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  • jikhalsa

Toys and chewing

We had initially titled this post “Unwanted Chewing” but chewing is such a natural activity for a dog we didn’t want the title to color how we talk about chewing.

Chewing is very natural for a dog. It’s comforting—a dog will chew to self-soothe. It’s a way for them to explore and interact with the world. It helps keep their teeth and gums healthy and clean. It eases the discomfort of teething. It makes the time pass pleasantly. It’s fun!

So we don’t want to discourage chewing so much as we want to encourage appropriate chewing habits. We WANT our dogs to chew. We just don’t want them to chew on our Jimmy Choo (get it, Jimmy Choo) shoes or our brand new couch.

Your job is to provide your dog with appropriate chews and to help her learn what is ok to chew on and what isn’t.

Dogs can destroy a chewed object more quickly than you can imagine. We’re sure you’ve seen the viral social media posts where someone comes home to what looks like a tornado through their living room, but it was only a bored dog.

While that is good for a laugh, it’s important to remember that when dogs eat inappropriate object, it can make them sick or even kill them. If a dog eats an object that can’t pass through her digestive system, it creates a blockage that may require expensive surgery if caught in time, or will kill the dog if not.

So appropriate chewing isn’t just a matter of your favorite slippers, it’s also a matter of life and death for your dog. [1]

Common causes of intestinal blockages include

  • bones, rawhide, and sticks

  • rubber balls, golf balls, marbles, and other small balls

  • buttons and beads

  • toys

  • string

  • stones and pebbles

  • coins

  • fruit pits

  • cloth

  • panty hose, socks, and underwear

  • cat litter (if eaten in a large amount)

Sharper objects are the most dangerous, as they can tear the lining of the intestinal tract.

Symptoms of intestinal blockage include

  • Loss of appetite

  • Loss of thirst

  • A painful abdomen, especially when it's touched

  • A bloated stomach

  • Lethargy

  • Drooling

  • Vomiting

  • Unusual whining or crying

  • Straining to defecate

  • Diarrhea

Possibility of an obstruction is considered a veterinary emergency. Do not wait for an appointment or for a clinic to open if it’s after hours. Head immediately to your closest emergency clinic.

If you are on the fence about whether you are seeing symptoms that are worrisome, call the clinic first and ask to speak to a vet tech so you can discuss the matter.

Safe chews

So now that we know that a fun and natural desire can kill our dogs, how to we let them have fun without harming themselves?

Easy. Find suitable chews. Safe chews include

  • Kongs

  • Nylabones

  • Bully sticks

  • Cow hooves

  • Raw marrow bones (never cooked, which splinter)

  • Toys made from recycled fire hoses

  • Frozen carrots are great chews for teething puppies

  • Other frozen treats can be appropriate for teething puppies, a quick google search will turn up dozens of options. Some of our favorites are Kongs or hooves stuffed with peanut butter[2]and banana or spray cheese then frozen.

Raw bones are controversial. They are less likely than cooked bones to splinter and are a natural chew, but for a hard chewer can break a tooth. If you want to try raw bones, marrow and knucklebones are good, but only give them under supervision.

Cooked bones are NOT safe. They are more likely to splinter and can cause obstructions or other intestinal problems.

Unsafe chews include

  • Rawhide

  • Cooked bones

  • Rope toys

Chewing rules

Place chews in your dog’s room. Not only will it keep your puppy occupied, but it will help make positive associations with his room so his room becomes a happy place to be.

Have chews available anywhere you expect your dog to spend time. So if your dog spends free time in the kitchen in the morning while the family has breakfast, a chew will not only keep her occupied but will prevent her from developing bad habits around human food, such as begging or scavenging.

  • Do rotate your chew toys. The bad news is that dogs can become bored with their toys. The good news is that they have a short memory for toys, so you can rotate toys every few days.

  • Do encourage appropriate chewing. When your dog grabs an appropriate chew and settles down, praise him calmly and let him know you approve.

  • Do teach your dog a “leave it” command. The best way to do this is to exchange whatever they have for a higher value item. So if your dog is chewing on a toy, say “leave it” and immediately exchange the toy for a high value item, such as a piece of meat or a most favorite treat. As soon as you give the higher value treat, give the chew right back to the dog. This teaches her that “leave it” means a great treat plus then she gets her chew back, a win-win for any dog! After a few times, the dog will all but spit out what’s in her mouth when she hears “leave it” in anticipation of the better goody.

  • Do use deterrent sprays, such as Bitter Apple, to spray on commonly chewed inappropriate items. This can include the pants cuffs and shoe laces you are wearing if you have one that constantly nips at your shoes and clothes. Bitter apple tastes terrible and is a great deterrent.

If your catch your dog chewing inappropriately,

  • Do use an interruption, such as “leave it” or a loud clap to interrupt the behavior

  • Do NOT punish your dog. Instead, IMMEDIATELY provide an appropriate chew and directly place it in your dog’s mouth. For a young and teething dog, it’s not a bad idea to carry some bully sticks in your back pocket until they get past the worst of their teething.

  • Recognize that if any damage is done, it’s your fault for not properly supervising the dog. As much as we may want to blame the dog, their behavior is ultimately our responsibility.

If you do not catch your dog in the act do NOT punish him. He doesn’t have the reasoning power to connect the punishment with the crime and it’s unfair to him.

The toy box

A good tactic for creating appropriate chewing and playing activities is to give your dog his own toy box.

The toy box is a place where he can find something to chew on an occupy his time. Dogs are territorial animals and understand the concept of “place” so use this to create a place he knows he can always seek out when he wants to chew or play.

The toy box shouldn’t contain ALL of your dog’s toys. Keep a box with all his toys somewhere he can’t get to, and every day change out the toys. Three to five toys are all you need in his toy box. Since dogs have short memories for these kinds of things, he can see the same toy every three days and it will feel like new again.

To get the dog using his toy box, every time you start a play session, bring your dog to the toy box and encourage him to get a toy. If he doesn’t you can pick one for him. After a few times, he will figure it out.

If the puppy starts to play with an inappropriate toy, bring him over to his toy box and help him select an appropriate one. When you do this, say “go get a toy” or a similar command, and soon you can redirect your dog to the toybox with a simple verbal command.

This changes the whole dynamic for your dog. Instead of having to rely on will power and an incomplete understanding of what’s going on to control what are perfectly healthy and natural urges, you dog can instead learn to be proactive and find an appropriate outlet.

Once your dog reliably knows to chew only items from the toy box, then you can start allowing periods of unsupervised time as he matures. Remember, your dog’s behavior is ultimately your responsibility, so if you aren’t sure he’s 100 percent solid on this, don’t leave him alone. Be consistent and be fair, and you will end up with a happy, well-adjusted dog with the peace of mind of knowing how to be a good member of your family.



[1]This is another reason we emphasize the necessity of pet insurance—abdominal surgery to remove a blockage can easily range into the thousands of dollars

[2]Some peanut butter contains a sweetener called xylitol. Xylitol can cause dangerous insulin reactions in dogs and should be considered poisonous. Always read peanut butter and other human food labels before giving to dogs.

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