But there are rules to play and they might not be what you think. In order to be used as a reward, play must be reinforcing, not the toy. If you throw a ball and your dog gleefully chases after it but then plays keep away the toy is the reward not the play. The problem this presents is that of conflict. If there is conflict in the training you will see toy chewing, reluctance to give up the toy, toy shaking, and racing quickly away. If you have to do this little song and dance every time you reward with a toy many things are going to happen; your dog will lose drive, your dog will lose focus, and you will become frustraited.
There are many small steps I take to teach my dog that I am really fun to play with. I want them to know that we're equal partners in all of our games. These steps consist of teaching self control for toys, their actions push me to play, and I'll always give the toy back. It is a myth that you have to win the toy, we don't need to prove we're in charge. We are partners in this game.
Before I have these rules in place I do not use toys as a reward in training. I will use them in between food training to play and keep my dog happy. Playing blows off steam and learining is stressful (not all stress is bad). It is also a good way to split what you're teaching so you don't blend criteria. Going from this high up state and then back down again is also valuable to me as that is the core of success in agility. (And several other dog sports.)
The video is of Nitro's first session using toys as a reward. I adopted him a month ago and have been working at establishing a little bit of self control. Nitro is an over the top crazy puppy, very determined. At his last home he had learned that if he jumped around, nipped hands, and barked his head off it worked and he got what he wanted. He was also very wary of me when he had anything in his mouth, he had bitten me twice. What better way to teach him to trust me than building a cooperative working relationship through play. Teaching him to let of of a toy AND THEN restrain himself was and continues to be his biggest challenge. I have to watch him and keep him confident so we avoid conflict. Still a lot more work to be done but his skills are developed enough to use in training.
This is our first time using a toy as a reward, his second time seeing tunnels. I may have been over eager and lumped criteria together but I noticed it during the session and smoothed it out. Above all he is having a grand time. I see glimpses of brillance here. Nitro will keep me on my toes, he has already made me a better trainer.