How to Teach Your Dog to Identify Toys by Name


The aim is to try to teach your dog to choose between two objects.Your dog will already need to know the “Take It” (see here) and “Leave It” cues (see here).

  1. Choose two toys that your dog plays with regularly and is already enthusiastic about. In separate sessions, play “Take It” with each of these toys, asking your dog to pick the toy up from the floor. Name each toy as you play: give them one-or two-word names and use these names often when your dog is playing with one or the other—”Take the bear,” “Take the tugger,” and so on. Use the names independently and clearly—don’t mix them up with other names or activities.
  2. When you’ve been playing with the individual toys, naming them in each session, for a week or two, choose a moment in the middle of a training session (when you’ve warmed up with some easy exercises or games and your dog is already focusing on you) and lay both the toys on the floor in front of him. Don’t leave any other distracting items around—just those two toys.
  3. Ask him to take a toy, by name: “Take the bear.” If he’s used to the “Take It” instruction, he will probably pick a toy up. If it’s the one you named, praise him. If it isn’t, say “Uh-uh” and repeat the request, indicating the right toy with your hand. Praise him when he picks it up, then ask him to leave the toy (“Leave It”) and reward him with a treat.
  4. Repeat the exercise, naming the same toy. When he picks it up, praise him, and then ask him “Leave It” and treat him when he does.
  5. Now try naming the other toy: “Take the tugger.” If he goes for the bear, say “Uh-uh” and indicate the rope tug toy. When he takes it, praise and treat him.
  6. Continue, alternating which toy you ask for and avoiding getting into too much of a pattern. Keep the sessions short, and switch to a different activity if he is starting to get frustrated.


To differentiate between two objects by name and to select a particular one when
you give him a verbal cue.


This is a show-off trick—he can prove he’s a clever dog indeed.


Don’t let your pet get too frustrated: if, after you’ve practiced it a few times, it still hasn’t sunk in that he’s
being asked for something in particular, revert to an exercise you know that he can do—and reconcile
yourself to the idea that it may not be the game for him. He can excel at something else instead.


I'm a professional dog trainer who is sharing my journey as I transition to positive reinforcement based dog training methods.

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