Chew Toys

Behavior Clips

By Gary Wilkes

I have a cattle dog that belongs to a common subspecies of domestic dog—canis manducatione—the chewing dog. He does have a small underbite, which makes me think part of his problem is improper occlusion. I will be fixing that problem in the near future, but for the moment (and for the last 10 months) I have been dealing with a super chewer. That brings up the topic of chew toys.

All dogs enjoy chewing to one degree or another. It’s in their bones. When wild canids devour an animal, they strip off everything edible and leave very little to the buzzards. The design and variety of teeth lend to this picked-clean result. They have molars for crushing small bones, shearing large muscle, or breaking the plastic handle of an umbrella. The front teeth can skin the last vestige of meat from a bone or the laces off your running shoes. The canine teeth act as shears that can cut through tendons and sinew or drip irrigate hoses with ease.

For some owners, owning a dog is like having a school of giant, literally omnivorous piranhas in the house. Chair legs, couch cushions, watch bands, hearing aids—just about anything that will fit in their mouths and some things that won’t fit entirely is fair game. Even if you are indifferent to losing hundreds to thousands of dollars to this behavior, there is another serious aspect that has to be considered: pica, the ingestion of inedible objects. If your dog actually eats whatever they dismember, you can wind up with a dead dog. In all cases, it’s a great idea to stop dogs from eating things that can kill them. I have seen the results of a dog that bit through an electrical cord. Unless you have the skills to inhibit a behavior, the next best alternative is to find appropriate objects to keep your dog’s mouth occupied.

Texture, Size, Durability, and Interactivity

There are four criteria that make up a good chew toy: texture, size, durability, and interactivity. If the texture of the toy is objectionable or not interesting, the dog won’t chew it. If the size is too big or too small, it can either be too difficult to chew or an intestinal blockage waiting to happen. If the object can be dismembered rapidly, then it isn’t going to keep the dog occupied for long. The last criterion is interactivity. If the toy pays off, the behavior of chewing that toy will be reinforced. Once you have found the combination of these features that a dog prefers, you can moderate problems like chronic boredom and destructive chewing.

They also are profitable for your business. While most groomers do not like to carry product lines that are not directly connected to their business, effective chew toys benefit your clients directly. Your choice is whether you wish to have the big box stores pocket the money or keep it yourself. Being helpful to your clients in areas that are important to them also helps retention. Note: This isn’t a consumer reports style review. If I mention a product, it is to help you find general types, but I am not recommending a particular brand (i.e. I don’t do paid endorsements, but I will tell you what I use).

Texture

Dogs like things that resist their jaw pressure. That is why rawhide chews are so universally loved. This “squeezability” is reproduced in the texture of rubber balls, bones, and objects to one degree or another. The most common rubber compound used for dogs’ toys is cressite. Newer formulas by companies like Kong are more chewy than old, hard rubber toys. Another modern innovation is cotton rope toys with knots. They are wonderful until the dog starts to cut through the rope with their molars. If you go with rawhide, my recommendation is to stick to compressed rawhide. This is a stack of layers of rawhide punched with a large die that cuts it to the shape of a bone. They are very dense. As in all things, watch out when pieces are small enough that a dog might ingest them.

Size

If a dog can get their open jaw around something, they can dismember it. Small toys for big dogs are dangerous. Big toys for tiny dogs may cause a lack of interest. Try to find something that is large enough to fit sideways through the dog’s mouth behind the canines and large enough so that it sticks out on the sides.

Durability

With serious chewers, this is always a problem. Even the most durable dog toys can be sliced and crumbled. Harder rubber-type toys may resist chewing for awhile but may dry out and then be vulnerable. Daily examination of chew toys is a must for dogs that are especially ardent in their chewing.

Interactivity 

Over the last ten years, this aspect of chew toy design has increased dramatically. Inert play toys, like tug-of-war rings, have been around forever. The new variety allows you to stuff the toy with everything from peanut butter to proprietary treats. Some require the dog to drop the object repeatedly to get a treat to pop out. Others drop treats through holes in the toy or allow crunch-style chewing to crush the treat so that it falls on the ground. Premier Pet Products has a new style of chew toy with thin vanes that flex and allow the treat to be dislodged. These vanes can be trimmed with scissors or removed to allow a specific sized treat to escape.

Proper chew toys can prevent destruction and keep a dog occupied for hours. Knowing which type to recommend to your clients is a powerful tool to help them survive puppyhood and beyond. It also presents a revenue stream that pretty much sells itself. While you may not be able to undercut the cost of the big box stores, being the client’s primary advisor on such topics gives you a huge advantage. To get started researching for yourself, an Internet search will overwhelm you. A better idea is to hit a pet store with a great selection and then physically examine the ones that strike you as best in class according to your new criteria. “

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