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.

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.