Using a food toy for entertainment
(The Busy Buddy Twist ‘n Treat)
Very useful for young dogs although this is 12 year old retired gundog enjoying retirement!
This is one of the most common issues I am asked to help with – both with puppies and adolescent dogs which are play biting and chewing.
Why do puppies and adolescent dogs play bite and chew
There are several reasons:
- Teething (around 4 – 7 months)
- Adult teeth settling in (around 7 months to 10 months)
- Some breeds are more prone to chew, such as some gundog breeds
- Boredom – puppies and young dogs need mental ‘entertainment’ as well as physical exercise
- A lack of training commands (such as ‘Leave’ and teaching a good ‘Down-Stay’)
- A lack of supervision with children (and some adults!) to ensure the puppy does not get into bad habits of chasing, hanging off trouser legs, etc
- People are playing too roughly or excitedly with the puppy/dog and the dog believes that biting a person or their clothing is an acceptable way to behave.
Please remember that a puppy’s or dog’s natural behaviour with litter mates is often to race around grabbing them with teeth and playing rough. It is our job therefore to teach the dogs in our care that this sort of behaviour, with people and other dogs, is no longer the way to behave.
It also follows then that it is equally our job to teach them how we would like them to behave and to provide the relevant environment, training, and games to allow them to do so.
What you need to do
- Alleviate the boredom.
- Teach some reliable commands (such as ‘Leave’ and ‘Down-Stay’).
- Provide some suitable relief for the irritation of the new teeth coming through.
- Ensure the whole household learns to play more appropriate games with your dog.
Teaching your puppy/dog what is not acceptable
Your dog needs to learn that dog teeth should never touch human skin or clothing, even when it is only play biting. Dog law these days does not look kindly on dogs which behave in a way which might be deemed ‘ dangerously out of control.’ – see Dog Law guide.
The best way to have your dog understand he should not bite you or your clothes is to shout a loud “Ouch” (say it with meaning and in a low tone of voice (please do NOT make high pitched noises as these can excite them). Immediately remove your attention from the dog and completely ignore him.
I must emphasise – be very careful NOT to squeak your “ouch” – this sounds like an invitation to play to the dog and has the opposite effect.
With some dogs any form of shouting will excite them. If that is the case with your dog then simply remove your attention without saying anything.
If he still continues biting at you then you (all) need to either leave the room or put the puppy in his pen/other room/ outdoors (try not to use his crate too often as that should be a safe haven to the dog and not a punishment – that is why a larger pen or other enclosed area is so useful).
The idea of isolating the dog from the family is that he learns he gains no attention for his behaviour (which is what they are usually after when play biting starts) and so their play biting becomes unsuccessful.
Be Fair with Your Dog
All that said, remember at the start I said there are several reasons for your puppy behaving like this. It is essential for your dog’s mental well-being to ensure he has enough mental stimulation and play so that his trying to literally ‘grab your attention’ is no longer necessary and that you can continue to be seen as a good playmate but with sensible rules attached to play. So, read on:
Entertainment for Your Dog
- Play appropriate games (always under your control) with your dog. This is an opportunity to train while you play. (We will discuss these during classes and one to one training sessions). One of my favourite toys to use for playing with dogs is the Fun with Fido toy – see my previous article.
- Supervise any games with children (or immature adults!).
- Rotate your dog’s toys and chews each day so that he will be interested in them.
When giving your dog any new item, supervise him to check he is safe to be left with it.
Some dogs eat anything!
Using food to ‘entertain’ your dog
Before using any human food please be sure that you read the BVA Pet Poisons guide to make you aware of which foods dogs must not be given. More recently dog owners have been made aware of the dangers of some reduced sugar peanut butter which has the sweetener xylitol, which is very poisonous to dogs.
- You can give your dog several items (see below) at either room temperature or frozen (if your dog has a sensitive stomach you may want to check with your vet if frozen food is suitable).
- By giving frozen food this means your dog will take longer to eat the food so is occupied for longer (and kept out of mischief), and also the coolness helps soothe sore teething gums.
- You can soak your dog’s normal dried food with a little water or weak stock or saved meat juices from your cooking. If you are using commercial stock cubes please use only the reduced-salt products because, like us, too much salt is bad for dogs. If the vet has put your dog on a reduced salt diet (often done when a dog has a kidney, liver or heart condition) then you must not feed any additional salt).
- You can use a little peanut butter (NOT the reduced sugar type as it may contain poisonous xylitol) or other similar product to bind dry ingredients together.
- Give a variety of stuffed kongs (also can be fed frozen).
- A dampened and then frozen tea towel.
Just be aware that some items get messy – feed on an easy-to-clean surface.
You can also:
- Scatter food in the garden or other safe and suitable area so that the puppy takes longer to eat and has some mental stimulation involved in the process of eating, which is a more natural way for a dog to eat. Do not put food in areas where you don’t want your dog to go, and be aware that if eating outdoors you should be extra careful that your dog’s wormer covers lungworm, which is caught from snails, slugs and frogs and their trails).Please note that scattering food either outside or in an area indoors which is not regularly cleaned is NOT recommended for a young dog which is not yet covered by vaccines or any dog which is prone to stomach upsets. This is also not advised if you have wildlife (such as foxes) visiting your garden.
- Give your dog cardboard boxes to play in and bite on (ensure no staples).
- Give your dog empty plastic milk cartons to play with (remove the lids).
- Use activity balls, kongs and other similar food-toys to give your dog more mental stimulation.
- Spend time several times each day play training with your dog and teaching him how to play politely (no jumping or snatching for the toy). This teaches good manners if played correctly and will mentally tire your dog – we will work on this in classes and one to one training.
- As noted previously, when giving your dog any new item, supervise him to check he is safe to be left with it. Some dogs eat anything!
- Before using any ‘human’ food please be sure that you read the BVA Pet Poisons guide to make you aware of which foods dogs must not be given. More recently dog owners have been made aware of the dangers of some reduced sugar peanut butter which has the sweetener xylitol, which is very poisonous to dogs.
- Your house should look like a tip! It should be strewn with cardboard boxes and plastic bottles (tops removed) and toys (rotated each day so that your dog is keen to play with them).
- If your dog steals items, usually shoes, then put these away out of reach until your dog is better trained and/or has stopped chewing. Knowing your dog’s behaviour and planning to avoid such problems is a lot easier than constantly trying to retrieve an object from your puppy.
- Do not leave food lying around in reach of the dog. Once trained you can tell your dog to leave such items but in the early days if you leave food in reach of your dog you are just teaching him the habit of jumping up at shelves and tables in search of food. Once they have gained a great reward (such as your Sunday roast!), it will be much harder to stop them from stealing in future. Prevention is better than cure …
- Use toys, chews and other items to keep your puppy occupied.
To find these, google on the internet or look on Amazon for ‘Dog Interactive Toys’
If you find something not listed here and your dog loves it, please leave your comment on the blog – thank you.
Whatever you choose, please supervise your dog and ensure each toy is suitable and safe for your dog.
Treat balls (regular or atomic which is irregular shape)
Busy Buddy twist n treat
Ruff n tuff stick-it-to-me (strong hollow stick-like toy to stuff with dry food – dogs must bite on it to release food)
Buster cube – soft or hard plastic (the soft plastic is useful if you have hard floors and want to reduce noise)
Tug a jug – rubber ball on rope in plastic jug which is pulled to release treat
Busy Buddy ‘linkables’ – slot one food filled shape into another
Busy buddy rip and tug (various types of Velcro toys which dogs rip apart to get their treats)
Grunter hippo – Battersea Dogs Home
Sitstay.com – inter-slotting food filled toys
Treatstik.com – quality treat sticks
Nina Ottoson toys (these are designed more for use when you are with the dog)
Canine Concepts – Kool Dogz ice treat maker (makes huge ice cube in which you can put other treats and toys)
Raw bones (never feed bones which have been cooked). Please note that there is a reported risk of bones causing blockages, splintering or damaging teeth but this is minimal if you are careful which bones you feed. A larger size bone is better as dogs are less likely to be able to bite off chunks of the bone (which can cause blockages inside) and so it is better to give your dog a bone which is too big than too small. Also ensure you feed only bones from young animals (which are less likely to splinter or damage teeth as they are softer). Also ensure you acquire bones from a reliable source to ensure good hygiene practice and ensure your own hygiene practice is good, both for your dog’s and your family’s sake. As always, supervise your dog with any new item to ensure it is safe.
Warning: High Value Food Items
Even the best natured of dogs can become possessive over bones and other items which they perceive as high value. If you see any problems with this please contact me immediately so that we can deal with improving your dog’s behaviour and advising you how best to deal with the issue. This sort of issue does not ‘go away’ and you need professional advice as soon as possible.
Obedience training to help with play biting
- Teach ‘Leave’ (both with food and to leave objects and other dogs and people).
- Teach ‘Down-Stay’. Even better if you train your dog to lie down in his bed / crate (but always kindly and never as a punishment).
- Teach ‘No’ (this is easily learned by most dogs if you use a quiet, firm voice and correct body language to teach the dog that this command means he should stop doing whatever it is he is doing at that moment)
- As mentioned previously, use a puppy pen/partitioned off area of a room/outdoors, etc ,and put toys and chews there during busy periods or when puppy is excitable and you need him to calm down. You can also put him in there if he is behaving in an unacceptable way so that he learns he will not gain your attention for long if he behaves inappropriately – but still ensure this a pleasant place to be for him. A puppy pen is really useful because you can move it into different rooms so that he can remain with you but can be put in there if he is behaving inappropriately.
- Be careful that you do not excite an already excitable puppy or give him the attention he is seeking. It is best to, once you have done your “ouch” to remain calm and to ignore him completely by not speaking, touching or even looking at him when he is behaving inappropriately. As before, if needs be, leave the dog alone in the area where he is misbehaving (ie remove your attention) or put him in his safe area to calm down and pay him no attention until he is quieter.
If you are still having trouble with your dog’s behaviour despite your best efforts, I can come to your home to help you and your dog. Please get in touch via email or telephone.
© 2017 Sally Bartlett