After 10 years of professional training dogs in South Florida, I’ve lost count of how many homes I’ve been to where inappropriate objects have intentionally been given to puppies as play-things. Old tennis shoes, socks, children’s stuffed animals, plastic water bottles, towels… you name it and I’ve likely seen it amongst a puppies toy basket.
Puppies, like adult dogs, need to chew. Chewing itself has little to do with losing baby teeth and more so a canines genetic predisposition to feel joy, explore and understand their environment, reduce stress and relieve boredom. You know that happy calm feeling you have after you go to the gym? I like to think that is what it must be like for our dogs to have a good round of chewing. But unfortunately, bad chewing habits formed during puppyhood can last a life time — costing you not only stress, but hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars of damage to your property.
Do you really want fifteen years of coming home to a chewed rug, table leg, a shredded couch cushion, not to mention your favorite pair of stilettos? Do you really want to be mad at your dog because he ‘should know better’ but seems to keep destroying things in your house? I didn’t think so. Good. We’re in agreement. So let’s set your puppy up for success.
In order to make sure your puppy grows up knowing what to chew and what not to chew even when you’re not around youu must very, very strategically allow only the chewing of appropriate items during puppy hood and adolescence. Ballpark, the first year of life. Sounds easy right? It is. Yet, the allure of the hundreds of gimmicky toys in the pet store somehow suck us in and we wind up coming home with a ton of toys our puppy really shouldn’t be playing with unsupervised. Put that cute toy back on the shelf! Trust me, there will be plenty of time to purchase all those toys YOU are attracted to. Keep in mind that your dog really doesn’t care if it looks like a zebra, or a hilarious pork chop. All your puppy cares about is how it makes him feel when he’s chewing it. I guarantee you that your puppy gets just as must satisfaction out of an appropriate chew, even if that toy appears boring to you. You are not a dog so don’t select toys for yourself.
As a professional dog trainer and an experienced dog owner, there are certain toys I absolutely do not allow puppies I’m raising or training to play with unsupervised. Here’s my short list:
- stuffed animals
- rope toys
- soft tug toys
The above mentioned items have the propensity to confuse our puppies in training. How is one stuffed animal any different than the ones in your daughter’s room? Why would you allow your puppy to rip apart and pull stuffing out of a plush toy but then scold him for doing the same to your favorite throw pillow? If it’s fabric and full of stuffing, it’s not a good idea in my opinion to allow your puppy to practice destroying it. Rope toys are no different than the corners of rugs in your house, curtains, shoe laces and anything else dangly. Soft tug toys are meant for interactive play WITH a human. Actually, all of the three types of toys above are fine to play with with your puppy if you are active participant. Yet, the second your puppy decides to settle down and chew, rip or pull stuffing out it’s time to pick up that toy and end play-time. You need to teach your puppy that destructive behavior leads to the end of play, and possibly a time out.
Now, here’s my short list of items that I absolutely LOVE puppies to have access to at all times:
- Rubber Kong toys
- Anything by nylabone
I told you it was a short list.
The two types of items above are safe to leave in your puppies crate because there’s a very small chance that your puppy is strong enough to break off any pieces and ingest them. Hard, indestructible toys should always be available for your puppy to find and chew. Rotating toys everyday can help prevent your puppy from becoming bored of seeing the same toys everyday. I would recommend you have a stash of about 10 toys and every day have three down at a time. With all the puppies who come into my home for board and train (for house training, chew training, obedience, socialization and manners) I’ve found that a majority of puppies prefer the nylabone wishbone. It’s easy for them to get their paws around, and isn’t too big to fit in their mouths. You can expect a small amounts of blood on any nylon type toys if your puppy is currently losing teeth. Nothing to be concerned about. The thing about providing hard rubber or nylon bone toys is that there aren’t very many objects in your home (I would hope!) that are similar in nature. Your puppy will be able to easily distinguish the difference between these toys and say… a shoe or flimsy plastic kids toy laying around. You want to encourage your puppy always to play with these highly durable toys. Again, these are the toys that you should always have available in your puppies environment. He should be encouraged to pick them up and chew them.
Finally, here’s my list of favorite ” bones” for the times you can semi-supervise:
- Himalayan Yak Chews
- Deer Antlers
- Cow Hooves
- Filled Femur Bones
Just because their teeth aren’t very strong yet doesn’t mean they can’t chew with the best of them. Don’t be afraid to give your puppies some heavy duty big dog chew “bones”. Because all of the above items are ingestible to a certain extent you need to make sure you are semi-supervising the chewing of any real bone/chewy items. These chews are perfect for when you are encouraging your puppy to lay still for a pro-longed period of time. Chances are that after going a round with any of those chews your puppy will be ready for a nap. And that’s exactly what we want!
One last thing before I leave you to get rid of all the items you didn’t realize were actually encouraging destructive behavior in your puppy. Never underestimate the power of a stuffed kong toy. A stuffed kong toy goes a long, long way in chew-training any dog, of any age. You can get creative with your kongs too! Visit the kong company’s website for recipe ideas. If used properly a kong toy can quickly become any puppy or dog’s favorite go-to item when they feel bored or stressed. And that is exactly what you want. The next time your puppy soon to be adult dog feels the urge to put something in his mouth to chew on you want him to go looking for the correct object instead of the leg of the antique sewing machine your great grandmother left to your family in her will. Your mother would be very upset.
Remember, you have your dog’s whole life to play with all those other cute toys that you like! For now, stick to the toys that can actually help you instead of work against you.
Happy chew training!
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