South Shore Disaster
Animal Rescue Team

Knowledge Center

Dog Toys &

How to Use Them

“Safe” Toys

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

following guidelines.

Be Cautious

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

your supervision.

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.




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.

 Recommended Toys

Active Toys

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.

Distraction Toys

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.

Comfort Toys

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,

or duck-size).

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.


Reducing Separation

Anxiety in Dogs


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

anxiety problem:

_ The behavior occurs exclusively or primarily

when he’s left alone.

_ He follows you from room to room whenever

you’re home.

_ 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,

then return.

_ 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.


Interim Solutions

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.

Positive Reinforcement:

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.

Dogs: Destructive



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.

Separation Anxiety

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 boarding kennel.

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.

Attention-Seeking Behavior

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.

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