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Archive for the ‘Dog Behavior’ Category

Tough Dog Toys: Finding a Durable Dog Toy is Challenging

August 26th, 2009 8 comments
Picking Dog Toys that are Tough Enough can be a Challenge

Picking Dog Toys that are Tough Enough can be a Challenge

Finding dog toys that can stand up to a couple of rowdy, toothy dogs can be difficult.  Many toys that are advertised as tough, indestructible or durable fail to live up to the billing.  Other toys that appear too flimsy to survive the chompers of our two mutts end up lasting a long time.

Why Bother with Dog Toys?

It is important for dogs to have a number of fun and distracting chew toys around.  Chew toys serve several functions.

  • Some types of chew toys can help keep your dog’s teeth clean and her breath fresh.
  • Chew toys can help get a puppy through the uncomfortable teething stage.
  • Chew toys can be very entertaining, giving your dog an excuse to run and tug and chase.
  • And if you don’t want the legs on your dining chairs to sport teeth marks, you might want to keep a handful of chew toys around just to keep your furry friend amused.

How to Choose Tough Dog Toys

Some dogs are harder on dog toys than others.  Our two young Lab mix dogs are about as rough on dog toys as any dogs can possibly be.  When they play together with a toy, it is usually a fierce fight-to-the-death (of the toy, that is) game of tug o’ war.

When they play individually with any given chew toy, they both tend to fixate on finding a weak spot and tearing the toy to pieces.  It simply does not occur to dogs to think of a toy as a keepsake, or as something too cute and expensive to demolish.  For example, of the five toys we gave Frankie for Christmas, only one – a soft rubber football – survived to the end of the day.

So, through trial and error, we have learned a thing or two about choosing durable dog toys.

There are no Indestructible Dog Toys

The first rule to keep in mind is that there are no indestructible dog toys.  No dog toy lasts forever, particularly if a dog actually plays with it.  All toys wear out or come apart or break.  That is why dogs should be carefully supervised while playing with any toy.  Dog chew toys often come apart or fray during play.  You don’t want your dog swallowing pieces of any dog toy because the pieces might not pass easily through his digestive tract.  This applies to toys made from any material, natural or synthetic.

For Rough Customers, Dog Toys with Rounded Edges Fare Best

It has been our experience that dogs who tend to fixate on destroying a dog toy will focus on finding a weak spot in the material.  For Frankie and Lucy, the weakest spots tend to be angled edges.  This is especially true for rubber dog toys, whether they’re made of soft or hard rubber.

We bought Frankie a rubber dog toy shaped like the classic comedy prop, the rubber chicken.  He loved it, carrying it everywhere around the house the night we brought it home.  By the next morning, Frankie had relieved the poor rubber chicken of its beak.  The beak was an angular appendage, so to speak.  It gave him something to grab hold of and tug with his teeth.  And it didn’t hold up very well.

For rubber dog toys, we have found that some of the most durable products are manufactured by JW Pet Company.  Their toys are made from pliable, natural rubber, which tends to hold up better than hard rubber or plastic.  The soft rubber football that survived Christmas is a product of the JW Pet Company.  Their products are available all over the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and elsewhere.

A couple of caveats are in order, though.  Many of the toys manufactured by JW Pet Company have squeakers inside.  The squeakers do not seem to last very long at all.  But that is not necessarily a bad thing, for the humans anyway.

The other caveat is that JW Pet Company does make several toys with angled edges.  One example is the Ruffians Large Dog Toy™ shaped like an octopus.  The little octopus arms provide a perfect weak spot for pulling the toy apart.

Aspen Pet Products makes the Dogzilla® line of rubber chew toys.  These toys may or may not be very durable for dogs that are tough on their toys.  For some reason, our dogs are just not very interested in these toys.

We have had mixed luck with Kong­® products.  The Classic Kong™ holds up quite well as a treat dispenser and chew toy.  However, Frankie figured out very quickly how to best the Wubba™.  All it takes is a few minutes of relentless chewing on the fabric covering the small ball on top, and that toy is destroyed.

Fabric Dog Toys

The rounded edges rule applies to fabric dog toys as well.  We’ve had mixed luck with toys made by Fat Cats, Inc.  Some of the stuffed animals have been known to last only 20 minutes before the fabric is ripped and the stuffing is everywhere.  The tossing rings (e.g., Chuck-A-Duck™) are fine for playing fetch games with the dogs.  But they won’t last long if the dogs are left to play with them on their own.

Rope Dog Toys

Rope toys are wonderful for cleaning and flossing a dog’s teeth.  Some rope toys are treated with fluoride or baking soda to make them even more effective as a dental aid.  Rope dog toys also provide hours of tugging fun for the dogs.  Aspen Pet Products makes a spearmint flavored Fresh ‘N Floss™ rope toy for large dogs that is quite durable.

Trial and Error

Finding the right dog toy is a matter of experimentation.  Our dogs are large and very rough on any kind of dog toy.  Smaller dogs, or dogs that are less destructive with toys may do just fine with stuffed toys or toys with angled edges.  Such toys do not stand a chance with our toothy beasts, though.  And at an average of $15 to $20 per toy, the toys we buy need to last longer than a few hours or a few days.

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Dog Obedience Training: Obviously We Have a Long Way to Go!

August 14th, 2009 2 comments

With two young, rambunctious Lab mix dogs, it sometimes feels as if dog obedience training is an uphill climb.  Actually, some days Frankie and Lucy are model citizens.  They come when called, sit when told, back away from contraband when directed and otherwise behave like furry little angels.

Then there are days like today.

Rambunctious Dogs in Need of Dog Obedience Training

Rambunctious Dogs in Need of Dog Obedience Training

Cheap Canvas Dog Collars

Let me begin at the beginning.  Our dogs wear cheap canvas dog collars.  They are soft and easily adjustable.  They come in a variety of attractive colors.  (Frankie and Lucy are currently adorned in matching red collars.)  They’re inexpensive.  And, until Lucy came into our lives, we thought they were relatively durable.  Frankie wore the same green canvas collar for almost a year without incident.

And then we adopted Lucy.

These two dogs get along better than we could ever have expected.  They can play nonstop, with their two favorite games being play-fighting and tug-of-war.  And they’ve developed a favorite routine for combining their two favorite games.  Lucy will grab Frankie by the scruff of his neck.  He has very thick skin there, and she will grab a mouthful of it and shake it around.  Frankie will pretend to fall down.  (I say “pretend,” because Frankie is literally twice Lucy’s size and a great deal stronger.  He’s not going down unless he want to do so.)

So, Frankie pretends to be bested.  He collapses onto his back with Lucy tugging at the scruff of his neck with all her might.  They wrestle around, play-biting and play-growling for a while.  And then Lucy invariably grabs Frankie’s collar.  With a little acquiescence from Frankie, she slips the collar over Frankie’s head.

And then the game of tug-of-war commences.  Next thing you know, they’re all over either the living room or the back yard, tugging Frankie’s cheap canvas collar with all their might (and with all their teeth).

That is when the phrase “you get what you pay for” comes to mind.  Once they get going, it doesn’t take long for a cheap canvas dog collar to become a pile of worthless pieces of canvas and plastic.  Lucy has been with us for about six weeks, and Frankie is currently on his third cheap canvas dog collar.

Today’s Lesson in Dog Obedience Training

Today’s lesson in dog obedience training was that I need some help with dog obedience training.

There I was first thing this morning, still in my PJs giving Frankie and Lucy a quick break in the back yard before walks.  I turned away for just a couple of minutes, and when I looked back, they were tugging away with Frankie’s brand new collar.  I think they skipped the wrestling sequence and went straight for the tug-of-war part of the game.

Without saying anything, I quietly and calmly walked up to them, intending to just reach out and take the collar away.  They waited until I had my hand on the collar.  Then, as if on cue, Frankie released his grip on it and Lucy took off running with it.  I made the mistake of running after her.  I guess that’s just not something you should do when your dog is in possession of contraband.

Lucy ran the length of the yard with the collar in her mouth and me following behind, ugly neon orange Crocs slipping in the wet morning grass.  Just as I had her cornered near the far fence, Frankie raced up and grabbed the collar out of her mouth and took off running in the opposite direction.

Now, mind you, before I interjected myself into the situation, they were engaged in a fierce, take no prisoners, fight to the death tug-of-war.  But with me flailing along behind, the game suddenly became keep-away.  Them against me.  And I was losing.

This went on for several laps around the back yard before I came to my senses.

At this point, I knew the only way to get Frankie’s collar away from them was through bribery.  So I distracted them with a tasty treat long enough to retrieve the collar.

Dog Obedience Training Tips

Why Can't They Always be this Sweet?

Why Can't They Always be this Sweet?

Here are the dog obedience training tips Frankie and Lucy taught me through this little incident:

  • Keep plenty of cheap dog toys on hand.  Clearly, Frankie and Lucy love to play tug-of-war.  They already have a number of tug toys, but they quickly get bored with the same old toys.  Keep a number of different tuggable toys.  Hide the ones they’re bored with until the dogs have forgotten about them, and then bring them back out.  If they always have a “new” and exciting toy, maybe they’ll be less likley to play with something they’re not supposed to play with, like shoes or rugs or collars.
  • Don’t chase after your dog to try and take something away from her.  This is a game changer, in that it changes the game from whatever they were initially playing to a game of keep-away.  And you’re going to lose.
  • When all else fails, cave in to extortion.  If the dog is in possession of contraband and won’t give it up, exchange it for a treat.  This might not be the most elegant solution, but if Fido is in possession of Daddy’s bottle of Viagra, it might just be the quickest and easiest way to avoid catastrophe for everyone involved.

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Dogs and Dreaming: Why Does My Dog Growl In Her Sleep?

July 31st, 2009 16 comments

Lucy Growled in her Sleep Last Night

Not just once.  Lucy, our one-year-old Labrador Retriever mix dog, growled about four different times in her sleep.  And it was loud enough to awaken other members of the household.  But Lucy just kept on dreaming.

Do Dogs Dream?

Most animal behaviorists believe that dogs do indeed dream, although no one is really sure what they dream about. After all, they can’t just wake up and tell you about the rabbit they chased or the hole they dug or that great belly flop into the lake they took in their dreams.  But judging by their movements and actions during sleep, it is pretty easy to guess that dogs dream about their favorite activities.

Animal Behaviorists Believe Dogs Dream

Animal Behaviorists Believe Dogs Dream

If you watch your dog while she’s sleeping, you might see her running in place, legs and feet moving furiously back and forth for several minutes before she relaxes again.  She may move her face around and inhale sharply several times as though sniffing something.  She might let out a yelp or two, or even a howl.

Although I’ve seen both my dogs run in place and sleep-sniff, and have heard them “woof” and even howl in their sleep, I had never heard such persistent and repeated sleep-growling before.  What did it mean?

Why Dogs Growl

If dogs dream about their favorite activities, then maybe that means that growling is high on Lucy’s list of things to do.  Most people understandably associate a growling dog with an aggressive dog.  According to the writers of Dogspeak:  How to Understand Your Dog and Help Him Understand You, growling can be an “unmistakable warning sign” that tells humans and other dogs to “back off.”  Dogs may also growl when they’re frightened or defensive.

So why would the pooch I’ve dubbed Miss Happy-Pants because of her playful and loving disposition be growling so much in her dreams?  It seems there are other, less ominous reasons why dogs growl.  In fact, dogs often engage in play-growling.

How to Tell if Your Dog is Play-Growling

You can tell if your dog is play-growling largely by observing her body language.  If she is growling while she is playing, that is a pretty good indication that her growling is not aggressive.  An alert expression, a wagging tail, a play-bow stance, and a relaxed mouth are all indications that a dog is not growling to threaten or intimidate, but as an indication that she just wants to play.

Lucy and Frankie spend a great deal of time in the yard and in the house either tumbling all over each other or playing tug o’ war with tug toys or palm fronds or anything else they can get their mouths on.  When they’re really engaged in a game, they are also usually play-growling.

So I guess it only makes sense that, after a long day of play-fighting and the play-growling that goes with it,  little Miss Happy-Pants would spend her sleeping hours reliving those good times and growling her little happy pants off, so to speak.

Resource:  Matthew Hoffman (ed.), Dogspeak:  How to Understand Your Dog and Help Him Understand You.  Rodale 1999.

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Is Your Puppy Chewing Everything In Sight? How To Cope With Chewing Behaviors

July 24th, 2009 3 comments

Puppies love to chew. Just like children, puppies go through a teething process, and during that time, chewing just feels good.  Even older dogs occasionally chew.  Authors Jack and Wendy Volhard in Dog Training for Dummies suggest that dogs that keep chewing after they’ve passed the teething stage do so out of anxiety, boredom or loneliness.

Any Puppy Will Tell You:  Chewing Just Feels Good

Any Puppy Will Tell You: Chewing Just Feels Good

Dealing With a Teething Puppy’s Need to Chew

If your puppy is exhibiting chewing behavior, this is perfectly normal.  Dogs are born without teeth.  Their baby teeth come in between three and eight weeks of age.  Then at approximately four months, puppies shed the baby teeth and the adult teeth come in.

Chewing eases some of the discomfort your puppy feels during this process.  Here are some tips for dealing with your puppy’s chewing behaviors during teething:

  • Give Puppy Lots of Toys. Provide your puppy with plenty of chew toys, both hard and soft.  A hard rubber toy such as a Kong with some peanut butter stuffed inside will keep your puppy amused for a long time.  Additionally, there are toys that can be frozen or refrigerated.  Chewing on something cold can relieve your puppy’s gum discomfort.  Just be sure to promptly throw away any toy that cannot handle your puppy’s chewing.  Otherwise, you puppy may ingest or choke on the pieces.
  • Don’t Be a Chew Toy. If your puppy tries to use you as a chew toy, correct this behavior by holding your flat palm a few inches in front of his mouth and then ignore him.  He won’t be able to chew your flat palm.  He will learn this hand signal as a sign for “stop doing that.”  And he will associate chewing on you with not getting any attention.
  • Don’t Yell At or Hit Your Puppy. Avoid yelling at your puppy, and never, ever hit your puppy.  Yelling is completely ineffective and will only give you a headache.  It is especially important not to yell at your puppy after the fact.  Your puppy won’t be able to associate your yelling at him with the shoe he destroyed two hours earlier.  At worst, he will associate your yelling with your homecoming and will begin to dread having you return home.  And hitting your puppy can injure him and can lead to aggressive tendencies down the road.
  • Don’t Chase Your Puppy. Don’t chase your puppy to try and take away something he is chewing.  To your puppy, this is a game and it reinforces the behavior.  If your puppy has grabbed a dirty sock out of the laundry basket, get one of his toys and make an exchange.
  • Remove Temptations. Keep loose items picked up and doors closed.  If your puppy doesn’t have access to tempting contraband, he cannot chew it.  You might consider making use of a crate or a baby gate until your puppy gets through the teething stage.

Dog with TeethYour puppy is going through a phase that, in some dogs, might last for six months to a year.  His sharp teeth can be destructive if you’re not diligent.  The good news is that his need to chew will lessen as he gains maturity.  In the meantime, provide your puppy with plenty of chew toys in a variety of chewy textures.  This will keep him busy and alleviate his discomfort and anxiety.

With patience and planning, you can cope with puppy’s chewing behaviors and you, your puppy and your possessions will all be better off.

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Categories: Dog Behavior