Skip to Content

How To Train Your Dog To Hold A Toy

How To Train Your Dog To Hold A Toy

Training Matilda to hold a toy was one of our most difficult training challenges yet.

I really wanted her to be able to hold a toy for more than 2 seconds for adorable photo ops. But none of the training methods I read about online were working.

One source said to rub her chin while she held the toy to keep her from dropping it. But that never worked. Like any dog would, she’d drop the toy immediately to lick my hand.

Most tricks are easily taught with food motivation, but that lead to a serious obstacle. Matilda could not hold a toy while eating, so she’d quickly drop it in anticipation of yum-yum.

It was difficult to help her understand what I needed her to do. She was becoming frustrated, and it wouldn’t have been fair of me to keep withholding treats while waiting for her to “get it.”

So, I combined all of the methods below, some in a single training session, others at separate times, to help her understand “hold” and the accompanying hand signal.

The “Hold” Command And Hand Signal

When I tell Matilda to hold, I say hooooold the same way I say waiiitt or staaaayyy. 

I paired this with a very simple hand signal – a clasped hand that resembles a dog holding something in their mouth.

At the same time, I was teaching her “let go,” while opening my hand. I also say “let go” when she has something she shouldn’t, spoken just briskly enough to get her to look up and drop the object. Then, I’ll toss an appropriate snack at her while I collect the forbidden object.

The Leash Method

First, practice fetch with a leash, encouraging your dog to mouth at it and pick it up just before you go out for walks. Your dog should be familiar with holding her leash in her mouth.

Sit next to your dog, and hold the leash up to her mouth, praising her when she mouths at it.

Then, hold one side of the leash with your clasped hand – while making that “hold” signal.

Praise your dog when she grabs the leash. When she drops it, drop your end of the leash, too, as you say “let go,” or “drop it.”

Until she gets the hang of it, say “let go” and drop the leash whenever she does. Praise and reward her when she’s able to hold the leash for brief moments. Within a few training sessions, she should start watching your hand and imitating your movements, holding the leash while you do, and waiting to release when you give the command and hand signal.

The Delayed Fetch Method

First, teach your dog to fetch and place a toy directly into your hand. Don’t reward her if she drops the toy at your feet. Practice fetch-to-hand for a few weeks, until your dog really “gets it,” picking up the toy when it lands on the floor instead of your hand.

Then, you’ll be able to toss the toy for a fetch, and when you put your hand out for your dog to give you the toy, move your hand away for a moment before accepting the toy.

Your goal is to get your dog to hold the toy for just a moment while she waits for your hand. This will take a few tries.

As your dog begins to get the idea, pausing with the toy in her mouth until you open your hand to accept the toy, you can begin to say the “hold” command and use the hand signal to put a cue to that action.

The Try Again Method

I found an object that was very easy for Matilda to hold in her mouth – a regular black hair tie.

At first, I’d give it to her, and she’d spit it out immediately. I said nothing, and gave it back to her.

There was a lot of spitting and giving at first. Then, she’d hold the hairtie just for a moment – even while she heard a noise outside.

I praised and rewarded her for those tiny successful moments. I didn’t say “no,” when she spat it out, because she hadn’t done anything wrong – she just didn’t understand what I was looking for. I simply gave her the hairtie again so she’d pick it up, and we’d try again.

Advancing Holding

As your dog gets the hang of it, start taking pictures while she holds.

Practice with different objects. She can learn to hold up different objects, even a paper sign.

You can evolve the trick by having her hold a paintbrush, then teaching her to paint.

Ask her to “hold” occasionally during games of fetch, or when she grabs her leash to go out. Get her into a habit of holding items until you tell her to “let go.”

You’ll find many creative uses for “hold,” so even if it takes a lot of trial and error to find a method that helps her understand the concept, it’ll lead to so many cute moments and training opportunities.

How to train your dog to hold an object, a toy, a sign... anything! #positivetraining #dogtricks

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

How To Teach Your Dog To Paint - Little Dog Tips

Tuesday 12th of June 2018

[…] You’ll need to work on this for a few weeks before you can trust your dog with a loaded paintbrush. Here’s how I trained Matilda to hold objects in her mouth. […]


Monday 24th of July 2017

I love the hand signal method! It is so visual, I will try it with my puppy, but I am already sure it will work.

Paula Hughes

Wednesday 10th of May 2017

Good tip - I've wanted to teach Alfie to hold an object in his mouth for some time so might just try your technique!

Paul M.

Friday 31st of March 2017

These are great and simple tips to follow. I would be trying this with Studdie, he's a family dog we just got. He not frisky as we were expecting but I hope he gets used to the family as time passes. This is my second visit to your site, and it has been very helpful on the two occasions. It an awesome post you have here.

Jessica @YouDidWhatWithYourWiener

Saturday 4th of March 2017

I have very little patience when it comes to training. I get frustrated when I don't know how to communicate to Gretel what I want her to do and frustrated that she doesn't understand what I'm asking. I briefly tried this trick before but gave up. I really want to teach her though. We recently did a photo shoot for a brand and they were like "how about you have her hold a leash in her mouth?" and I was like "Uh... no. That's not going to happen". (Do they understand how hard that is to teach?? Ha, ha). Anyway. your explanation makes sense to me and I think it's something I can do. I'm going to bookmark this for reference and give it a try again. Thanks!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.