How to Help Dogs Know the Difference Between Dog Toys & Kid Toys (and vice versa)


by Denise Fleck

Girl cuddling her dog
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Kids love toys, dogs love toys, and there is nothing more beautiful than a child and his dog playing joyfully together. The problem is sometimes the child or the dog may grab a toy belonging to the other and trouble ensues!  It is the adult’s responsibility to help dogs know the difference between dog toys and kid toys.  Parents must supervise and teach both dogs and kids how to safely cohabitate.  Make sure children learn never to take a toy from an animal and never bother the pet while he is sleeping or eating.  Teach dogs basic obedience and commands, and help them know the difference between dog toys and kid toys.    

A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place

dog chasing a ball

A dog does not inherently know the difference between a human child’s toys and his own toys. Joan Hunter Mayer, dog trainer and owner of The Inquisitive Canine in Santa Barbara, California suggests, “Set it up so that the dog’s toys are in his or her own ‘toy box’ and the child’s toys are kept in their own location as well.”  This is a great way to teach kids to clean up after themselves and help them learn consequences when they don’t.  Burbank, California dog trainer and owner of Sit…Stay…Good Dawg! Cyndy Wood shares, “My nephew left his new electronic device on the floor by the sofa.  His Springer Spaniel thought it was interesting and chomped on it.  The boy quickly learned that if his toys are within reach of his pup, they are fair game, and he became much better about picking up his toys.”

Make the Difference Between Dog Toys and Kid Toys Obvious

“I do not recommend giving dogs soft, plush toys. They love them, especially the squeaky ones, but you could be causing long-term problems. If children have stuffed animals, your dog will not be able to tell his toys from theirs. Plus, you’re teaching your dog to chew on soft, fabric items… like your couch pillows, your clothing and even your slippers. Some dogs will rip the ‘stuffies’ to shreds and eat the cotton filling, which is dangerous!” advises Teoti Anderson, author of several books on dog behavior and training and Vice-President of A Dog’s Best Friend near Boca Raton, Florida.

Building on Teoti’s words of wisdom, when choosing good toys for dogs, don’t purchase ones that look like something else.  How will Fido learn not to chew on things he shouldn’t if his favorite dog toy is shaped like your boots, purse, phone, newspaper or even a donut, all of which you can find transformed into dog toys these days?!  Pay attention from the get-go, by providing only the best dog toys for puppies, and choosing size-appropriate dog toys so that they don’t become a choking hazard.

Boundaries & Training – A Part of Life for People & Pets!

dog with stuffed toy
Courtesy of

Mayer explains, “You can also work a training trick into the clean-up for your dog by teaching him “Put Away,” and having him retrieve and drop his toys into his box or basket.  Out of sight, out of mind is also a good technique to practice.  If the child’s toys are kept in a location where the dog can’t get them, that solves half the problem.  Let the child play in his room with his toys or on the other side of a baby gate, and remind your youngster to clean up when the fun is done. 

Mayer also suggests teaching the dog to discriminate between his toys and the child’s. Her tip, “Teach the dog “Leave it!” when presented with toys that belong to the child and reward the dog heavily for playing with his own.  For instance, if it’s a ball, show the dog the ball – treat, throw the ball, dog puts mouth on ball – treat, dog gives you the ball – treat. The dog will have a high reinforcement history with the toy. Whenever the dog chooses to play with his or her own toys, reward the dog with praise, petting, and treats so he gets rewarded for making good decisions.”

Worth a try is rubbing a scent (i.e. Vanilla extract) on a cotton swab and then rubbing it on the pet’s toys to “mark” them, while also expressing “No!” should the dog go for a child’s toy.  

Anderson agrees with praising your dog for those good choices, “What I focus on is in training the dog to get obsessed with his own toys. I feed puppies only out of food-interactive toys. It’s also important to heap praise on a dog that chooses his own toy.”  When a dog steals a child’s toy, parents often yell and reprimand the pet, but…when he picks up one of his own toys, do you praise? Usually not! So it’s in your dog’s best interest to steal something, since that’s when he gets attention from you.

To Play or Chew

Chew toys satisfy a dog’s natural instinct to chew, exercises jaw muscles and cleans the teeth, but the wrong dog toy (one meant for just play) can fracture teeth, damage the palate or become a choking hazard when pieces break off.  Familiarize yourself with your dog’s habits, to determine the best toy for your dog or puppy.  If you want to learn more about acclimating a brand-new puppy to life inside a family and what that entails, I recommend reading this article on

Keep in mind that naughty or destructive behavior is often performed by bored dogs.  Dogs need exercise and depending on their age and breed, they may need a lot.  A tired dog is a good dog, so throw that ball, go for walks and exercise as a family.  Create an environment where people and pets thrive together, and dogs know the difference between dog toys and kid toys.  According to The Waltham Book of Human-Animal Interaction by Nienke Endenburg and Ben Barada, children that bond with a pet, grow into more compassionate adults and have higher self-esteem.  Living with an animal also builds up the human immune system, but there are so many other things we can learn from our canine pals…like being in the moment, taking time to enjoy a gentle breeze or greeting your loved ones with so much joy that you wag your tail off!

As a visitor to this site, you know that Wicked Uncle has lots of fun, unusual and ‘different’ presents for children. For a great selection of snuggly toys, including, dogs, cats, pelicans and everything in between, click here.

Denise Fleck is the Pet Safety Crusader™ having personally taught 20,000 humans to rescue Rover or help Fluffy feel better.  Her mission is to help YOU make a difference in the life of an animal through Pet First-Aid, Senior Pet Care and Disaster Preparedness classes and books.  You can also find her sharing her pet care expertise at   

Photo courtesy of Denise Fleck



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