Mantrailing Dog playing with Tug-e-nuff dog toy

Should I play with my Mantrailing Dog?


You’re missing out if you don’t have a game at the end of the trail, if you have a dog who values play.

Play in dogs is so often overlooked for the easier and seemingly less hassle food reward. 

When playing with your dog at the end of mantrailing can make a huge difference to their motivation. 

Standard Poodle with Tug E Nuff Toy

Why play with your dog?

There is nothing worse than completing a hard job and knowing you did a good job at it, and not getting recognition for it. While you were still paid your wage, it would have been nice to have something more than that. 

Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a present or even a party, we do it at Christmas so why not when we have done a good job? 

We deflate and lose motivation when the reward for work isn’t good enough, so of course dogs also feel this way. They can quickly lose focus on a task or become not interested in the jobs we ask them to do if we don’t provide them with the right reward. 

Food is easy and convenient, akin to money with us. We can all earn money at a normal job, but isn’t it nice to get something for your hard work like a medal after doing a run or a trophy for winning a sports game? 

We can add in the medal for our dogs by adding in a game at the end of the trail. 

Rewarding your dog with toy play can increase learning. The results of the study by  N, Affenzeller of the University of Lincoln showed that the dogs who got to play immediately after learning needed fewer repetitions of the task the next day, compared to the dogs who had rested instead.

The party at the end of the trail is as important as the trail itself for the dogs learning. If there isn’t enough reward the dog isn’t going to continue doing the task, in this case mantrailing. 

Playing with your dog releases endorphins, the happy hormone, and adds another layer to the feeling of elation and success the dogs feel at the end of the trail. This is not just for the dogs, but also for you as the same hormones make you feel happy and excited by your dog’s success. 

Springer Spaniel Playing with Tuggy Toy

What kind of play is best?

Play is a need for all dogs, and the way it is presented is specific to each dog and the environmental factors.

Some breeds prefer to bite and rag the toy such as the Guardian Breeds of Terrier types, but the Terrier may also like to destroy a toy to get to the fluffy chaos inside. 

Chasing things is an enjoyment of many breeds so throwing a toy or dragging it across the ground are great fun and a perfect reward for many, especially sight hounds.

Spaniels and other gundog breeds could prefer a game of fetch at the end of the trail enjoying bringing the toy back to you, while others may prefer to hunt for it at the end. Finding their hidden person and then their ball is the ultimate reward for many hunting breeds. 

Mastiff or Bully breeds can prefer physical praise and reward. They are a tactile breed and the more the person scratches their bum and tells them they are super duper the more they want to find people. 

Play style is personal to that dog and finding what suits that dog is down to lots of playing at home, and working with your instructor to find the best reward when mantrailing. 

The dog can play with the trail layer or the handler or the instructor or all three. Who plays with the dog is important and totally individual. I have dogs who need the reward from the trail layer, and others who would never play with a trail layer. 

There are others who need everyone there to play with them and will sulk if the flankers or watchers of the trail don’t also join in the fun with them. The game in their mind is with everyone and they do not like party poopers. 

How do I start playing with my dog?

When I get in a new puppy or rescue dog. I don’t start with “normal” training straight away, I start with finding what game they value most and what toy really makes them excited. Why? So I can form a bond with them quickly and create value in interacting with me. Yes food can create this, but I have always always loved to use toys and games as the best way to bond to me and build our relationship together. 

Kincaid my Malinois x Labrador has two breeds in it which have conflicting play styles. The Malinios half likes to tug and toy and grip it, it can create a need to be possessive and overly focused on the toy. They tend to be hard mouthed and grip hard! Whereas the Labrador half wants to bring it to me and have me throw it again and is soft mouthed. We are finding a play style to suit her which involves playing tuggy and gripping, and also being able to throw the toy so she can bring it back. I find the bungee tugs the best for this as they are great to throw but she can get a good grip on them and bite them if she feels the need, she is currently only 14 weeks old but I can see the two breeds conflict already in her play style so I need to offer her both options. 

Whereas Grimm, my rescue German Shepherd will not play tuggy currently, he is very offended by the idea of tugging a toy and finds it extremely aversive. His previous life he was punished for picking things up so will not take toys or even food from my hand. So I looked at how he saw the world and interacted with toys and let him choose what works for him. He loves tiny toys, and as a 50kg and growing German Shepherd this was a worry, but he likes little things he can hold in his mouth and parade about that can’t be grabbed out of his mouth. When he gets something he now likes me to tell him he’s brilliant for finding the tiny toy and big him up to the world, but if I attempt to touch it is now poisoned and is spat out and ignored. He does not find play with people rewarding, but he finds parading with a toy rewarding. So we use the tiny fur chasers which he can carry in his mouth but the handle sticks out so I can make sure he’s not accidentally swallowing it. 

My Springers LOVE to play tuggy with something super bungee and fun. No one told them they were Springers and they identify as Malinios because the more you tug the happier they are. At the end of the trail if everyone there does not play tuggy with Captain then he is very upset and sulks! Play is a huge thing for him as its his one on one time, and when you live with 6 other dogs one on one time is precious. He gets to be centre of attention with everyone and he LOVES this. 

Every dog and handler team will have a style of play which works for them, not for what is convenient. If your dog needs you to dance about and be the best thing ever, then you better dance. 

You need to find out what suits your dog. Is it tugging play, or throwing? Should you get a squeaky toy or food dispenser?

I always remember my mentor in Security Dog training telling me “ I don’t care if you feel a fool, that dog needs the fool to feel like the task was worth it”, as I bounced about with a 60 kg Rottweiler after finishing some bite work. He wanted to be paid for his hard work in a way that he enjoyed, the fun from the handler and his favourite toy…. An old Tea Towel with a knot in it. He lived for this thing and the more you danced about and played the fool the better he became. Had I not danced he wouldn’t have had the reward which made him want to do the tasks again which were barking, guarding, tracking. 

Springer Spaniel playing with a Tug e Nuff Toy

What toys should I be looking at?

This is a bit of trial and error to your dog, but these days dog toys are designed for dogs not us. 

The toys are ergonomically designed for the dogs to be able to hold them in their mouth comfortably and carry them as long as you choose the right size for your dog. 

They are also designed with interaction in mind so you and the dog can play together, with comfortable handles and being pocket sized. 

You can easily make your own toys with old rags on rope or socks filled with socks tied in a knot, but these aren’t always safe if chewed up. 

My personal favourite is a fluffy tugger on a bungee. I can play tug with all breeds as mouth size isn’t an issue, the toys aren’t too heavy for smaller dogs and they fit in pockets really well. My only vice. The spit! But I can live with a  soggy toy and pocket if my dog gets to enjoy a game with me. 

I love the toys from Tug-E-Nuff as they are designed for dogs, not the humans who buy them. (Get 10% off with the code TrailingK9s)

I also spoke to Tug-E-Nuff about mantrailing and how their toys can be perfect for mantrailing dogs, you can read that article here.

They have the right colours and textures for dogs.

They design toys for dogs in all sports such as agility, flyball, obedience and mantrailing, Taking into account the variety of preferences out there in dogs.

Long gone are the days of just throwing a tennis ball in the field. You can now really provide an individual response to your dog to build up an exciting play time suited to them.

Here is a free guide on how to select the right toy for your dog at the end of your mantrailing session.

Does play have to be a toy?

Nope, if you have a dog who can’t tug due to injury or just doesn’t like it or you don’t feel up to it you can play in other ways. Play isn’t just physically playing with something, it is what feels fun to the dog. 

This could be bubbles which allow the dogs to pop them as their play reward, chasing them down and having the satisfaction of “hunting” the bubble. 

Food is not just something to be fed from the hand or dumped in a bowl. Throwing food at the end of the trail for the dog to find as a small hunting game can be the best bit of play for the dog. They find the trail layer, get their food reward and then you send them off hunting for bits of thrown high value food. It like getting a meal and someone giving you a desert for free! It’s double the yum! 

So should you play with you Mantrailing Dog at the end of the Trail?


We are so busy chatting away about the trail and the progress the dog has made in that trail, that we forget they did all the hard work. Playing with them after finding their trail layer and actually rewarding them for a job well done is going to increase their motivation for the game for sure, but it also increases your bond together and their general happiness. 

Adding in a toy could be the icing on top your dog has been waiting for!

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