There are no miracle solutions when it comes to puppy training but used correctly a chew toy is invaluable and the greatest training aid you will ever own.
How, you might ask? In this post we will explore why chew toy training is invaluable in your puppy’s development.
What is a Chew Toy?
Simplistically a chew toy is a strong rubber plaything that can entertain and stimulate a dog or puppy. In particular we are discussing the Kong Classic Dog Toy, and the like, that are both fetch toys and stimulating food dispensing ‘puzzles’.
What is Chew Toy Training?
Chew Toy training is the use of a filled Kong to promote desirable behaviors from your puppy.
When you first bring your puppy home every meal time should be viewed as an opportunity for training.
With puppies eating 3 or 4 times a day there are plenty of mealtimes in the first 3 to 4 weeks. This is the ‘golden’ zone for learning, development and socialization.
The chew toy can be filled with the dogs usual kibble plus a few magical extras – we will discuss these later. Personally I would use the chew toy for one mealtime a day (using the others for different training).
Assuming you have an enticing and flavorsome chew toy what behaviors can be shaped with its use?
Puppy Settling Down and Occupying themselves
Maybe a day or two after your puppy has come home and has started to acclimatize introduce the chew toy. Don’t make a fanfare just place the Kong down on the floor and let your puppy investigate and begin to extract the food inside. Ideally you want to do this in a controlled area that can be cleaned easily.
You can sit or stand nearby but let your puppy get on with it themselves.
This activity will mentally and physically stimulate your dog. This will tire them as well so when they are complete and have been out to potty they will almost certainly fall asleep.
As the days move on pay less and less attention to your puppy when they are playing with the chew toy. They will learn that it is OK for them to go and do things themselves even if you are in close proximity. This will also teach them to settle into a task. As mentioned earlier this should not be hyped up like some other play just a quiet exercise that forms part of their daily routine.
Stopping Unwanted Behaviors - Digging, Barking, Chewing Furniture etc.
Any training will help your puppy learn to behave in the correct way. The chew toy can give a puppy a dual physical and mental workout.
‘A tired dog is a good dog’ may be a simplistic saying but it is one that holds true. Combined with other training (such as Clicker Training) and consistent re-direction then chew toy training will help you produce a calm dog who does not have the time or energy to concentrate on destructive behaviors.
Crate Training and Separation Anxiety
You can use a chew toy to help with crate training or for settling your dog when leaving them alone. For serious separation anxiety professional help may be required. This is about eliminating fear of being alone at a young age.
Ideally you will have a well thought out puppy set up. This should give you ‘control areas’ that are used for short and mid-term confinement.
Again without fuss place your filled Kong in your puppy’s crate and/or pen with the door open initially and let your puppy delve in. Invariably the first couple of times you do this the puppy will pick the Kong up and go elsewhere with it (this should still be a controlled, cleanable area such as your kitchen).
As they become more familiar with their crate or pen they are less inclined to remove themselves from that area. When your puppy has become entranced by the kong you can move to the next step.
Prepare your Kong with the minimum of fuss and place it in a closed crate or pen. Your puppy will think ‘what’s going on here’ and will be keen to get to their toy. Wait a couple of minutes and let your puppy in. Gently, and with no fanfare, shut the crate or pen door and remove yourself from the area. First for a short time and then longer periods. Repeat this daily alongside other training and your puppy soon will be keen for you to leave as they associate that with getting access to their Kong.
When Should I Give My Puppy Their Chew Toy
The regularity and timing of giving your puppy their Kong is largely dependent on the objectives you are trying to reach with your training.
For example if you are likely to have to leave your puppy for a couple of hours each morning, then target that first feed time and use the method discussed in the crate training session.
If you are just teaching your dog to settle then maybe the afternoon feed. This can be incorporated at home or, as they get older and have been correctly vaccinated, for practicing settling outside in a far more distracting environment.
So in summary, think about when you will get the best bang for your buck, keep it interesting and results will follow.
What Should I Fill My Puppy's Chew Toy With?
The good thing about starting chew toy training early is that your puppy will (probably) still see their daily kibble as a decent food choice. Some will get a little more picky as they get older.
There are 1000’s of recipes on the internet and it may be a case of trial and error finding that magical combination.However, these fundamental fill rules will set you up nicely. Firstly put a firm treat (natural dried chicken or beef) in the end of the Kong through the small hole. Be careful it is not too big for your puppy. This will act as a bung on the small end but will also give your pup a challenge to extract.
Add a high value treat first then kibble layer then a few treats mid Kong and complete fill with kibble. Finish with some soft treats if you can seal the big end or make sure firmer treats are stuffed in so that they don’t fall out.
An option you can look at is making your mix, adding a little water and then filling the Kong with this. Pop it in an appropriate bag and place it in the freezer overnight. This will really work your puppy and act as a treat ice lolly. Beware though this option can get messy so bear that in mind.
You should try and avoid the squirty treats that are marketed from the Kong company. These are not particularly healthy and there are much better alternatives available.
As your puppy grows you will obviously become more attuned to what gets them going from a food perspective and these can be used to replace kibble as a treat for your dog. Training and mental stimulation does not stop after puppyhood.
What Size Chew Toy Should I Buy For My Puppy or Older Dog?
The Kong chew toys come in different colors, each denoting the strength of chewer they are designed for. Blue/Pink for puppies, Red for adult (normal chewers) and Black for excessive chewers. Red will probably do the job for most breeds.
What size should you get then? I think one up from the recommended size. The puppy ones are small and for all but the smallest pups I would size up to an adult version.
Are There Alternatives to the Kong Chew Toy?
The simple answer is yes but for this type at the relatively inexpensive prices I would stick with the Classic Kong. I would probably get at least two as well so that you can clean and rotate.
There are other chew toys though that can be used to stimulate your dog. Variety in the challenges you place in front of your dog will keep them guessing and enable them to use their considerable brain power. A couple of examples are shown below. I have used the red stuff-a-ball on the left. It enables you to stuff treats around the outside as well as in the toy.
Now it’s time to let your creativity go wild and cook up a treat for your dog. They will thank you for introducing the chew toy into their life and you will be glad of the benefits that effective chew toy training brings in terms of their behavior and happiness.
Author: Matt Short
Enthusiastic Poochon/Bichpoo/Bichonpoo (how many names) Owner. Husband, father and dog walker extraordinaire.