How to Teach Your Dog to Clean Up His Toys

By Langley Cornwell

There are days when I take a break from my home office, walk into the den and shake my head at the mess. And it’s not a human mess. You see, we have a chest full of dog toys in the den and on cold, wet mornings or insufferably hot days when the dogs don’t want to play outside, one of our pooches inevitably empties the entire contents of the chest onto the floor. The result? Our den is turned into a Doggie Toyland!

I had to find a way to remedy the situation. A local dog trainer suggested I teach my dogs to pull their own weight around the house. Here are the basics for teaching your dog to clean up his toys:

Toy Container

• Consolidate your dog’s toys in a container with a wide mouth; an open plastic tub, cardboard box or giant basket will work. Make sure the toy container’s sides are low enough that your dog can simply drop a toy into it.

• Place the container in a location that is easy to access. Put some thought into this step because you need to keep the chest in that location so your dog will always know where to find the toy chest. Moving it around will confuse him.

Training Basics

• Begin this exercise when all the toys are scattered on the floor.

• Get a fistful of your dog’s favorite treats. Right now we’re using CANIDAE Bakery Snacks with Turkey, Quinoa and Butternut Squash. Slyly drop a few of the treats into the empty toy chest.

• Locate your dog’s favorite toy on the floor and call him to you. Coax him to take the toy in his mouth and walk with you to the empty toy chest.

• Point at the treat inside the chest and encourage the dog to take the treat. As he is reaching for the treat his mouth will open. If he successfully (accidently) drops the toy into the container, say your command simultaneously. We use the words “clean up.” If you clicker train your dog, click as you say the command. Then praise your dog for a job well done.

• Repeat this portion of the exercise (in short spurts, over several days or weeks) until your dog understands that “clean up” means getting a toy, carrying it to the basket and finding a hidden treat inside.

• Once he’s solid on that, stop hiding treats inside the basket. Start handing the dog his treat after he puts away each toy. Then slowly draw that out, offering a treat only after he puts away two toys, etc. Your goal is to get him to put away all of his toys and then get his reward.

Alternative Training Methods

If your dog is already solid on fetch and retrieve, you can build from there.

• Reinforce the basic fetch-and-retrieve exercises.

• Strengthen the “drop it” command when your dog brings the toy/ball to you. Work on linking fetch, retrieve and drop it. Our dogs know they have to drop the toy at our feet for the playtime to continue so they do it automatically.

• Once your dog is clear on the fetch- retrieve-drop exercise, stand behind the chest and toss a toy for your dog to retrieve. When he brings the toy back he should theoretically “drop it” into the chest. Practice this exercise until the dog understands that the toy in the chest equals praise and a treat. While giving praise and treats, say “good clean up” to reinforce your command words.

• When your dog clearly understands he gets a treat when he drops the toy in the chest, move further away from the chest and issue the command. Continue to move away from the toy chest and offer enthusiastic praise when the dog drops a toy into the chest.

You may want to practice variations of this, including pointing to toys and instructing your dog to “clean up.” Your dog should eventually be able to put his toys away with a few simple commands.

Does your dog do his share of the housework? We’re still working on all of this, so I’ll let you know how it goes. Next, I’m going to teach our pups how to mop.

Top photo by lindyi
Middle photo by star5112
Bottom photo by Alden Chadwick

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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