Chew Toy Training – 5 Tips to Chew Toy Train your Dog (w/Olive!)

November 17, 2019 0 By William Morgan


Many of you have asked about learning more about chew toy training. As luck would have it I just did this with my new dog, Olive. So, 5 strategies for chew toy training, coming up! Ian here with Simpawtico Dog Training and before we dive into Olive’s second week at home please make sure you’re subscribed so you never miss any of our videos. Also follow us on all the big social networks so we can get better acquainted. And don’t forget to check that YouTube description for notes, links and resources about the stuff we talked about. In our last video which detailed Olive’s first week at home we talked about focusing on the management aspect first before getting too caught up in teaching behaviors and doing fun stuff. Now that she’s settled in a bit and starting to find her groove we can get into some of the nuts and bolts. Week two’s goals are: chew toy training, name training, offered attention, control behaviors such as sit, down, and stand, and mouth behaviors like take it, leave it, and drop it, and walking with Darwin. You’ll notice that at the top of the list was “chew toy training.” As I’ve said many many times one of the greatest things you can do for house manners and for being at home alone is to chew toy train your dog. A dog that’s hooked on chew toys will stay out of most kinds of trouble. I’ve also said before that it’s not what it is it’s what you’ve trained it to be so if your dog isn’t into chew toys, that’s not the end of the conversation. We need to train them to be into chew toys. From the very first night Olive had a habit of suckling and chewing on the blankets. This was totally unacceptable. Luckily we put down some older ones because we weren’t sure what to expect from her and we didn’t want her messing up the nice comforter. That was actually my wife’s idea and boy that was smart planning. This kind of suckling/ gnawing behavior is sometimes a comforting activity that understimulated dogs will engage in, kind of like a pacifier. I could also tell that Olive had been allowed to play with squeak toys and plush toys in her old life since she went bonkers for them. Some squeaky and plush toys came with her when we adopted her and eventually she would start destroying these. This was exactly what I was afraid would happen, and this is exactly why in the 4 Types of Toys video I mentioned that I don’t like to let dogs have squeaky and soft toys because it encourages them to do the same with other things in the house like the blankets, pillow corners, and even the underwear she keeps trying to steal from the hamper. Now the act of chewing is calming and it gives a dog healthy outlets. It alleviates boredom, calms them down, and gives them something to funnel energy into. Think of it like giving a kid a coloring book. So I don’t want to discourage chewing; I just need to channel her desires into better objects. We needed to make the transition over from soft things to real chew toys. I wanted her hooked on hard things like Nylabones, Benebones, antlers, and similar types of toys. My late Boston Terrier, Bobo, was trained to channel his jazzed up energy into a chew toy when he got overwhelmed and kind of hyper. He was trained to find a bone and tear into it for five minutes or so. After that he was as cool as a cucumber. I would like for Olive to pick up this habit as well. Also both of my other dogs are addicted to chew toys and it’s a tremendous management tool. We even take bones with us when we travel and it helps keep them busy at Grandma’s house or when they’re hanging out at the Simpawtico facility. So to that end, here are my five strategies that we used for Olive’s chew toy training: gateway toys, baited and roughed up chew toys, 2-step redirecting, targeting and shaping, and praise, praise and more praise. Let’s take a closer look at these. Strategy number one is to use gateway toys. These are temporary inbetweeners meant to pave the way toward the real chew toys. For this purpose we purchased a couple of new toys for Olive. One was this Kong ring. It squeaked and while I typically discourage dogs from getting squeak toys, as I said, I knew that Olive have had an affinity for squeakers so something tougher and more durable would make a good bridge to other things. This worked great because she could chew on it and squeak it but it was harder for her to destroy. Squeaking it got her to engage with it almost immediately. As of the making of this video we’ve already phased this toy out and she’s engaging a hundred percent now with non squeaking toys. I also got a Kong dental toy. We jammed some peanut butter in the ridges to make it interesting. This one had deep cracks so I wanted her to really engage with this piece and get busy with it. This worked great too because it was even tougher than the ring so she could really get crazy with it. Now I should mention that my Kong video is really aimed at creating a chew toy habit as well. The goal of a food-filled Kong is not only to crate train or occupy alone time, it is also to get the dog into chewing on something in the first place. This is, in essence, being used as a gateway toy too – which will eventually lead to the main chew toys. I’ll link to that video as well in the YouTube description. The takeaway here for you is not necessarily to go out and buy these two toys, exactly, but to think of things along these lines that are a good fit for your dog to bridge the gap. Look for toys that your dog will find interesting but are a little tough. Even if they won’t last too long that’s okay because they’re not a long-term solution; they’re short-term items that get them hooked into spending time with a toy in the first place. Every dog will be a little different and the gateway toys should be phased out at some point no matter what. Using these gateway toys led us right into strategy number two: using a baited and roughed up chew toy. In short order we took one of the Nylabones that had already been worked on by my other dogs. This had lots of nooks and crannies on it and it’s a lot more inviting than a brand new one. There’s lots of grippy space on it. Then we smeared some peanut butter lightly in the cracks. It’s not necessary to glob it on, I just want to make it a little tempting. Just like on the dental toy she has to work at those nooks and crannies in order to get the peanut butter meaning she has to actually chew on the bone. While she’s doing it we praised her enthusiastically. This is essentially classical conditioning. She chews, we praised for the duration. She comes to see chewing as an indicator of praise. Plus she’ll discover that chewing is awfully great all by itself without the external praise. If you don’t have an already been chewed bone to try this with, just get a new one and rough it up. Use some coarse sandpaper, a file or a rasp, or even a cheese grater if nothing else. All the good smelling stuff is just under that smooth, factory surface so get that sucker nice and used looking. Now we also had to deal with that blankie suckling situation so we used two-step redirecting. Often the process of chew toy training is necessitated by your dog chewing on, shall we say, unapproved things like shoes, purses, underwear, and the mail. A lot of training tips online mention trying to redirect or swap your dog’s activity from the non-sanctioned items to a chew toy. When making this transition, though, it’s important to get the order of operations down right. Suggesting a chew toy as an alternative is great but don’t just jam it in their face. This is a common mistake owners make when trying to redirect their dog to a better behavior and they’re missing a step in between. First calmly get the dog to stop chewing on whatever it is and praise that. Praising the cessation, or the stopping of the behavior, creates a whole operantly conditioned sequence in their brain unto itself. Then offer the alternative toy to fill the vacuum and praise that when they engage with it. It’s a two-step process. In Olive’s case we calmly, serenely, without ever losing our cool persistently stopped her from chewing the blanket. We’d just hold onto it with our hands and when she let go we praised her. We didn’t want it to turn confrontational because she’d just shut down. The whole process needed to be supportive but resolute. Fortunately it took less than a week for her to start being more curious about the chew toys. Eventually she started settling down with the blanket, and we stopped her like usual, so then she went and grabbed a chew toy on her own we praised her lavishly for this, and that seemed to seal the deal. Now she’s not only engaging willingly with the bones but she’s actively seeking them out and parading them in front of us to show us how good she is. Some of you won’t be able to sell it to your dog with any of these strategies. No worries though, we always have more tricks up our sleeves. You can always take a more structured route with targeting and shaping. You have to build interest and then reinforce the engagement with the item. This is how trainers teach a dog to pick up specific items, or to acclimate them to Gentle Leaders, or muzzles. It’s willing engagement that is encouraged and cultivated, not forced. As with any training activity you can always break it down into as many parts as necessary to be successful. For example if your dog isn’t taking the bait and working at the peanut butter, reward and praise them for simply investigating it. Reward them for bopping it with their nose. Then reward them for putting their mouth on it, and so on until they’re taking it. This is called targeting and we shape it over time to be closer and closer to what we want it to look like. Jean Donaldson has a great video showing you how to get a dog to love a gentle leader head halter. There’s also one by Donna Hill on how to teach a service dog a directed retrieve. While neither of these deal directly with chew toys, both of them use a similar process of targeting and shaping that you can absolutely apply to getting your dog interested in a chew toy or even into a game of tug, like we talked about in the Drop It video. I’ve done exactly that many times with my students’ dogs. I’ll link to both of those videos in the description below. Finally the easiest strategy to implement is just praise, praise, and more praise. Here’s the step that most people miss, and it’s a golden opportunity that they waste—so simple! Praise your dog enthusiastically the whole time they’re engaging with the toy. So often we give the dog a toy and they start working on it and we go, “Oh thank God I can go check my mail now.” So not only does the dog stop getting social interaction, but unless they happen to get hooked into the act of chewing itself right away there won’t be as much buy-in. So hand them a toy, engineer the situation to get maximum engagement, and then praise the hell out of it! This is a teachable moment! Remember, you will eventually be able to use the chew toy to occupy your dog while you do other things, but for right now you have to tend to it and cultivate the habit. You sit with them and you act like their cheerleader. In fact, any time your dog engages with the chew toy take just a moment to praise them. Walk over, give them some loving petting, and tell them how proud of them you are. You’ll be conditioning them to associate the chew toy with praise, and chewing is a calming, enjoyable activity by itself. It’d be like if someone coupled your favorite activity with compliments and a massage. I mean who wouldn’t love that? So let’s recap the process guys. One, use gateway toys to get the process moving. Two, use a baited, roughed up chew toy for initial engagement. Three, make sure redirecting from non-approved items has a middle step where they are praised for stopping and then offered the chew toy as an alternative, and then praise again for engaging with it. Four, if none of these seem to seal the deal try targeting and shaping. Break it down into smaller phases and nail each phase down systematically with positive reinforcement. And finally: praise, praise, and more praise. Praise all engagement heavily to build maximum buy-in. Also keep in mind that you can always combine several approaches to get the job done. It’s not a search for a magic bullet. It’s about engineering your space so that the options you want your dog to choose are abundant and easy. For example 2-step redirecting might segue into a short session of targeting and shaping to get the initial buy-in, or you may offer a better gateway toy, or a baited and roughed up chew toy. No matter what though keep at it and give the habit time to form. In the end good habits are just as hard to break as bad ones. Now here’s my question for you guys: I gave you five strategies for chew toy training—do you have any cool approaches I didn’t list? Do you have any neat stories about how you might have gotten your dog hooked? Share them with us in those YouTube comments. In the meantime, good luck with your chew toy training and don’t forget to give this video a thumbs up if you learned something useful. As always keep learning, keep practicing, and we’ll see you next time. Thanks for watching!