I think it helps George to remain more relaxed when we're out and about if we mix in some play w/toys into our walks where there's more of a chance we'll run into other dogs. I pack a Chewber, a Skinnez, a ball into my walking bag (along with treats, and sometimes small kongs or those bully chews if we're going to stop and chill for a while) to keep things interesting. It sure has helped with recalls and making me part of their adventures when out and about. Mind you we go out in the evenings on 1-2hrs on and off leash hikes where we're in the bush and then out in the open spaces, so we've got lots of time to kill.
It also keeps George in a happy place and he's less obsessed with searching the environment for triggers. Daizy, Keegan, n Taiki all like to play with toys but George was the last to get into it. It has sped up his progress (along with D & C) to be able to relax and ignore the distractions and triggers.
Tonight we played car games then they sniffed around for a bit, hiked, did their business, then I threw cheese into the tall grass for him to "find it" to get him ramped up for playing with toys...then the games began!!!!
It's especially helpful to be toy motivated when we went to agility classes.
Actually I pack them for last round of Obedience trial prep and Train and Play classes as well. For Keegan it came in handy to have the bully chews as he needed something to do until he calmed down (still in adolescent dog brain mode where anytime he sees dogs...it's time to PLAY) until he realized that we go to classes to be a team and chill to wait our turn .Daizy is bossy, LOVES TO WORK and is very impatient by nature, so I learned 8 yrs ago the benefit to bringing toys and chews to help keep her chilled in classes.
That way when other dogs are working, my guys can play, or chew or chill which prevents them from being whiny, fixated and vocal for being left out of the fun. They come in handy in agility as we also use toys to get the dog to target to or reward for performing or for building value for an obstacle or cue. An alternate reward to using food.
Plus chewing and play relieves stress (endorphins et al released in your body)if you keep the games moderate intensity and ask them to interact differently with the toys so it's not a mindless game of retrieve or tug which can ramp dogs up out of control. Leslie McDevitt has great section in her book Control Unleashed about games.
Ttouch is another big helper to calm them if they're over aroused. Biofeedback as well. Cues like "calm" and "coze coze" and even singing a silly song also help to relieve stress and work wonders in class.
As you can see....NONE of my dogs are those perfect chill dogs BUT....with all the games we've played and the calming cues, massage, toy play...they are focused on me in class. All that fun stuff going on around us and they have loose happy body language. Not focused to the point they're afraid to look at anything, or have that crazy maniac addiction for toys or stimulation.
I have a hard time sitting still... so being able to interact with my guys is really nice while we wait for our turn. I love their enthusiasm, and would probably drive a couch potato dog nuts!
Also...interacting with toys is a great way for me to know if George is stressed...if he stops playing with his favourite toy all of a sudden...time to move away and get some space between us and whatever George is being distracted by.