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:
- 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.
- 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!).
- 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.
Do you ever get the feeling that someone in your household is undermining your dog training efforts? Maybe you have even invested in dog training advice, and a spouse or child does not follow through on the training recommendations the way you’d like.
You are not alone. Many of my clients fret that someone in their family is not on board with training. On top of not helping, the rogue family member may even complain that the dog does not behave as well with them.
What are you to do? Here is my advice:
- Be grateful that the would-be saboteur is so involved with the dog as to potentially interfere with your training. Be glad they care enough about the dog to engage with him or her. Even if one or two training issues aren’t resolved as quickly as you’d like, it is probably all going to work out fine in the end.
- Try to be patient. After all, since they are not as involved in the training, your half-hearted helper may not be as quick to recognize, prevent and solve annoying doggie habits. So they may feel frustrated that they are not seeing the results you enjoy. The more they see you in action, though, the likelier they are to adopt the successful techniques you are using.
- Choose one thing to prioritize, and let the rest go. For example, if you are working on several things like puppy biting, chewing on your belongings, housetraining, and crate manners, pick just one of those to get the person to stick to the rules on, at least for a couple of weeks. (Meanwhile, you can continue to work on the whole list.) Puppy biting rules are good to have agreement on, since that way they can still interact with each other without making things worse. Put prevention strategies in place to make sure the other priorities continue to go mostly well. If you have an older dog past the mouthy stage, but who is still in need of potty training, affix a housetraining schedule to the fridge and get a promise that your helper will stick to it. The main idea is that focusing on just one thing will make success more likely, and it will be a lot less frustrating for you.
- Be open to what you can learn from your family member. I once had a puppy I had big competition obedience plans for. I wanted everything to be just perfect, and worked hard to teach the puppy all the right things. At least, that’s what I thought I was doing. Then one day I watched my spouse playing with the puppy. They had made up their own game, and I could see the joy and pure fun they were experiencing together. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment, because it taught me to remember why I have dogs in the first place, and it made a huge impact on me as a professional trainer as well. Be open to what you can learn about your dog and your family, just by letting them enjoy each other.
- Spend time with others who are also training their dogs. It is lonely at the top! Training a dog, especially a new dog, takes a lot of time, effort, planning, patience and creativity. If you are working hard at it, and you are the main person in charge of the puppy’s learning, then you may sometimes feel unsupported by those who aren’t at home as much, or who are around just enough to reap the benefits of your hard work. It helps to take a group class, where once a week you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people who understand your struggles and triumphs. You might also enjoy neighborhood walks or puppy play dates with people in the same boat. (The Puppy Social Hour is designed partly with this idea in mind, or you might try a semi-private training session.)
Finally, if you are really butting heads with your family over which is the best way to teach the dog something, invite them to the next training session. I fully expect clients to ask why I recommend a technique, or to weigh in on the way they would like to handle a training challenge, or to help predict fallout from a particular method they may be considering. Since it is my job and I am not in the middle of the family disagreement, a little objectivity is injected into the situation. A family training session can be a good catalyst for moving forward together.
And, of course, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh. For example, my dogs aren’t generally allowed to have food in the kitchen during meal preparation, but I noticed one of them had started coming in and staring at the same spot on the floor any time I got out a bag of potato chips. A little investigation revealed that someone has been accidentally-on-purpose dropping a chip there each morning when he makes his lunch. The dog never lies…