Tuesday Training Tip: Don’t Tear It UP!!

Mama Sally:

Rugby came to live with me when he was 8-9 months old.  I knew nothing at all about his past other than I was his fifth home.  I can’t tell you if he had good and loving homes or lived as a stray on the streets for part of his life, just trying to survive.

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One thing I know, is that when he walked into my house and saw five toys laid out on the floor for him to play with, his little eyes sparkled and he came to life!!  He went from one toy to the next to the next to the next, trying to decide which one to play with, and wanting to play with all of them at once.  It was as if he couldn’t believe his good fortune to have five toys of his very own!

I remember almost getting tears in my eyes watching the look on his face.  He was so delighted!  Even after nine years, I can see that memory in my mind as clearly as if it were yesterday.  Toys have always mattered to my little speckled and spotted dog, and it was so much fun watching him investigate and have fun with them on that first day.

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Over the next several months, we went through the massacre of several toys once Rugby was comfortable in his new home.  From eight to eighteen months, he was hellbent on destruction!    When it came to stuffed toys, he delighted in chewing off faces, feet, ears, tails, etc.  He was pretty good about spitting the pieces out, but I just didn’t want to take any chances with him eating something dangerous that I didn’t see.  Dogs can often swallow something that is too large for them to poop out, so if they don’t throw it up, it just becomes lodged, which will ultimately become life threatening.

So, I made the decision that Rugby needed to learn to play gently with his toys and not tear them up!  This decision was primarily a safety issue for him, but my checkbook thanked me as well!  Dog toys get expensive when they only last for a day or two!

The Training Method I Used:

Here’s how I taught Rugby to play gently with his stuffed toys!

When he got to the point that he wanted to destroy any soft toy that he had, I picked up all of this stuffed toys  and put them in a safe place.  I used stuffed toys only when I played fetch with Rugby, and then I took them away and replaced them with his safe chew toys when we were finished with our current game.  He was super happy to see his soft toys, and it really helped him learn to fetch well, because he wanted to play with whatever I held in my hand.  Once our fetching game was over, the stuffed toys went away and Rugby had his safe toys to play with….Nylabones, tennis balls, Kongs, etc.  About every three months, I’d try him out on soft toys to see how he would do with them.

Generally, until he was about 18 mos old or so, he continued to practice his destructive ways!  He only had to have five minutes with a stuffed toy before he began his reign of terror!  Because he chewed off small pieces like eyes, ears, tails, noses, etc., I bought stuffed toys without any decorative, small pieces to them.  I focused on basic shapes only….a bone, a Gingerbread man, a ball, etc.  He still wanted to tear those up, but he always started right at the tag since there were no decorative parts to chew off.  There is usually extra stitching right at the tag, and the tag itself provides a little resistance for a dog who wants to tug hard on it while holding the balance of the toy in his paws!

When I thought he was old enough to learn to play gently, I started training  him. Soft toys were given to him only when I could observe and train him to play gently with them.  I gave him a chance to play gently on his own with the command, “Don’t tear it up!”  as I gave him the toy.  When he would start to fuss at the tag, I cut off the tag, and sprayed the tag spot with Bitter Apple.  Then I gave the toy right back to him with the command, “Don’t tear it up!” Naturally he was offended with the Bitter Apple smell, and often just refused to play with his toy.  As the Bitter Apple evaporated and dried, he would often start to fuss at the tag spot again.  I would re-spray it and hand it right back with the command “Don’t tear it up!”  Over time, anytime he would start his ripping action, I would repeat, “Don’t tear it up” and he soon learned that if he didn’t stop ripping it, I’d spray it with the nasty tasting stuff and give it back.  He learned to mouth the toy gently and look to me for approval, so I made sure I praised him anytime he played gently.

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It really didn’t take too long before he learned that mouthing his toys was okay, but tearing into them was corrected.  To this day, I honestly rarely EVER buy new toys for him.  I simply rotate the toys he already has, and he keeps them in very good condition.  Over time, his toys simply wear out from proper play versus destructive play.  Now, I can leave virtually any type of toy with him unsupervised, knowing that he understands the proper rules of play with them.

Some Important Considerations!

  • First of all, consider the age of your dog.  Young dogs, especially, really DO need to chew!  Puppies are losing their baby teeth between 4-6 months, and when their big kid teeth come in, dogs have a genuine need to chew in order to properly set their molars in the jaw.  However, that doesn’t mean that all of us have to sacrifice our financial future just to keep Sparky in toys!
  • Be sure to have an assortment of different types of toys to keep your dog from being bored. Remember that as puppies grow up, they will go through lots of different behavior and interest stages.  Toys that they destroy today may be toys that they will play with gently later, as well as toys that they show no interest in today, may very well be toys that they will love in a few months.
  • Carefully observe your dog to be sure that he’s playing safely.  Cut off strings, tags, and anything that can easily be swallowed.  Over time, you’ll figure out what sort of toys are the types that are best for your individual dog, but there will be some trial and error in the process until you get that sorted out.  ALWAYS supervise until you know how your dog plays!
  • Consider the breed of dog that you have!  Dogs with very powerful jaws have a really strong desire to chew, and need much harder toys for play!  Soft toys may not be suitable for them.

Rugby James:

I remember when we hadda go frew this whole deal!  <insert eye roll here>  When I was a lil pupper, I used to get so sad that the Mama wouldn’t let me play wif MY toys the way I wanted!  Now that I’m all growed up, I know the rules, so I can enjoy all of my toys and the Mama doesn’t take them away from me anymore.

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What she does, though is rotates them.  So I getsa have different toys every day, and that way, I just don’t get sick of playing wif the same ones over and over.  I getsa have 2 noisy piggies, 2 quiet piggies, a Nylabone wishbone, and 1-2 udder toys what can change every day.  Sumtimes I getsa ball or sumtimes it’s a fuzzy toy….whatever I pick out of my toy basket for the day.  It keeps me from getting bored wif my toys, on account of who wantsa see the exact same fings all the time?

Doggers is just like Uprights and we gets bored wif stuff too.  And sumtimes, when doggers gets bored, they get into naughty fings what gets them into trubbles!  When I getsa see my toys in my toybox, sumtimes I forgets I gots certain toys and when I sees them, I gets all excited like they is brand new all over again!  Give this a try and see if it makes toys last longer and more fun for your doggers at home!!  Happy playing!!  🙂

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