leash on them (10 feet or longer) and let them drag it on the floor. The leash is only there as insurance. If needed, even if you can't go fast enough to touch your dog, you can probably get within 10 feet of your dog and step on the leash, then reel them in to get them back.
  • If your dog is on a leash, be careful not to step on the leash by accident and correct your dog.
  • When teaching toy switching, focus on making it fun to play with you, not on obedience commands like drop. You want to build the drive first, not kill the fun. 
  • To improve your toy play, you need to practice. The video features Rickard, who has practiced for 2 years, and even then, the play is less than 3 minutes. When starting out with a puppy, be happy if your puppy tugs for a 2-10 seconds. Pushing your puppy to make them tug longer kills the fun. Quit when they want more, and play again the next day.
  • Once the dog loves toy switching, and you'd bet $50 your dog will drop the first toy, then you can say, "drop it". 
  • For puppies, sit on the floor so you can play at their level, moving the toy back and forth on the ground, along a horizontal path. Soft, fuzzy, prey-like tugs or food stuffed tugs are a good introduction.
  • At the end of the session, put all the toys away. Tug is supposed to be an interactive game you play together. Don't leave your puppy alone with the toy, or they may eat it. This could cause a dangerous gastrointestinal obstruction requiring veterinary attention, and it's an expensive way to burn through toys. 


Dog training is all about the rewards. When you get a new puppy, in addition to focussing on socialization, it's a great time to explore toy play options to learn which your pup likes best. 

Here are Rickard and Lula tugging with different toys as puppies: Which toy do you think is Lula's favorite and why?

Learn more in our Puppy Employment Program, which is free for a limited time (during beta testing). 



50% Complete


for the latest scent detection tips and news.

Just press the button below, then check your email. You need to click the link in the email to confirm your subscription. 

Don't forget to check your junk email folder and add us to your approved senders list.