Puppies and some adult dogs explore with their mouths. Creating a safe environment could mean the difference between life and death for your dog. Keep everything dogs should not have out of their environment. Dog toys should not be so small that they can get stuck in their mouth or throat, or swallowed. I worked in veterinary surgery for 7 years. I saw everything from small toys and string to plastic wrap, tube socks, rocks, sticks & bone fragments removed from stomachs and bowels of dogs and puppies. Not all survived.
Prevention is the best solution to dog chewing problems that pose a danger to the dog. As a Veterinary Dental Technician, I saw a lot of fractured teeth, as well as splinters from various things like wood and bones stuck into gums. In one case the dog got a chicken bone fragment that pushed up through the roof of his mouth, which caused damage to the nearby structures as well as a serious infection. It had to be surgically removed.
It is a normal behavior for puppies and some adult dogs explore with their mouths, just as it is normal for you to explore with your hands, like touching things when you shop. It gives you a lot of information, it relieves stress. It is the same for puppies and dogs that use their mouths to explore, they get information about their environment, and they relieve stress. (Chewing also happens because of behavioral, environmental & human/animal bond problems that have their origin in stress, such as separation anxiety. I address that in the Dog Anxiety article)
Puppies have to chew, it is instinct. They have to complete the teething process. The baby teeth need to come in, then the baby teeth fall out and the adult teeth come in. When they get their adult molars, they have to chew hard to set them into the jaw. You can’t stop them from chewing. They will chew on anything to complete this process. It is best to make the environment safe. If an item does not belong to the puppy or adult dog that is a chewer, it should not be in their environment. Puppies should have a lot of toys to play with and chew on. I tell my clients that their dogs should have around 15 – 20 toys. About ½ should be theirs to do with as they please. The other ½ should belong to you. Your dog must earn the privilege of playing with the toys that belong to you by first going through a series of commands such as: come, sit, down, stay. (I’ll address the topic of environmental ownership in another article) You like to have things around your favorite chair or desk that make you feel comfortable. Your dog likes to establish his space for comfort too and that is why I believe they should own some of their toys. Letting them have a comfortable environment reduces stress.
When you pick a toy for your dog, first make sure that it is not too small for the dog. The smaller version of a nylabone or Kong may be cheaper, but only until the dog gets it stuck in his throat or he swallows it and you are facing a huge Veterinary bill. Make sure it won’t go all the way in his mouth. This includes large dogs and tennis balls. I once saw a tennis ball stuck in the back of a German Sheppard’s mouth.
Toys that stimulate thinking are more interesting for your dog. You enjoy a challenge, so does your dog. Toys such as a Kong, which is filled with part of the dogs’ daily kibble are a good choice. He has to figure out how to get the kibble out. Many other brands that are similar to the Kong have the same challenge. Nylabones are great for dogs that really enjoy chewing on hard things. I like the nylarings, because the dog can hold them at different angles with their feet easier. Also there is less risk of the dog getting it all the way in his mouth.
Puzzle toys also stimulate the dogs thinking. Toys such as the Puzzle Plush line by Kyjen. For example the Pull-a-Part toys. They pull them apart, you put them back together. The Hide-a-Bird or Hide-a-squirrel are great toys for you to interplay with the dog. Put a little peanut butter or cheese on the birds and put them back in the house. Your dog will work to figure out how to get them out. When he does, put them back in. If he loves squeakers, squeak the birds or squirrels, and make him figure out how to get the birds through one of the holes that you are not using to reach in and squeak them.
The nobly wobbly is a good toy for dogs who need medium chewing. You can spread a little cream cheese or peanut butter inside in the crevices, so that he works to get at it. Any time you use food on any of your dogs’ toys, be sure and wash them when he is done.
I can’t count how many homes I have been to, and there were only 1 or 2 toys. When I ask clients about the lack of toys, many people give me the same answer. I got him this toy or that toy but he ruined it so I didn’t get him any more toys. Dogs chew their toys. They are going to get worn out and need to be replaced. You do the same thing with your stuff. It gets ruined and you replace it. Your children break their toys you replace them. If your dog loves to rip the stuffing out of his toys, as long as he isn’t eating it, just pick up the stuffing and throw it out. Alternatively, just buy a length of fabric and let him have that. Some dogs just like the fabric.
When buying stuffed toys, make sure there are no parts that the dog can pull off and swallow. Again make sure the toy isn’t so small that they can get it all the way into their mouth.