Dog Toys &
How to Use Them
Many factors contribute to the safety or danger of a
toy, and a number of them depend upon your dog’s
size, activity level, and preferences. Another factor
is the environment in which your dog spends his time.
Although we can’t guarantee your dog’s enthusiasm
or his safety with any specific toy, we can offer the
The things that are usually most attractive to dogs
are often the very things that are the most dangerous.
Dog-proof your home by safely storing string, ribbon,
rubber bands, children’s toys, pantyhose, and anything
else that could be ingested.
Toys should be appropriate for your dog’s size. Balls
and other toys that are too small can easily be swallowed
or become lodged in your dog’s throat.
Avoid or alter any toys that aren’t “dog proof ” by
removing ribbons, strings, eyes, or other parts that
could be chewed or ingested. Discard toys that start to
break into pieces or have pieces torn off. You should also
avoid “tug-of-war” games with dogs who have dominant
personalities. (Such games between dogs are usually fine.)
Ask your veterinarian which rawhide toys are safe and
which aren’t. Unless your veterinarian says otherwise,
“chewies” like hooves, pig’s ears, and rawhides should
only be played with under your supervision. Very hard
rubber toys are safer and last longer.
Take note of any toy that contains a “squeaker” buried in
its center. Your dog may feel that he must find and destroy
the source of the squeaking, and he could ingest it—in
which case squeaking objects should also be used under
Check labels for child safety. Look for stuffed toys that are
labeled as safe for children under three years of age and
that don’t contain any dangerous fillings. Problem fillings
include things like nutshells and polystyrene beads, but
even “safe” stuffings aren’t truly digestible. Remember
that soft toys are not indestructible, but some are sturdier
than others. Soft toys should be machine washable.
OR DOGS AND OTHER ANIMAL COMPANIONS, toys are not a luxury,
but a necessity. Toys help fight boredom in dogs left alone, and toys can
even help prevent some problem behaviors from developing.
Although cats can be pretty picky when it comes to enjoying particular
toys—ignoring a $10 catnip mouse and marveling over a piece of crumpled
newsprint—dogs are often more than willing to play with any object they
can get their paws on. That means you’ll need to be particularly careful when
monitoring your dog’s playtime to prevent any “unscheduled” activities.
Very hard rubber toys, such as Nylabone®-type products
and Kong®-type products, are available in a variety of shapes
and sizes and are fun for chewing and for carrying around.
“Rope” toys are usually available in a “bone” shape
with knotted ends.
Tennis balls make great dog toys, but keep an eye out
for any that could be chewed through, and discard them.
Kong-type toys, especially when filled with broken-up
treats—or, even better, a mixture of broken-up treats and
peanut butter—-can keep a puppy or dog busy for hours.
Only by chewing diligently can your dog get to the treats,
and then only in small bits. Double-check with your
veterinarian about whether or not you should give peanut
butter to your dog. Be sure to choose a Kong-type toy
of appropriate size for your dog.
“Busy-box” toys are large rubber cubes with hiding places
for treats. Only by moving the cube around with his nose,
mouth, and paws can your dog get to the goodies.
Soft stuffed toys are good for several purposes but aren’t
appropriate for all dogs. For some dogs, the stuffed toy
should be small enough to carry around. For dogs who
want to shake or “kill” the toy, the toy should be the size
that “prey” would be for that size dog (mouse-size, rabbitsize,
Dirty laundry, such as an old t-shirt, pillowcase, towel, or
blanket, can be very comforting to a dog, especially if the
item smells like you! Be forewarned that the item could
be destroyed by industrious fluffing, carrying, and nosing.
Get the Most out of Toys!
_ Rotate your dog’s toys weekly by making only a few toys
available at a time. Keep a variety of types easily accessible.
If your dog has a favorite, like a soft “baby,” you may
want to leave it out all the time.
_ Provide toys that offer variety—at least one toy to carry,
one to “kill,” one to roll, and one to “baby.”
_ Hide-and-seek is a fun game for dogs. “Found” toys are
often much more attractive than a toy which is obviously
introduced. Making an interactive game out of finding toys
or treats is a good “rainy-day” activity for your dog, using
up energy without the need for a lot of space.
_ Many of your dog’s toys should be interactive. Interactive
play is very important for your dog because he needs
active “people time”—and such play also enhances the
bond between you and your pet. By focusing on a specific
task—such as repeatedly returning a ball, Kong, or
Frisbee®, or playing hide-and-seek with treats or toys—your
dog can expel pent-up mental and physical energy
in a limited amount of time and space. This greatly reduces
stress due to confinement, isolation, and boredom. For
young, high-energy, and untrained dogs, interactive play
also offers an opportunity for socialization and helps them
learn about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, such
as jumping up or being mouthy.
Anxiety in Dogs
VERYONE NEEDS A LITTLE TIME ALONE NOW AND THEN—
unless of course you are a dog who suffers from separation anxiety.
Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit behavior problems when they’re
left alone. Typically, they’ll have a dramatic anxiety response within a short
time (20–45 minutes) after their owners leave them. The most common
of these behaviors are:
Digging, chewing, and scratching at doors or windows
in an attempt to escape and reunite with their owners
_ Howling, barking, and crying in an attempt to get their
owners to return
_ Urination and defecation (even with housetrained dogs)
as a result of distress
Why Do Dogs Suffer from Separation Anxiety?
We don’t fully understand why some dogs suffer from
separation anxiety and, under similar circumstances, others
don’t. It’s important to realize, however, that the destruction
and house soiling that often occur with separation anxiety
are not the dog’s attempt to punish or seek revenge on
his owner for leaving him alone. In reality, they are part
of a panic response.
Separation Anxiety Sometimes Occurs:
_ When a dog accustomed to constant human
companionship is left alone for the first time
_ Following a long interval, such as a vacation, during
which the owner and dog are constantly together
_ After a traumatic event (from the dog’s point of view), such
as a period of time spent at a shelter or boarding kennel
_ After a change in the family’s routine or structure (such as
a child leaving for college, a change in work schedule, a
move to a new home, or a new pet or person in the home)
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Separation Anxiety?
Because there are many reasons for the behaviors associated
with separation anxiety, it’s essential to correctly diagnose
the reason for the behavior before proceeding with
treatment. If most, or all, of the following statements
are true about your dog, he may have a separation
_ The behavior occurs exclusively or primarily
when he’s left alone.
_ He follows you from room to room whenever
_ He displays effusive, frantic greeting behaviors.
_ The behavior always occurs when he’s left alone,
whether for a short or long period of time.
_ He reacts with excitement, depression, or anxiety
to your preparations to leave the house.
_ He dislikes spending time outdoors by himself.
What to Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
For a minor separation anxiety problem, the following
techniques may be helpful by themselves. For more severe
problems, these techniques should be used along with the
desensitization process described in the next section.
_ Keep arrivals and departures low-key. For example,
when you arrive home, ignore your dog for the first
few minutes, then calmly pet him. This may be hard
for you to do, but it’s important!
_ Leave your dog with an article of clothing that smells like
you—such as an old t-shirt that you’ve slept in recently.
_ Establish a “safety cue”—a word or action that you use
every time you leave that tells your dog you’ll be back.
Dogs usually learn to associate certain cues with short
absences by their owners. For example, when you take
out the garbage, your dog knows you come right back
and doesn’t become anxious. Therefore, it’s helpful to
associate a safety cue with your short-duration absences.
Some examples of safety cues are a playing radio, a playing
television, or a toy (one that doesn’t have dangerous fillings
and can’t be torn into pieces). Use your safety cue during
practice sessions with your dog. Be sure to avoid presenting
your dog with the safety cue when you leave for a period
Desensitization Techniques for More
Severe Cases of Separation Anxiety
The primary treatment for more severe cases of separation
anxiety is a systematic process of getting your dog used to
being alone. You must teach your dog to remain calm during
“practice” departures and short absences. We recommend
the following procedure:
_ Begin by engaging in your normal departure activities
(getting your keys, putting on your coat), then sit back
down. Repeat this step until your dog shows no distress
in response to your activities.
_ Next, engage in your normal departure activities and
go to the door and open it, then sit back down.
_ Next, step outside the door, leaving the door open,
_ Finally, step outside, close the door, then immediately return.
Slowly get your dog accustomed to being alone with the
door closed between you for several seconds.
_ Proceed very gradually from step to step, repeating each step
until your dog shows no signs of distress. The number of
repetitions will vary depending on the severity of the problem.
If at any time in this process your actions produce an anxiety
response in your dog, you’ve proceeded too fast. Return to
an earlier step in the process and practice this step until the
dog shows no distress response, then proceed to the next step.
_ Once your dog is tolerating your being on the other side
of the door for several seconds, begin short-duration
absences. This step involves giving the dog a verbal cue (for
example, “I’ll be back”), leaving, and then returning within
a minute. Your return must be low-key: Either ignore your
dog or greet him quietly and calmly. If he shows no signs
of distress, repeat the exercise. If he appears anxious, wait
until he relaxes to repeat the exercise. Gradually increase
the length of time you’re gone.
_ Practice as many absences as possible that last less than 10
minutes. You can do many departures within one session
if your dog relaxes sufficiently between departures. You
should also scatter practice departures and short-duration
absences throughout the day.
_ Once your dog can handle short absences (30–90 minutes),
he’ll usually be able to handle longer intervals alone, and
you won’t have to repeat this process every time you are
planning a longer absence. The hard part is at the beginning,
but the job gets easier as you go along. Nevertheless, you must
go slowly at first. How long it takes to condition your dog to
being alone depends on the severity of his problem.
Teaching the Sit-Stay and Down-Stay
Another technique for reducing separation anxiety in your
dog is practicing the common “sit-stay” or “down-stay” training
exercises using positive reinforcement. Your goal is to be able
to move briefly out of your dog’s sight while he remains in the
“stay” position and thereby teach your dog that he can remain
calmly and happily in one place while you go to another. To do
this, you gradually increase the distance you move away from
your dog. As you progress, you can do this during the course
of your normal daily activities. For example, if you’re watching
television with your dog by your side and you get up for a
snack, tell him to stay, and leave the room. When you come
back, give him a treat or praise him quietly. Never punish
your dog during these training sessions.
Because the treatments described above can take a while,
and because a dog with separation anxiety can do serious
damage to himself or your home in the interim, consider these
suggestions to help you and your dog cope in the short term.
_ Consult your veterinarian about the possibility of drug
therapy. A good anti-anxiety drug should not sedate your
dog, but simply reduce his anxiety while you’re gone. Such
medication is a temporary measure and should be used
in conjunction with behavior modification techniques.
_ Take your dog to a dog day care facility or boarding kennel.
_ Leave your dog with a friend, family member, or neighbor.
_ Take your dog to work with you, even for half a day, if possible.
What Won’t Help a Separation Anxiety Problem
_ Punishing your dog. Punishment is not an effective way to
treat separation anxiety. In fact, punishing your dog after you
return home may actually increase his separation anxiety.
_ Getting another pet as a companion for your dog. This
usually doesn’t help an anxious dog because his anxiety
is the result of his separation from you, his person, not
merely the result of being alone. Crating your dog.
Your dog will still engage in anxiety responses in the crate.
He may urinate, defecate, howl, or even injure himself in an attempt to
escape from the crate. Leaving the radio on (unless the radio is used as a “safety
cue,” as described above). Training your dog. While formal training is always a good
idea, it won’t directly help a separation anxiety problem. Separation anxiety is not the result of disobedience or lack of training; it’s a panic response.
Training Your Dog or Cat with Treats and Praise
Positive reinforcement is the presentation of something pleasant or rewarding immediately following a behavior. It makes that behavior more likely to occur in the future, and is one of the most powerful tools for shaping or changing your pet’s behavior.
Correct timing is essential when using positive reinforcement. The reward must occur
immediately, or your pet may not associate it with the proper action. For example, if you have your dog “sit,” but reward him after he’s already stood up again, he’ll think he’s being rewarded for standing up.
Consistency is also essential. Everyone in the family should use the same commands. It might be helpful to post these where everyone can become familiar with them. The most commonly used commands for dogs are “watch me,” “sit,” “stay,” “down” (means lie down), “off” (means off of me or off the furniture), “stand,” “come,” “heel,” (or “let’s go” or “with me”) “leave it” and “settle.” Consistency means always rewarding the desired behavior and never rewarding undesired behavior.
For your pet, positive reinforcement may include food treats, praise, petting or a favorite toy or game. Food treats work especially well for training your dog. A treat should be enticing and irresistible to your pet. It should be a very small, soft, piece of food, so that he will immediately gulp it down and look to you for more. If you give him something he has to chew or that breaks into bits and falls on the floor, he’ll be looking around the floor, not at you. Small pieces of soft commercial treats, hot dogs, cheese, cooked chicken or beef, or miniature have all proven successful. Experiment a bit to see what works best for your pet. You may carry the treats in a pocket or a fanny pack on the front of your belt. There are even special treat packs available in many pet stores. Each time you use a food reward, you should couple it with a verbal reward (praise). Say something like, “Good boy” in a positive, happy tone of voice.
Note: Some pets may not be interested in food treats. For those pets, the reward could be in the form of a toy or brief play.
When your pet is learning a new behavior, he should be rewarded every time he does the
behavior (continuous reinforcement). It may be necessary to use “shaping,” with your pet (reinforcing something close to the desired response and gradually requiring more from your dog before he gets the treat). For example, if you’re teaching your dog to “shake hands,” you may initially reward him for lifting his paw off the ground, then for lifting it higher, then for touching your hand, then for letting you hold his paw and finally, for actually shaking hands with you. Intermittent reinforcement can be used once your pet has reliably learned the behavior. At first, you may reward him with the treat three times out of four, then about half the time, then about a third of the time and so forth, until you’re only rewarding him occasionally with the treat. Continue to praise him every time, although once he’s learned the behavior, the praise can be less effusive - a quiet, but positive, “Good boy.” Use a variable schedule of reinforcement, so he doesn’t catch on that he only has to respond every other time. Your pet will learn that if he keeps responding, eventually he’ll get what he wants. If you have a dog who barks until you reward him by paying attention to him, you’ve seen the power of intermittent reinforcement.
By understanding reinforcement, you can see that you’re not forever bound to carry a
pocketful of goodies. Your pet will soon be working for your verbal praise, because he really does want to please you and he knows that occasionally, he’ll get a treat, too! There are many small opportunities to reinforce his behavior. You may have him “sit” before letting him out the door (helps prevent door-darting), before petting him (helps prevent jumping up on people) or before giving him his food. Give him a pat or a “Good dog” for lying quietly by your feet or slip a treat into his Kong toy when he’s chewing it, instead of your shoe.
Punishment, including verbal, postural and physical, is the presentation of something
unpleasant immediately following a behavior, which makes it less likely that the behavior will occur again. To be effective, punishment must be delivered while your pet is engaged in the undesirable behavior, in other words, “caught in the act.” If the punishment is delivered too late, your pet will feel “ambushed.” From his point of view, the punishment is totally
unpredictable, and he’s likely to become fearful, distrusting and/or aggressive. This will only lead to more behavior problems. What we humans interpret as “guilty” looks, are actually submissive postures by our pets. Animals don’t have a moral sense of right and wrong, but they are adept at associating your presence and the presence of a mess, with punishment. If you’ve tried punishment and it hasn’t worked, you should definitely stop using punishment and use positive reinforcement instead. Physical punishment usually involves some level of discomfort or even pain, which is likely to cause your pet to bite, as that is the only way he knows to defend himself.
Scruff shakes and “alpha rolls” are likely to result in bites, especially if the dog doesn’t perceive you to be his superior. Also, punishment might be associated with other stimuli, including people, which are present at the time the punishment occurs. For example, a pet that’s punished for getting too close to a small child may become fearful of or aggressive to that child.
sOONER OR LATER EVERY DOG LOVER returns home to find some unexpected damage inflicted by his or her dog ...or, more specifically, that dog’s incisors and molars. Although dogs make great use of their vision and sense of smell to explore the world, one of their favorite ways to take in new information is to put their mouths to work. Fortunately, chewing can be directed onto appropriate items so your dog isn’t destroying items you value or jeopardizing his own safety. Until he’s learned what he can and can’t chew, however, you need to manage the situation as much as possible so he doesn’t have the opportunity to chew on unacceptable objects.
Taking Control by Managing the Situation
_ Take responsibility for your own belongings: If you don’t want it in your dog’s mouth, don’t make it available. Keep clothing, shoes, books, trash, eyeglasses, and remote control devices out of your dog’s reach.
_ Don’t confuse your dog by offering him shoes and socks as toys and then expecting him to distinguish between his shoe and yours. Your dog’s toys should be clearly distinguishable from household goods.
_ Until your dog learns the house rules, confine him when you’re unable to keep an eye on him. Choose a “safe place” that’s dog proof, and provide fresh water and “safe” toys. If your dog is crate trained, you may also place him in his crate for short periods of time.
_ Give your dog plenty of your time and attention. Your dog won’t know how to behave if you don’t teach him alternatives to inappropriate behavior, and he can’t learn these when he’s in the yard by himself.
_ If you catch your dog chewing on something he shouldn’t, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise, offer him an acceptable chew toy instead, and praise him lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.
_ Have realistic expectations. At some point your dog will inevitably chew up something you value; this is often part of the transition to a new home. Your dog needs time to learn the house rules and you need to remember to take precautions and keep things out of his reach. Chewing is normal behavior for curious puppies who may be teething, but adult dogs may engage in destructive chewing for any number of reasons. In order to deal with the behavior, you must first determine why your dog is chewing—and remember, he’s not doing it to spite you.
Play, Boredom, or Social Isolation
Normal play behavior sometimes leads to destruction, as it may involve digging, chewing, shredding, or shaking objects. Because dogs investigate objects by pawing at them and exploring them with their mouths, they may also inadvertently damage items in their environment. Your dog may be chewing for entertainment if:
_ He’s left alone for long periods without opportunities to interact with you.
_ His environment is relatively barren, lacking playmates or toys.
_ He’s a puppy or adolescent (under three years old) and he doesn’t have other outlets for his energy.
_ He’s a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs to be occupied to be happy.
_ Play with your dog daily in a safe, fenced-in area. Playing fetch is a great way to use up your dog’s excess energy without wearing you out!
_ Go for a walk. Walks should be more than just “bathroom time.” On-leash walks are important opportunities for you and your dog to be together. Allow time for sniffing, exploring, instruction, and praise.
_ Increase your dog’s opportunities for mental stimulation.
Teach your dog a few commands or tricks and practice them daily. Take a dog training class; not only are they fun, but such classes teach commands important for your dog’s safety and give you and your dog time to work toward a common goal. Provide your dog with lots of appropriate toys. Rotate your dog’s toys to refresh his interest in them.
“New” toys are always more interesting than old ones.
Try different kinds of toys, but when you introduce a new toy, keep an eye on your dog to make sure he won’t tear it up and ingest the pieces. Consider the various types of toys that can be stuffed with food. Putting tidbits of food inside chew toys helps your dog focus on these toys rather than on unacceptable objects. Make your dog’s favorite off-limits chew objects unattractive to him by covering them with heavy plastic, aluminum foil, hot pepper sauce, or a commercial “anti-chew” product. Consider a good “doggie day care” program for two or three days a week to help your dog work off some of his excess energy.
Dogs with separation anxiety tend to display behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to their owners. This includes following you from room to room, frantic greetings, and anxious responses whenever you prepare to leave the house. Factors that can precipitate a separation anxiety problem include:
_ A change in the family’s schedule that leaves your dog alone more often.
_ A move to a new home.
_ The death or loss of a family member or another family pet.
A period at a shelter or
Again, remember that these behaviors are not motivated by spite or revenge, but by anxiety. Punishment will only make the problem worse. Separation anxiety can be resolved by using counterconditioning and desensitization techniques.
Without realizing it, we often pay more attention to our dogs when they’re misbehaving. Dogs who don’t receive a lot of attention and reinforcement for appropriate behavior may engage in destructive behavior when their owners are present as a way to attract attention—even if the attention is “negative,” such as a verbal scolding.
_ Make sure your dog gets a lot of positive attention every day—playtime, walks, grooming, or just petting.
_ Ignore bad behavior (as much as possible) and reward good behavior. Remember to reward your dog with praise and petting when he’s playing quietly with appropriate toys. Make his favorite off-limits chew objects unattractive or unavailable to him. Use aversives on objects that cannot be put away.
_ Teach your dog a “drop it” command, so that when he does pick up an off-limits object, you can use the command and praise him for complying. The best way to teach “drop it” is to practice exchanging a toy in his possession for a tidbit of food. Practice the concept of “Nothing in Life Is Free” with your dog. This gets your dog in the habit of complying with your commands and is a good way to make sure he gets lots of positive attention for doing the right things.
Fears and Phobias
Your dog’s destructive behavior may be a response to something he fears. Some dogs are afraid of loud noises. Your dog’s destructive behavior may be caused by fear if he tends to be more destructive when he’s exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers, or construction sounds, and if the primary damage is to doors, doorframes, window coverings, screens, or walls.
_ Provide a “safe place” for your dog. Find out where he likes to go when he feels anxious, then allow access to that space or create a similar one for him to use when the fear stimulus is present.
_ Don’t comfort your dog when he’s behaving fearfully. Try to get him to play with you or respond to commands he knows and give him praise and treats when he responds to you rather than the fear stimulus.
_ Don’t crate your dog unless he’s thoroughly crate trained and considers the crate his safe place. If you put him in a crate to prevent destruction and he’s not crate trained, he may injure himself or destroy the crate.
What NOT to Do
Punishment is rarely effective in resolving destructive behavior problems and may even make the problem worse. Never discipline your dog after the fact. If you discover your dog has chewed an item but don’t catch him in the act, it’s too late to administer a correction. Your dog doesn’t think, “I chewed those shoes an hour ago and that’s why I’m being scolded now.” People often believe their dog makes this connection because he runs and hides or “looks guilty.” But dogs display submissive postures like cowering, running away, or hiding when they feel threatened by an angry tone of voice, body posture, or facial expression. Your dog doesn’t know what he’s done wrong; he only knows that you’re upset. Punishment after the fact will not only fail to eliminate the undesirable behavior, but may also provoke other undesirable behaviors.