Making the Most of Chew Toys

Customarily, puppies receive their entire daily allotment of kibble at dinner, which often becomes an unintentional jackpot reward for boisterously barking and expectantly bouncing around. Moreover, if you allow your puppy to wolf down dinner from a bowl, she will be at a loss for what to do for the rest of the day. In the wild, dogs spend a good 90 percent of their waking hours searching for food, so in a sense, regular bowl-feeding deprives a dog of her principal activity -- searching for food. Instead, your inquisitive puppy will search for entertainment all day long. Most likely you will consider your puppy's choices of occupation to be mischievous misbehavior.

Squeaky toys are very effective lures and rewards in training, but... a squeaky toy is not a suitable chew toy! Squeaky toys are both destructible and consumable. Allowing a young pup unsupervised play with intriguing and easily destroyed items will turn him into a destructive chewer in no time at all.

Chew toys should be virtually indestructible, made of natural products (such as rubber or bone), and hollow (stuffable). Stuffing chew toys with kibble and the occasional treat encourages the pup to focus on extricating the food, rather than on destroying the toy. Stuffing chew toys prolongs their life expectancy. The very best chew toys are Kongs, Biscuit Balls and sterilized bones.

Once your dog has learned that designated chew toys are the only appropriate chew toys, he may be trusted to retrieve or play with other items. Ivan had a footwear fetish. He loved retrieving slippers and shoes, carrying slippers and shoes, and snuggling and sleeping with slippers and shoes. But he never destroyed them, and he could always nd them when they were misplaced.

Without a doubt, regularly feeding a new puppy (or adult dog) from a bowl is a huge mistake in dog husbandry and training. Although unintentional, the effects of bowl-feeding are often severely detrimental for the puppy's household manners and sense of well-being. In a sense, each bowl-fed meal steals the puppy's raison d'etre, its very reason for being. Within seconds of gulping his meal, the poor pup now faces a mental void for the rest of his day with nothing but long hours to worry and fret, or work himself into a frenzy.

As the puppy adapts to ll the void, normal behaviors such as chewing, barking, strolling, grooming and playing become stereotypical, repetitive and maladaptive. Specic behaviors increase in frequency until they no longer serve any useful function except to pass the time. Investigative chewing becomes destructive chewing. Alarm barking becomes incessant barking. Strolling from one place to another becomes repetitively pacing and circling. Investigating a shadow or light becomes a neurotic xation. Routine grooming becomes excessive licking, scratching, tail-chasing, head-pressing or in extreme cases, self-mutilation.

Stereotyped behaviors cause the release of endorphins, perpetuating their repetition, and in a sense, the dog becomes drugged and hooked on mindless, repetitive activity. Stereotyped behaviors are like behavioral cancers; they progressively increase in frequency and squeeze most useful and adaptive responses from the dog's behavior repertoire until eventually the "brain-dead" dog spends hours on end barking, pacing, chewing himself or simply staring into space.

A vital facet of your puppy's early education is to teach him how to peacefully pass the time. Feeding your puppy kibble only from hollow chew toys -- Kongs, Biscuit Balls and sterilized bones -- keeps your puppy happily occupied and content for hours on end. It allows the puppy to focus on an enjoyable activity so that he doesn't dwell on his loneliness. Each piece of extracted kibble also rewards your puppy for settling down calmly, for chewing an appropriate chew toy and for not barking.

Next: Kong Stuffing 101

From the book Before & After Getting Your Puppy. Copyright © 2004 by Dr. Ian Dunbar. Reprinted with permission of New World Library.

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