There’s a few ways to teach the Tidy Up dog trick, so I’m going with the easiest one for teaching them to clean up their toys, which can then be shaped to train them to put other items away.
If your dog gets very excited and distracted by toys then try it after a walk. You’ll need to make sure your dog is reliably offering the first step of the Tidy Up dog trick before moving onto the second step and so on, so it isn’t going to be mastered in a day. Take it slowly and be consistent and use positive reinforcement training.
It also helps if you have taught your dog a ‘marker’ word or Clicker Training before teaching the Tidy Up dog trick.
Step 1 – Find a home for your dog’s toy box
Whilst you are teaching your dog the Tidy Up dog trick, you’ll need to make sure you leave the toy box in the one same spot that can’t move while the training continues.
Step 2 – Pick his favourite toy
Call or walk your dog over to the basket and give him his favourite toy so he has it in his mouth.
Step 3 – Get his attention inside the toy box
To bring his attention inside the toy box, point or click your fingers in it so that his head is over the inside of the toy box, still holding the toy.
Offer your dog a high value treat reward when teaching the Tidy Up dog trick. Soft, smelly and squishy treats or food work best in training, though I also like the Vitapet Pocket Trainers and when they drop the toy into the toybox to take the treat, immediately mark with your clicker or your marker word such as ‘yes’ or ‘good dog’.
Step 4 – Add the ‘cue’
Once your dog is reliably bringing the toy over with your encouragement to the toybox and dropping it in with the treat as the lure, you can start to introduce the cue word “tidy up” just before you offer the treats and he drops the toy into the basket to take the treat.
Step 5 – Practise, practise, practise
The key to training games like the Tidy Up dog trick is to keep it short and fun, so repeat this process five times in a row, several times a day for a few weeks, until he starts to show he is really understanding the process and reliably drops it when you say “tidy up”.
You can then start to move farther away from the toy box. Not too far or fast, remember we slowly increase the distance and distraction. When you say the command, he should know to drop the toy in the basket and make sure you give him lots of praise.
You don’t want to have to be rewarding all the time with treats, praise should be reward enough as he gets more reliable, but every now and then as you increase the distance do provide a treat as a bonus.
Keep moving farther back until he knows the command by heart. Don’t get lazy and stop with the praise once he is performing it consistently. Just like we do well with a bit of praise now and then for a job well done, so too do our dogs.
Have fun teaching your dog the Tidy Up dog trick!
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, pet food nutrition specialist, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of World of Dogs and Eat, Play, Love Your Dog