Why and What Does My Dog Need to Chew?


With rare exception, dogs need to chew like birds need to fly and kangaroos need to hop. It’s part of who they are. Accepting that will save you huge headaches, property destruction and veterinary bills.

Dogs need to chew. So we provide appropriate outlets for what is a perfectly normal doggy behavior. People who live with a creature with a set of predator-style choppers need to plan accordingly, you know?

Here is how to figure out what to give your dog:

  1. A good rule of thumb(nail): Choose items softer than your dog’s teeth. Your ability to supervise, your veterinarian, and your dog’s chew style together determine the best items, which should be soft enough to leave an indentation with your thumbnail, but not so soft pieces can be torn or chewed off.
  2. Don’t believe the packaging. The package may say “safe,” “dental,” “natural…” There are many very popular products sold in stores and online that are a very bad idea because they are harder than your dog’s teeth. Skip them, I beseech you. Exhibit A on what can happen when you fall for the claims on the package (as I once did!).
  3. Toss worn toys that get the outer surface shaved off so that bigger chunks or the ends can be eaten. The two center-most toys in the photo above are past due and should be thrown out (in fact, I fished one of them out of the trash to take the photo, which is gross, but now you know my level of passion for your dog’s chew needs).

The orange Bionic toy on the far left in the photo is one of the few things I’ve found that is softer than teeth that my large, super chewy dog can dig into and not bite chunks off of. The Squirrel Dude and Chuckle from Premier work for him, as does a stuffed Kong. The softer, nubby toy pictured on the far right is usually a good one to try (for a dog less like a T-rex).

Stay away from sticks, rocks, metal, plastic, bones, glass, horns, petrified cheese, antlers, old coffee table legs, ice cubes, corn cobs. You get the picture.

If you think your tiny puppy or new young dog has outgrown the chewing phase, read this.

And if you don’t already, consider brushing your dog’s teeth. It’s pretty easy (your vet will show you), many dogs need it only a few times a week, and it is a great way to make sure your dog’s mouth is in good shape without risking fractures from sketchy toys. Something to chew on.

Can You Trick Your Dog Into Holding Still?


I am holding verrrry still.

The answer is: yes! Which is oh-so-useful and kind when your dog needs veterinary treatments.

Doesn’t it seem like dog training is on one end of the fun spectrum (tricks like sit pretty, come, don’t jump up) while veterinary needs (hold still for eye medicine, don’t move for having blood drawn) are way on the other end of the spectrum?

I thought about this when my veterinarian advised soaking my dog’s paw twice a day for five minutes. You know how it goes: before you know it, you are soaking wet or have eye medicine up your nose, and your dog is desperately trying to get away from you.

However, if you teach your dog to love learning new tricks, veterinary treatments can be fun. Holding still is a trick (otherwise known as “stay”). Holding still while someone does things to your ear or paw is a slightly fancier trick (otherwise known as “stay with distractions”).

Dogs are pretty good with abstract concepts like “try something” or “don’t move.” So once you’ve taught a couple of easy tricks, the concepts transfer amazingly well to all kinds of scenarios. I love this approach for the way it takes out the fear and puts in the joy.

For foot soaking, I got out an empty bucket and waited for my dog to do something bucket related. (That’s how we start nearly all our tricks. It is called shaping. No coercion, just cooperation. Anyone can do it!) I gave him a treat every time his front foot accidentally moved (but not when he did other buckety things), and soon he was touching the bucket with his foot, then holding it inside the bucket, and then he stood in it. It seems fast, which is just because he is used to the concept of learning a new trick. Your dog can do it, too!

This is one weird trick, lady.

I asked him to stay, which he already knew from his “stay” trick, and quickly took a photo. Next session I added enough water for soaking before beginning. I will soak his foot near his favorite window so he can enjoy looking out for the five minutes (less fidgeting!), and of course he’ll get treats for holding still.

How can you apply tricks training to treatments you or your veterinarian need to administer? I welcome your questions and would be glad to offer tips in the comments section!


What to do with a Kong

(This puppy is licking goodies out of her Kong instead of fussing during down-time at puppy class.)

If you have a new dog, especially a puppy or teenage dog, I bet everyone is telling you to get a Kong. Dog trainers are wild about Kongs, your veterinarian may even sell them in the waiting room, and every pet store stocks them in all sizes.

But let’s be honest, you have looked at a Kong and wondered what the big deal is. Maybe you even purchased one and brought it home. You put it in front of your pooch expecting a small miracle to occur. But your dog just sniffed it and walked away. You can’t help thinking, “Now what? Why all the hype?”

The truth is, the Kong is just a hunk of hollow rubber, unless you start thinking like a dog. Dogs like games and puzzles that engage their amazing brains. They need to use their powerful sniffers, their paws, and their jaws to scavenge and extract food from tricky places. The Kong is designed to make all of this physical and mental challenge happen in a way that does not involve your furniture, rugs, shoes, undies or other potential objects of fascination.

If your dog could talk, he or she would ask you to please stuff the Kong parfait-style: some smelly, gooey stuff in the tip (like cheese or peanut butter), layered with some kibble, then something globby like part of a banana, layered with a few dog biscuits or leftovers from last night’s supper (veggies are great, no cooked bones or toxic stuff, please), topped off with something easy to get started, like more peanut butter.

Now you’re on to something!

That should keep your dog quiet in the crate, or occupied while you prepare dinner or watch Dancing With the Stars (in which case you obviously cannot lower your eyes from the TV, even for a moment). You also get Good Dog Owner points for providing an outlet for your dog’s daily behavioral needs.

Fancy versions of this (because I know your dog is above-average smart):

  • Jam everything in as tight as possible by using the back of a knife
  • Prepare the Kong, then freeze it
  • Prepare the Kong, then nuke it for 15 seconds or so
  • Feed all regular meals as stuffed Kongs (use just a dab of PB mixed in to hold everything together)
  • Make multiple Kongs ahead of time (refrigerate) and hide them around the room/house before you leave

Yes, it’s gross, but your dog really will get every last morsel out (if not, adjust the difficulty by stuffing looser and using less goo). I put mine in the top rack of my dishwasher and, voila, they are sterilized and ready for another round. And I’ve had the same bloomin’ Kongs for 15 years.

If your dog has mack daddy chewing power, get the black Kong. If your dog is a girl, or boy, and color-coding is important to you, get the pink or blue Kong. But please, get a Kong. Your dog will love you for it. While your dog is munching away, please share your recipes, success stories and questions and comments below. There is likely another dog owner out there who would learn from your experience.

Want a Green Dog? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Recently I cleaned out a closet and afterwards had a nice pile of gently worn clothes to donate. But I also had a pile of old t-shirts and items that were too worn out or stained to pass on. Then I remembered that I had an extra dog bed cover, so I fluffed the old t-shirts a bit and stuffed them into the dog bed cover, zipped it up, and voila, instant dog bed. Unlike most commercially made dog beds, this one is fully washable, not just the cover. And if you make one like this, it has your scent built right in, which may comfort some dogs who would otherwise worry in your absence. If you have some old t-shirts or clean rags and want to make a dog bed like this, you can get covers through many online catalogs, including Greener Pup, LLC.

Another thing that you can save for your dogs are people food containers (first, rinse well) to use as toys. Dogs thrive on novelty and love to explore new smells and textures, so it can be a big treat for them to get something unusual to play with like:

  • Round lids (like from a buttery spread container) make good targets for training your dog to run away from the door when visitors enter. How-to: Teach him to nose touch the clean lid by holding it in your hand, then affix it somewhere away from the door at nose level. Stand near him and practice until he gets the hang of it (you may need to hold it in your hand first, then attach it to the wall or chair leg). When he is nose touching the lid with gusto on cue, increase your starting distance from it until he will charge over and bop it even if you are both standing near the door. Then add in the doorbell sound before you give your verbal cue, and your dog will hear the  bell, then run to the target instead of leaping on your guests.
  • It’s also great exercise to run back and forth to a target, so consider nailing a lid to a tree at nose-level, teach him to target that and call him back to you. When you call him back and reward, you are working on his come-when called cue as well.
  • Orange juice cartons, rinsed, dried and with a few small holes cut in the sides, make great low-cost food dispensers. Throw away the plastic cap and fill the container with your dog’s kibble. Your dog can enjoy his meal by tossing, nudging, and biting at the container. He may even rip it to shreds, which is what dogs were built to do, so let him have at it as long as he doesn’t ingest any of the pieces of the carton.
  • Plastic water bottles make great interactive toys. Fill one about a third full with water and put the cap back on, then put the whole bottle into a sock. Tie a tight knot in the sock and you’ve got a novel toy to keep a (up to 12-16 week old) puppy occupied. (Older dogs may puncture the bottle through the sock and then you’ll have a leaking toy, but you could use an empty bottle, several socks, and create a tug toy.) Freezing a plastic bottle of water can keep a puppy cool on very hot days, they like to lie right next to them.
  • Pizza pizza! If you have a high-energy dog who enjoys problem solving, offer him the empty, closed box after you’ve ordered a pizza (take out the paper that is sometimes in the bottom). As long as your dog is not the type to eat what he shreds, this is a safe, fun way to tire him mentally and physically under your supervision. And when he’s finished, what remains of the box will fit in the trash much easier (most places don’t allow recycling of pizza boxes). Toss a handful of dog treats into the box before you close it so he can hear and smell the goodies inside. The short video clip shows an older puppy’s first time with a pizza box: first I surprise him with it for coming when called, then he tears around with it, rips it, and makes the goodies come out and eats them. When I decide not to add more treats, he turns the box into a fetch toy, and then finishes by ripping it up some more. He is tired by the end.) Providing this kind of outlet for your dog’s normal mental and physical energy needs will help prevent him from wreaking havoc with your patience and possessions.

Finally, you can make a terrific, low-cost tug toy from a pair of old jeans. Just cut the legs off and knot them every 8 inches or so. Or you can cut the legs into strips and braid the strips, with knots on each end, for a super tough, long-lasting toy. I found a pair of high-waisted jeans (I swear I haven’t worn them in years!) in that closet I cleaned out, and they are now destined to become tug toys.

If you are not a person who likes to make things (or clean out her closet!), not to worry. Green doggie items are now all the rage; you can find eco beds made from recycled soda bottles and leashes, head collars and toys all made from recycled materials. Some of the proceeds from sales of these products go toward helping homeless dogs, so consider having a green dog!

Springtime Tips

Spring is in the air! Here are some tips to get you ready for outdoor activities with your pooch.

Fitness for Fido

If your dog has had limited exercise this winter, start slowly and build up gradually. Just as you wouldn’t sit on the couch all winter and then go on a five mile run once the weather turns pleasant, so too should you help your dog build strength and stamina. Start with 10-15 minutes of you brisk walking (your dog should be trotting) and build from there. Not only is a tired dog a good dog (as they old adage says), but you can also keep your dog happier and healthier with regular aerobic exercise.

How much exercise should you aim for? Twenty to thirty consecutive minutes a day (fetch, brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or some combination of those) is great for most mature dogs. Adolescent dogs (6-18 months of age) need much more (an hour or more a day for active breed types). For dogs younger than a year, consult with your vet about the right type and amount of exercise to avoid straining growing bones, joints and ligaments. For more senior dogs, regular moderate exercise can actually help manage stiffness and obesity that would otherwise cause discomfort. What’s that, you say you want to play fetch but your dog won’t bring the ball back? In case you have a reluctant retriever, here are some tips on how to teach your dog to play fetch.

If your dog got a little pudgy over the winter, there’s no time like the present to help him get his figure back. He’ll thank you for many reasons, but especially when it gets too warm for him to cool his body mass with that tiny, little, panting tongue of his. Most dogs are overweight. And many veterinarians will not come right out and explain that your dog needs to lose weight (and the health consequences if he doesn’t). With a few exceptions for breeds who do not have a typical body shape, you should be able to see a distinct waist if you look at your dog’s back from above, a tucking up under his belly towards his back legs when viewed from the side, and you should easily be able to feel his ribs, and even slightly see them, if he turns sideways. (Here is a chart similar to the one your veterinarian uses to assess your dog’s ideal body shape.) To help him get back in shape, exercise helps, as do low-cal treats in place of processed ones or fatty table scraps. Some low-cal training treat ideas include:

  • Use your dog’s kibble as treats (just put his meal in a ziplock baggie instead of the bowl)
  • Macaroni noodles cooked in broth instead of water
  • Lightly steamed sweet potato, cut into pea-sized bits
  • Popcorn.

Leash manners

Teach your dog to walk nicely on leash. This will help get her ready for group training classes, trail walks, visits to the park and neighborhood strolls. There are many methods that are gentle and effective (Sue Ailsby’s is my favorite; scroll until you find “Leash” under Level 2). In the meantime, consider using an Easy Walk Harness, which causes you dog no pain, but prevents pulling in most dogs. If your dog visits dog parks, goes on hikes with you, or has trouble passing other dogs or people without getting over-stimulated, learn more about dog etiquette and how to train your dog to be a pleasure in public.

Parasite prevention

Believe it or not, now is the time to start thinking about flea and tick prevention. Even with the extreme winter we have had, fleas and ticks are alive and well in many areas.

The birds and the bees

Wildlife is coming out of its winter sleep and soon squirrels, birds, moles and snakes will be active and abundant.  So now is a great time to solidify your dog’s ability to come when you call, before a bunny catches his eye and bolts across the street and into the path of an oncoming car. Here are some tips to get you started and some thoughts about dogs and wildlife. Also check out the DVD called Really Reliable Recall.

Hot dogs

And, of course with warmer weather comes an important responsibility: keep your dog cool enough. Provide shade and clean water if he is going to be outside for an extended period. Leave him at home rather than risking brain and other organ damage from being trapped in a hot car. (Did you know canine heat stroke can occur in just ten minutes, even if you leave your windows cracked?) Also, exercise your dog during the coolest parts of the day to avoid overheating him.

Happy springtime!

The Straight Poop

Coprophagia is the fancy word for poop eating. Another word for it is “yuck,” and when dog owners tell me they have this problem they also mention the words “disgusting” and “unacceptable.” A dog may eat his own feces or that of other dogs, cats, or other creatures. It may start when a dog is a puppy or when he’s much older. In young dogs, the habit is often outgrown; if it comes on suddenly, particularly in an older dog, consult your veterinarian. There is a slight chance it could be related to a nutritional deficiency, parasite problem, or other condition, in which case there are usually other signs present (such as diarrhea). You’ll want to be extra sure your dog is vaccinated against canine viruses and does not suffer from intestinal parasites if he eats the poop of other dogs or animals. This will also help protect you and your kids from contracting any zoonotic diseases (those that can be transmitted from non-human animals to humans).

Veterinarians and behaviorists do not know why some dogs engage in coprophagia. But it’s neither a surprising nor uncommon behavior, given dogs’ history as scavengers. Maybe it just tastes good to some dogs (when you think about it, dogs do plenty of normal things we humans find gross). And some dogs may thrive on the attention the behavior gets them from their owners.

Regardless of the reasons, if you have this problem, you’ll want to intervene promptly since it’s a rewarding behavior to the dog. And the more a behavior is rewarded, the more it will increase in frequency and intensity.

Taste deterrents such as Forbid or Deter seem to have a limited success rate. I’ve never heard of them working, but perhaps that’s because I only get calls about the dogs for whom the products didn’t have any effect.

The first step is to clean up your yard. If there are just a few piles, a pooper scooper will do, as will the ol’ plastic bag used like a glove trick. If you have quite a bit of dog feces in your yard, you may want to consider hiring a professional company to clean things up so you can start fresh. (One company called Doo No More claims to be “#1 in the #2 business.”)

The next step is to escort your dog, on leash, outside to do her business when it is time for her to poop. If you’re not sure when that time is, keep a written log for a few days so you can see trends in what her bowel habits are. If her schedule is very haphazard, it likely means she is fed on too flexible a schedule. Feed your dog, pick up the bowl or food puzzle after 10 minutes, and don’t offer another meal until the next scheduled meal time. This will help your dog eat regularly, and therefore eliminate more regularly.

After your dog poops, the very moment she’s finished (don’t wait for her to turn her head toward her rear end or toward the pile), say “yes!” and offer her a delicious treat that you’ve had ready in your hand. Take a couple of steps away from the pile, rewarding her with another treat or two. Then, keeping the leash short to prevent her diving for the poop, clean it up and dispose of it. Then do a little bit more training with treats, maybe a down or a few tricks. That way, after she poops, her focus will be on you, the training, and the tasty morsels you have. You’ll be substituting a new habit for the old one. It will also give her something mentally stimulating to do (some dogs may eat feces out of boredom). After about 2 weeks, your dog should regularly turn her attention to you after defecating and you won’t need to keep her on the leash each time. Use the treats and occupy her mind for another couple of weeks. Continue indefinitely to clean up after your dog eliminates and keep your yard free of feces.

Finally, consider teaching your dog a cue to “leave it.” If you work up to a high degree of responsiveness to this cue, you can even apply it to food on the coffee table or floor, or to a pile of poop on the ground (works nicely for other icky things found on walks like gum, fast food wrappers, or smelly things your dog may want to roll in or consume). “Leave it” (or excellent responsiveness to being called to you) is a must if your dog eats feces she encounters when off-leash, such as on a walk, hike or visit to a dog park. Until she is very good at that, if you really want her to stop eating stool, you’ll need to keep her on a line when walking, or condition her to being happy about wearing a basket-style muzzle so she won’t inadvertently reward herself.

Breath mint, anyone?

Riding in Cars with Dogs

In very young dogs, or in dogs unaccustomed to riding in a vehicle, carsickness is not uncommon. The dog may tremble, salivate, and/or vomit. Most dogs outgrow it. Unfortunately, before they have a chance to outgrow it, some dogs begin to associate the car with the feeling of being motion sick, and get nervous just getting into the car. This nervous anticipation leads to queasiness, which in turn perpetuates the problem of getting sick in the car.

The following strategies should put your dog on the road to enjoying car trips. It is best to do them all; you’ll likely find your dog will be over his problem in a week or two:

  • Set up a crate for your dog to ride in. Cover it with a sheet so that he can’t see the world zipping and bouncing past him. Make sure there is airflow along the bottom third of the crate so fresh air reaches him.SickCar
  • Secure the crate so it is stable. It should not tip or slide (use bungee cords, and/or a towel folded underneath the crate to make it level).
  • 15 minutes before each car trip: a) feed your pooch a couple of ginger snaps, which can help calm the tummy, and b) spray the crate bedding (limit bedding to an old towel at this point) with Comfort Zone D.A.P. (dog appeasing pheromone).
  • Start with *very* short trips (no more than 1/2 a block). Drive the short distance, then allow your dog to exit the car and do something he loves, like take a walk or play a game of tug. Then drive the short distance back home. This will help car rides become the tip-off to him that good things follow.
  • Extend the distance as long as you are successful (meaning he does not get sick and seems relaxed and drool-free).

And, of course, do not punish your dog for getting sick in the car. Not only does that make no sense (would it help you get over motion sickness if someone scolded you?), but it could also make it worse, since your dog would have something else to fear associated with the car.

It is better to go on a series of “fake” short trips that predict a happy event, rather than going on only necessary trips that result in car sickness. Sometimes it takes just a couple of weeks of this approach to get a dog happy and relaxed riding down the road. If a crate is not a good long-term solution for car rides, please consider using a doggie seat-belt for everyone’s safety and to instill good car-riding habits.


You may have heard the adage “A tired dog is a good dog.” But when it’s too hot outside to provide normal walks or runs, keeping dogs’ minds and bodies exercised can be a challenge. You’ll find some ideas for physical and mental games to help achieve a tired dog on the Top Notch Dog Facebook page.

A classic way to occupy your pooch in the heat is the Pupsicle. (If memory serves I first heard of a similar thing at the 1999 Association of Pet Dog Trainers conference. I am lucky to be in a profession in which conference proceedings involve learning how to stuff Kongs.)

Here’s the quick and easy version. You will need:

a Kong toy (widely available)

broth (it’s easy to find low-sodium, pre-made broth nowadays)

a bit of cheese

a coffee mug

Block the tiny hole of the Kong with a glob of cheese (this prevents leakage during the freezing process). Place the Kong, large opening up, in a coffee mug (this keeps it upright and catches any spillage). Pour broth to fill the Kong. Place in freezer until solid.

Optional: To make it more interesting and challenging, fill half full with broth, freeze. Add a layer of cheese or other tidbits. Top with more broth and freeze.

Present to your dog when you want to keep him busy. The thick rubber of the Kong keeps the broth from melting quickly, so it’s not as messy as you’d think. Most dogs lick at the Kong for quite a while, giving you some quiet time to think about things like snow…

Bone Appetit

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. LogicalDSC_0153 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.