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Intelligent Diversions & Creative Play

"What does it mean "expensive shoe"?

I ate it because it smelled like you."

-- If You Only Knew How Much I Smell You, True Portraits of Dogs

by Roy Blount Jr.

Photo of "Fez" with his Nylabone courtesy of LeeAnn Heringer

Does your dog get into things? Chew? Dig? Bark?
Surprised? You shouldn't be! He's a Dog! And that's what dogs do!

Dogs are by nature exploring, investigative, and curious animals who are in constant need of physical and mental stimulation to be satisfied.  Your dog will chew, dig, bark and get into things - he has to.  Your job is to give him appropriate outlets and an enriched environment to keep him happy.

"First, when does it happen, and second, where are you when it happens?

If the puppy gets into things it's not supposed to and you're in another room, then shame on you, not shame on the puppy."


- Debra Horowitz, DVM, DACVB Veterinary Behavior Consultations St. Louis, Mo.

College of Veterinary Medicine University of Missouri Columbia, Mo.

Puppies don't chew because they are "bad" but because, like any toddler, it's how they experience the world. Teething babies of all species need something to chew to relieve the irritation of new teeth coming in.  Adolescent dogs are full of boundless puppy energy in a grown-up-sized body with newly emerging molars and a strong desire to interact with their environment.  Supervision is key, even though they look like adults!  Below are some great pro-active ways to direct your puppy to appropriate chewing outlets and protect valuable things in the process! 

Other articles:

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Dogs are exploring their environment every waking second.  Is this a toy?  Something to eat?  Something to make my sore gums feel better?  They choose things for texture or interactivity, not because they are mad or to "get back at you."  

When your dog has something he shouldn't, stop and look at it.  What does it feel like?  What is the size, weight, hardness, squishyness?  What noise does it make?  What is he doing with it?  He's telling you all about his toy and chewing preferences.

Puppies choose the things they do because of how it feels, sounds, smells or tastes.

Dogs Chew Sticks.

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Is he drawn to sticks and table legs?  Gorilla Chews may fill the bill.  A durable, natural chew made from solid, untreated Java wood, Gorilla Chews are sustainably farmed and harvested in Indonesia from dormant coffee trees. Strong enough for the strongest chewers, but easier on teeth than bones. 

The right chew for the right dog.

You want something long-lasting and satisfying - but not so hard that they might break a tooth or break off in sharp splinters.  Avoid rawhide which does not digest and can cause obstructions.  There are "no-hide" edible chews, bully sticks, esophagus chews, twisted fish skins, etc. that do digest.  


Choose carefully!  (The right size and hardness for your dog's particular chewing style.)  Hooves, antlers, buffalo horn, raw marrow bone, beef kneecaps, knuckle bones, Yak Milk chews, etc. can be a safe choice for one dog and hazardous for another.   Moose antlers are softer than elk antlers and a better choice for less vigorous chewers.


The right pacifiers can provide hours of chewing satisfaction.  How long they last will depend on your dog.  Some dogs chew for a bit and then leave their chews laying around for later.  Others do not stop until the chew is completely gone or you take it and put it away. Always remove chews when they are small enough to be swallowed.  That bully stick might be digestible, but if your dog eats a whole stick in a few minutes, that's a lot of impact on their digestive system!  Remember those chews are adding calories to your dog's diet!  If your dog is allergic to beef, he should not have cow hooves or bully sticks!



If your dog bites off chunks or consumes them quickly they could cause digestive upset or intestinal blockage. Raw marrow bones can be safe for some dogs and not for others, depending on how powerfully they chew - heavy chewers can suffer from tooth fractures.  Always supervise your dog when you give him a chew or a new toy.

Moose antler paddle.  Notice the edges are wearing down gradually over time as she chews.   There are no sharp shards or broken chunks. 

What's Your Dog's Play Style?

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Puppies choose things that you show the most interest in.  This TV remote smells and tastes like dad, snacks, and popcorn ... and it's obviously very important!  Play with his toys!

  • Does he eat rocks?   He is searching for something heavy and hard. 
    Try Nylabones - specifically the Galileo style;  raw marrow bones, water buffalo horn.


  • Does he like to shake and kill what he finds?  He likes things that are flappy.  Try Skinneez, rope tugs, stuffed toys with long appendages.  Waggle those toys when you test drive them in the store.

  • Does he make noise with what he finds?  Crunching empty water bottles, banging milk jugs, or the ping of a cardboard paper tube.  Squeaky toys, Velcro that rips, Paper.  Does he like high pitched squeaks or big deep honking noises?

  • How big?  Does he like it to fill his whole mouth?  Drag giant sticks?  Does your little dog like to pretend he's taken down a gazelle?  Toys can be too small and pose a choking hazard, but they can rarely be too big.

  • Does he peel the bark off of sticks?  Dismantle pinecones?  Use his incisors to shred things?  Bully sticks, trachea, No-hide chews, toys that are made for tearing apart.  Shredding empty paper towel rolls or toilet paper tubes can be the highlight of their day.

  • If he's not into playing with the usual dog toys but he loves food, choose puzzle toys and brain games that you put his meals in.  See below for many fun ideas and examples.  

Your job is to provide ACCEPTABLE outlets that leave him satisfied.

Toys fall into two categories: INTERACTIVE and PACIFIER.

Interactive toys are toys which are the most fun played with YOU.
Pacifier toys are toys designed to keep the bored dog occupied.

See these toys in action!


Teach your puppy that your attention and toys will appear in return for an appropriate behavior.  You will inadvertently reward whatever behavior happens right before you pay attention or produce a toy - so decide how you'd like him to ask.  Barking at you, jumping on you, grabbing your pant leg are not behaviors you'd like to see more of!   Ask for a calm sit or down, a chin rest on your knee.  Reward THAT behavior with a game or pacifier toy.  Does he go grab things he shouldn't have to invite you to play?  Ignore the item in his mouth and go play with a toy you wish he'd brought you instead.  Make it look irresistible and while he's chasing it, quietly remove the unwanted item and put it out of reach.


"It is a knife edge balance to keep the dog intellectually stimulated, exercised and rested.
Over the years I have found that well-rested puppies are pleasant and easy puppies.
Puppies who are constantly stimulated are a pain to live with. And puppies who get
no stimulation are difficult to train as adults. Strive for balance.
Balance will get you where you want to be with your puppy."

- Sue Alexander CPDT CDBC, Dogs in the Park, Guelph, Ontario


Provide Safe Pacifiers for "alone times"


Kongs - rubber toys that look like rattlesnake tails and bounce which way and that. Add a bit of peanut butter, a square of cheese, a big biscuit too large to fall out and a few that will. Fill several and hide them in the house or yard and they will keep your dog busy for hours. Go HERE for more ideas and here for a video on "Kongs for Beginners" with stuffing tips!

Ernest enjoys his Kong - photo courtesy Karen Barta

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If I have something of my own to chew,
I'll be less likely to chew things that belong to you!


Nylabones - they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and hardness, from the "edible" varieties which are intended to be eaten, to the dental bones designed to massage gums and clean teeth, to the Galileo version for the most powerful chewers. If your dog isn't interested, roughen the edges so it looks like another dog enjoyed it first, and then rub peanut butter or squeeze cheese into the crevasses. 

Knotted ropes - Chewing a knotted rope can massage gums and keep your dog's teeth clean, plus the added play value of shaking, tossing, pouncing and "killing". Some come with rubber toys or tennis balls added for even more fun. You can hide biscuits in the knots to encourage your dog and add interest. If your puppy is teething, you can soak the rope in broth or water and freeze it to soothe aching gums. Always supervise to be sure your dog doesn't shred and swallow the rope!


Dental devices - various shapes and sizes of flexible, nubby edges massage gums and clean teeth. Some are designed so you can put doggy toothpaste in the grooves and let your dog brush his own teeth!


Fleece toys - Many retrievers and "mothering types" seem to find comfort in carrying a soft toy with them, and frequently present them to their owners upon their arrival home from a long day at work. Squeakers may encourage "disemboweling" and your chew man might soon be without his insides, but most dogs continue to enjoy them even without their stuffing.


Does your dog chew up EVERYTHING? Try these ZOO toys - if a tiger or a gorilla can't destroy them, they might just work for your dog!

Instead of his dish, feed from a puzzle toy

Buster Cubes - This durable plastic cube gives dogs mental stimulation, exercise and relief from boredom. It is designed to be filled with bite sized dry pet food or treats. The food is released as the dog rolls the cube with its nose or its paws.


Tricky Treat Balls - a soft rubber ball with a specially designed food dispensing hole in one side. Dimpled so it's easy to carry, quieter on wooden floors than the Buster Cube, and easier for younger and easily frustrated dogs who might give up on a more difficult toy.


Snuffle mats - You can make your own!

Hide his meals - using his nose can be the most tiring activity for your dog. Leave widely spaced trail of kibble to the hidden bowl. Gradually, day by day, decrease the number of "clues" til your dog is finding it all on his own.  

Chicken FeedIn summer, walk out into the yard and scatter his kibble like chicken feed in the lawn instead of feeding his meals from a bowl.

More challenging food puzzle toys - Nina Ottoson toys

Brain Games

Tricks and more tricks - The more you teach him, the more great options to earn attention he will have.  You are only limited by your imagination! Sit up, shake hands, roll over, chase your tail, take a bow, balance a biscuit on his nose.


Hide and seek - Have a family member hide, have them call "come!" and send the dog to find them - start out easy and make it more and more difficult day by day. Play this game in the dark to encourage your dog to use his sense of smell.


Find your toys - Take him out of the room and hide his favorite toy and send him in to find it ... if your dog doesn't like toys, play "hide the biscuit" instead. Variation: Name his toys - and send him to retrieve them by name. Can you put out a pile of his favorites and have him retrieve them one by one, by name?

Put your toys away - fetch and place your toys in a special toy box.  You could even teach your dog to help your kids clean their room!

Fetch the newspaper!  Find my keys - locate the lost TV remote.  Once you have a great retrieve, put it to work!  Dogs love jobs and they love to be helpful.


Message delivery - Teach your dog to deliver notes or other items to other family members. "Take it to daddy" could save you a trip downstairs and give your dog a helpful job he can be proud of!


Clicker Training! 101 things to do with a cardboard box, Free shape a behavior with your clicker!

Hide & Go Seek!

Scent work is satisfying and calming!

Hide and go seek is one of Arbee's most favorite games. She has many, many toys. Sometimes I pick the one for her to find. Sometimes she brings me one. She bypasses all other toys in favor of the one that is hiding. She gets treats for staying while we hide it. A game of tug is the reward for finding it.

Interactive Games, Sports, & Other Activities

Caution: Avoid long distances, repetitive jumping or height until your dog's growth plates have closed - usually at about 18 months of age.

Retrieving - "sit" "stay" "get it" "drop" or deliver to hand, at your feet, or into a toy box or basket.


Jumping - Start slowly. Keep the jumps low and the landing surface soft, especially for young dogs.


Frisbee™ - Spokane City Parks & Rec Dept. Hosts a dog Frisbee catching contest at Shadle Park the 1st Wednesday after the 4th of July every year.


Bike riding, jogging - start slow and build distance gradually, soft surfaces and short distances for young dogs, check pads before and after every run, avoid the heat of the day.


Cart or sled pulling - The Iditorod!  Northern breeds favorite. Cart pulling is enjoyed by Newfoundlands, Bernese Mt. Dogs, Pyrenees and others.


Swimming - is good exercise and a great way to cool off. Not all dogs naturally know how to swim! Doggy life jackets are a good idea when boating. Important: Swimming pools are strictly off-limits to unsupervised dogs.

Obstacle courses - Over, under, around and through. Large cardboard boxes can become tunnels, a wide board and a couple of cinder blockscan become a bridge. (See dog sports below.)


Dog Sports! - Agility, fly ball, dock diving, parkour, canine nosework, barn hunt, canine free style and more!

A mentally satisfied puppy is a good puppy.  Brain games are just as tiring as physical activity!



This handout may be reprinted in its entirety for distribution free of charge and with full credit given:
© CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People -
ditr_training @ - 


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