Do you remember those old Flinstones T.V. cartoons? You know, Fred and Barney, Wilma and Betty. And of course, Dino (my personal favorite). Now, is it my imagination, or did our pal Dino, as the series’ family dog wannabe, get to chew on just gigantic bones? In fact, as I recall, all the bones on that show were, whether they were on Fred’s plate or in Wilma’s hair, just enormous. Well, today I met a dog in one of my training appointments who had such a bone. I kid you not; the bone was longer than the dog. So big, in fact, that it just teetered on the edge of the dog’s bed. It looked like a caveman must have placed it there.
The dog’s owner informed me that the dog really enjoyed chewing on it, and that it was a much better bargain than the smaller bones, from which the dog only got about a couple of hours of chewing enjoyment. Logical enough! And then she asked me a great question, which was, “Do dogs need bones?” (Besides the kind they use to walk around on, wise guy.)
Dogs, as a general rule, need to chew. If you’ve ever failed to provide your dog with adequate, appropriate chew outlets, you know firsthand that your belongings, including furnishings, can fall victim to your dog’s choppers. Some dogs need to chew often (like young dogs, retrievers, and dogs who have extra energy to burn). Others rarely chew anything other than their food.
Dogs generally also get mental and physical benefit from working for their meals. And I don’t only mean sitting before you serve them. I mean, because they are natural scavengers, part of meeting their normal behavioral needs includes providing them opportunities for puzzling food out of nooks and crannies.
And finally, there is nothing like the fresh minty breath of a dog who has sufficient chew time on a regular basis.
There is now a dizzying array of toys on the market that can meet your dog’s need to chew. There are the meal-dispensing variety (Kibble Nibble, Twist and Treat, Kong and the like) and there are the in-between-meal edible chewies (like Nylabone, Zukes Dental Bones, and Sam’s Yams, for example). Experiment and see what keeps your dog occupied.
So what about bones? If you would like to offer your dog bones, err on the side of making sure they are too large to swallow or break into smaller bits. And never offer cooked or grilled bones of any size—they can break and splinter and cause severe damage to your dog. Instead, opt for bones sold as “soup bones” or “marrow bones” at your grocery store, like the organic and more humanely raised beef bones sold at Whole Foods. You can find them in the meat freezer; just thaw them in your fridge before use. They are a pretty good bargain, too. And their smooth-edged, tubular shape means a pretty safe chewing experience. Nevertheless, supervise your dog when he’s working on one of these bones. (Some veterinarians recommend against feeding bones, so consult with yours before deciding what’s best for your dog.) Most dogs are pretty excited to be presented with one of these. A marrow bone can keep them occupied for quite a while, not to mention meet their needs for chewing, puzzle solving, and working those teeth and gums. Yabba dabba doo.