Obsession with squeaky toys

Posted by Abbie
Jul 19, 2010

My dog, a 20-month-old Lab x Retriever, has recently developed quite an obsession with toys that squeak.

Just in the past three weeks she has started going crazy when she hears a squeaky toy at the dog park (when she showed no particular interest before), and will steal it from the other dog. She then 'guards' the toy, and won't let anyone near her while she has it. She might run in circles around the park with the toy, or she might just lie down and chew on it. Either way, it's practically impossible to get the toy from her, or even to get close enough to leash her and take her home from the park.

The first time it happened I dropped food on the ground, she dropped the toy to come and eat it, and I managed to grab her (this was after about 30 minutes of trying to attract her with food in my hand). The second time she was too smart for that, but did fall for another dog owner offering her food. The third time, my husband had to bring a different squeaky toy from home to attract her.

This new behaviour really worries me because I can't control her at all when she's in this mode. At home she will always give up a toy or other item when we use the 'give' command (for a 'high-value' item, she does require a treat in return). But at the park, just with squeaky toys, she won't. (She will still happily give up any other dog's non-squeaky ball after taking it.)

How do I stop her being obsessed with squeaky things, so they're not such a big deal any more?

For now, I'm avoiding the dog park, or definitely won't take her in if I know someone has a squeaky toy. But she really needs the exercise she can get there (as opposed to just walking on lead), so any ideas anyone has will be most welcome.
Posted by KOPCaroline
Jul 19, 2010
Hi there Abbie,

I think the best way to train your dog to give up toys at the park is deference. You say she gives up her squeaky toys at home, probably because there is not as much stimulation and excitement there, compared to the dog park. You could try bringing a doggie friend over, with their own squeaky toy, and train her to give them up in this manner. When she takes others’ toys, give her a command, even from a distance, like sit, and then ask her to drop it. Be stern, use your dominant voice. When she drops the toy, reward her with a great treat, or her own squeaky toy. It’s probably best to train her with her own squeaky toy, so she learns that this is hers, and no one will take that toy away from her, unlike those that don’t belong to her. Once she’s got it down at your home, try taking her to a friends house and doing the same. Training her with only one other dog, or a couple other dogs, will be good stepping stones to taking her to the park and not worrying over her behaviour.

Its important not to chase her around and try to catch her when she’s got a toy, this will only excite her more and make her think it’s a game, and that she should continue the behaviour. Stand still, and be firm. If she takes another dogs toy, consider ending her time at the park then, especially if she plays games before giving it up. Eventually she’ll make a connection between acting up and going home early. Definitely don’t physically punish her, but as I said, be stern with her.

Also, make a HUGE deal of it when she does give the toy up. As in shower her with praises and pets and rubs. She'll learn quickly that listening gets amazing results!

Until she’s trained up to your liking, you could consider a halti head collar or muzzle on her while she’s at the park, that way the use of her mouth to take others toys is impaired. It’s hard to get your dog the exercise they need when you’re worried about how they’ll act. Are there other parks or long, off leash walks nearby that you could try in the meantime?

Try the technique above, I hope it works. I don’t think she’s trying to be dominant with you, I think she’s just playing, so teaching her that her own squeaky toy is the best one sounds like a good way to approach the situation. Good luck!
Posted by Abbie
Jul 26, 2010
Thanks Caroline, this has helped. We're working on her "give" command in the park and she's much better with it now. It has helped to take a second squeaky toy with us, hidden in a bag, for which she'll always give up the first (even though they're the same), when the command/treat combo isn't enough.

She will pretty much do anything for these toys - if she's not coming to me when I call her I just need to squeak a toy and she's back in a second. I try not to do this very much at all (a maximum of twice in the park each session), because I really want her to keep coming to me on command.

Is there any risk in her staying so squeak-focused? I'm hoping that as long as I always have an equally attractive squeaky toy, we should no longer have problems getting her to give up another dog's toy. And although she will automatically run to someone else with a squeaky toy - just as we sometimes attract other dogs with ours - she is easy to get back again. Or am I somehow teaching her bad habits with these toys?
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Jul 26, 2010
Hi Abbie,

I understand your concern. What if she happens to be unleashed outside and there is someone making a squeaky sound across the street???

I would imagine your dog being so obsessed with those squeaky toys would just bolt to the squeaky sound!

Your dog used to be obsessed with sniffing the ground, didn't she? Is she better now? Dogs can be obsessed with something to a certain extent but they can develop self-control over obsessed stuff too.

Holly, one of my dogs, used to be obsessed (and she still is when allowed) with squirrels. When I walk her off-leash on the bike path, I train her to ignore squirrels and pay attention to me instead. It was very hard at the beginning but after months of practice she is now very reliable.

When I see/hear a squirrel on the path, I tell her "Leave it". If she ignores my command and chase the squirrel along the fence, I catch her and turn around to go home. That is the end of our walk, period!

You can reinforce your dog's obedience reliability using the squeaky toy at home. It might also help her to learn not to be over obsessed with the toy too. I would practice the following:

1. Have her sit and stay
2. Show her the squeaky toy
3. If she breaks stay to get the toy - correct the behavior

When she is told to stay, she should be able to under distractions. The squeaky toy is the biggest distraction for her so it might take time but she should be able to ignore it over time.

Also, teaching her a "Leave it" command will be helpful too. Place the toy in front of her as you tell her to "Leave it". After a few seconds, you can tell her to "Take it" so that she gets to play with it. Eventually, you should be able to tell her to "Leave it" before you thow the toy so that she doesn't run off until you give her a permission by saying "Go get it now".

All trainings take patience and persistence. Good luck
Posted by KOPCaroline
Jul 27, 2010
I have nothing but agreements with MaxHollyNoah. Train her to pay attention to what you say, even in the face of a squeaker.

My own dog used to be completely infatuated with a squeaky toy we picked up, and anything that made noise. He eventually just outgrew it I guess. I think animals have the capability of going through "fads" just like we do. I don't think using squeakers at home is teaching her any bad habits, as long as you teach her to listen to you above the squeakiness
Posted by kjd
Jul 28, 2010
Also remember the advantages of her love of squeaky toys -- you have a non-food reward! Although you may have dog slobber all over your hands, you won't constantly smell of food. So, while she is still obsessed, do most of your training with the squeaker. (You don't give her the toy. You play with her with it for a couple seconds, then back to training. End of training can be a full-scale game. But that particular squeaky toy should probably be kept only for training. Keeps it high value.)