Welcome to Day 11 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
At a glance:
- chewing is normal, natural and necessary dog behaviour
- food based and sensory based enrichment
- providing appropriate chewing outlets is vital for their health and welfare and to protect your destructables
- get the family involved in this one – for the most part, the dog will be doing all the chewing but children might like to help choose suitable chewables and prepare pupsicles
- chew toys come in all shapes and sizes and canine chewing preferences will vary greatly from individual to individual
What do you need?
- different chews, edible and inedible, that are appropriate to your dog’s chewing style, size and preferences
- muffin pans, ice cube trays, pyramid baking pan, lunchbox, freezer or lunch bag
- food rewards
- to encourage chewing behaviour
- provide outlets for chewing and dissection related behaviour
- to encourage interaction with their environment and help in the development of behaviours/strategies for manipulating the item, acquiring edible parts or dissecting
- help dogs learn to chew appropriate items and provide appropriate outlets for that behaviour
- to provide dogs with a choice of chewables that satisfy different chewing preferences and goals
- to encourage dogs to choose and introduce choice into their day to day life
- to help dogs calm themselves and settle themselves
What goals can you add to this list for your pets?
Dogs will chew all sorts of items, whether they are good for them or not! Chewing is a feeding related behaviour, but dogs will regularly engage in chewing behaviour where the end goal is not to acquire food.
Chewing fulfills functions in dogs’ lives beyond food. And while providing food based enrichment is important for dogs, appropriate chewing helps dogs experience new levels in their sensory world, with plenty of crossover between categories of enrichment.
Chewing is goal oriented behaviour so providing exposure to positive stress or eustress. All of the challenges through #100daysofenrichment are designed to provide dogs with lots of opportunities for eustress. The more the animal has experience with good stress, the more resilient they become.
Manipulating the chewable facilitates the development of dexterous skills, contributing to cognitive challenge.
Sniffing out, tasting and chewing it all offer sensory pay off, but so does finding each chewable, determining its value, and engaging in the puzzle of satisfying the chewing goal.
Offering different types of chewables that require different sorts of manipulation, provides feedback from different textures and materials, and facilitates different feeding related behaviours can contribute to a well rounded sensory experience for dogs.
Chewing encourages pets to interact with their environment – just the very interaction with the item is encouraging the pet to manipulate their surroundings, to get the things they like.
Decker regularly ‘rescues’ big sticks and logs from the sea. He will carry them about, have fun manipulating and interacting with them and will redesign them through destruction. Chewing encourages lots of environmental interaction, building confidence, and also cognitive development through manipulation. Generally, after sniffing, chewing is his path to discovery and gathering information about his world.
How can we achieve these goals?
- provide your dog with a safe, comfy space for chewing
- make a range of chewables available for your dog
- use stuffables to help encourage chewing
- enhance the value to chewables and chewing with some of our tips from today’s challenges
- choose chewables that are safe and appropriate to your dog’s preferences
- practice chewing sessions when the house is calm and quiet so that chew toys become associated with chilling out
- make a range of chewables available during and after excitement so that it’s easy for your dog to access chewing and to learn to seek out chewing as a way of self-calming
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of chewing:
Chewing is part of the canid predatory sequence meaning that all dogs come with a tendency to chew, in-built. Dogs are made to chew. Dogs must get to chew!
There are times during the dog’s life when chewing might be more intense for many individuals.
Chewing will generally increase in intensity from about four months of age, in puppies, as their adult teeth begin to move. For most dogs, their adult teeth will be down by 6 or 7 months of age.
At about 11-13 months of age, lots of dogs will go through what seems like a secondary teething period when their adult teeth bed in as their skull matures.
Chewing appears to provide relief to teething dogs and they may chew quite intensively to ease their discomfort and because their jaws are maturing and their adult teeth are stronger, they become much more effective chewers!
In general, adolescent dogs will chew quite intensively as they continue to experience the world through their mouths and to aid in reducing stress, something that teenagers are quite sensitive to.
Intensive chewing will often be seen in dogs who might not have appropriate outlets for their energy and behaviour, and when they are experiencing high levels of distress. This chewing often becomes a problem for people as the dogs seek out chewing items that may not be meant for them.
But, normal chewing is seen in normal dogs. Dogs must chew.
Chewing behaviour may provide dogs with a range of outlets including opportunities to exercise and hone their jaw muscles, improve manipulation and dissection skills and to get food to ingest.
All of this is important to practice if you are to be a hunter/scavenger, which is what our dogs’ bodies tell them to prepare for.
As companion animals, dogs rarely get to eat foods that truly satisfy all their chewing needs. Even when bones and fresh foods are fed, other chewing outlets are likely required. And if dogs are fed a commercial diet, they probably don’t do much chewing at all to get their food.
That’s why stuffables, that encourage chewing, are so important – dogs are made to chew to get to their food. The types of behaviours and behavioural goals we are satisfying, or attempting to satisfy, are important to consider in enrichment.
Buddy’s behaviour indicates some level of internal conflict, initially, so I removed the chew from the Kong toy in case that was a bit too challenging for him. He may have felt conflicted because he wanted to settle with the chew, but couldn’t due to the environment, he may have wanted to settle but was still too wound up from play group activity and perhaps this initially conflicted behaviour became fun in itself as he played.
Making sure dogs’ behavioural needs are met is an important stress buster, but chewing in and of itself supports the dog’s psychological health. Chewing activates the gastrointestinal system, leading to the production of serotonin, a neurochemical associated with improved recovery from stress and self-calming. Chewing is literally a stress-buster.
It’s no surprise that dogs who are alone, distressed or bored resort to chewing. It’s often labelled ‘destructive’ behaviour because it becomes a behaviour problem for us. But it might indicate that the dog doesn’t have sufficient, appropriate chewing outlets and that’s he seeking comfort and relief from stress.
Stress can be good and bad and dogs will need help to recover from both types; to bring them back down a little and help their body recover. This is important even after good stress, excitement and happy activities, such as play.
Take a chewing break during and after physically or mentally exerting activities.
Rory had a brief bout of puppy-zoomies after arriving for a PlayDate early, before anyone else.
Once he got that out of his system, we calmed everything down with a Nylabone dipped in a tiny taste of pate and he worked out the rest:
Providing access to both chewing and sniffing is a wonderful way of helping your dog calm himself. While chewing helps the release of serotonin, dopamine activates the SEEKING or dopamine systems, which is the brain’s reward system. Chewing and serotonin and sniffing and dopamine helps dogs feel better about their world.
What your dog chews will depend on many individual factors, including:
- size – choose chewables that look too big for your dog for safety
- jam edible chews firmly down through a suitably sized stuffable toy, such as a Kong toy.
When your dog chews down to the part of the chew jammed in the toy, you can easily see that it’s become too small and may not be safe for your dog to have any longer.
Generally, when the chew becomes so small that it’s difficult for the dog to manipulate and hold in their paws, they might try to chew it up in their mouths for swallowing.
This may be risky if the chew is small enough to be swallowed but not small enough to pass through the digestive system.
- you gotta know your dog’s chewing style and intensity – are they likely to ingest? are they likely to break off large parts to eat? how hard do they work at chewing?
- carefully note the density and hardness of chews – most veterinary dentists will recommend not giving your dog something to chew that is harder than their teeth. They see lots and lots and lots of tooth fractures, that will abscess, and result in pain and often in in-depth treatment.
This is especially important if you have an intense chewer – that dog will likely work harder at chewing and be more likely to hurt himself. It always comes down to knowing your dog!
- bones as chews are controversial in dog care, with lots of polarised and opposing views. I most certainly do not want to get into a discussion about feeding approaches here and our entire program is designed to be adapted by each individual pet owner for their individual pet, so we won’t be getting religious about food and feeding for dogs (or anything else, for that matter)!
But, weight bearing bones are very hard and may cause tooth fractures in intense chewers, and when bones are presented, especially if meaty, dogs will often chew intensively.
First off, no feeding cooked bones. Ever. Cooked bones will shard and splinter and may cause injuries to the mouth, and perforations to the gastrointestinal system.
Many pet suppliers sell cooked bones and air dried bones. I am concerned about splintering and swallowing pieces of these bones.
Lots of bone in the diet and the digestive system will lead to constipation.
If you must do bone, choose raw non-weight bearing bones or raw bones suitable to your individual dog and their chewing style.
Decker enjoys a marrowbone, slurping away at the marrow. Once he has cleaned all the tissue off the bone and got all the marrow out, I remove the bone to prevent him recreationally chewing on it. He is a very intense chewer and could easily fracture a tooth on it. I want to keep his chewing at and manipulating this bone functional. He has many many other safer outlets for chewing.
- Lots of pet suppliers produce dried “natural” chews that are often semi-moist or dried organs, skin and other body parts.
Pizzles are often a great choice for many dogs. They are tough but give enough to keep a chewer interested and working on it. It can be tricky to find good quality and sufficiently tough pizzles here though (if you have any good leads, please let me know!).
Safety must always be considered and the dog’s progress on the chew watched closely for when the chew gets to a swallowable size, when it should be safely disposed of.
Semi-moist treats, such as dried skin of fowl like chicken and duck, will come in packaging that contains little packets of silicone to absorb moisture during storage. These little packets will obviously smell yummy but are highly dangerous should a dog ingest them. Take great care in disposing of the little silicone packet as soon as you open the treats, making sure your pet can’t get to it, and store unopened treats carefully. Remember, dogs will chew through plastic packaging to get to even dangerous items.
Care must also be taken when adding such edible chews to the diet and an understanding of the effects on the dog’s diet.
For example, skin based chews, even if dried, may be very high in calories.
For example, dried liver will have high levels of vitamins A and D and this may contribute to unbalancing the dog’s diet.
For example, feeding dried gullets, trachea etc. has been associated with increased risk of dietary induced hyperthyroidism. If thyroid tissue remains it and thyroxine may be ingested. Thyroxine will not be broken down during digestion and can be absorbed and used by the body. (Broome et al, 2015)
Be careful adding lots of novel proteins to your dog’s diet – it’s pretty trendy right now for all sorts of proteins to be available in foods and treats. It’s a good idea to hold back on feeding a couple of readily available novel proteins so that if your dog does develop a dietary sensitivity, which will likely be to protein content, you will have some novel proteins that you can try instead.
- rawhide gets lots of attention on social media and although there are probably lots of dodgy products available, these popular treats can be chosen carefully by going for products that have been produced in the EU (or the US) and choosing a chew that’s made from one continuous sheet of hide. These good quality products can be difficult to find, though.
Rawhide softens quickly in saliva and your dog will be able to bite off chunks. These will not be so easily digested and may cause impactions.
Lots of rawhide will also lead to flatulence!
Option 1 Choose Chewables for Chewing
What your dog chews will depend on your dog. Know your dog. Consider safety and some of the factors above.
Here are some of our favourite chewables for dogs, but they won’t work for every dog. Check these out as examples so that you can find other brands or types of toys with similar qualities.
The links here are just for illustrative purposes – you may need to source chews from local or more appropriate suppliers.
- Stuffables and many other toys in related ranges such as Kong toys, K9 Connectables, Westpaw Zogoflex
By adding food to stuffable toys, the dog will be encouraged to chew and engage with the toys, making the dog more likely to seek them out to get their chewing jollies.
- Nylabones and similar chews
- GoughNuts are pretty tough toys for tough chewers and some models have a colourised safety system so you can quickly identify when chews need to be replaced.
- Some of the Busy Buddy range make for durable chew toys.
- Lots of the Orbee range are tough chews
- Playology offer lots of tough chew toys that are scented to increase engagement.
- Lots of dogs like to chew on rope toys but for some, these can be risky in terms of ingesting large chunks of rope strands.
Recently, I have found a more ribbon type rope toy (below left) in many pet shops and suppliers. This material looks to be less likely to thread and may be less risky for dogs who like to chew ropes.
Some times dogs might need some encouragement to chew; try taking a plain inedible chew and dipping it in your dog’s favourite spreadable, like peanut butter here. Freeze for a couple of hours. This will often perk their interest and they will get stuck in.
Rotate chews (and other toys) as dogs are often attracted to novelty.
- Coffeewood, Chew Roots and filled roots are widely available and apparently sustainable. These can also be suitable for dogs who have dietary sensitivities as they don’t contain animal protein, which are often the allergen culprit.
- Antlers, filled antlers and half antlers – please be careful with the density of these chews. They are sized in terms of density, rather than length. Generally, the further from the body the antler grew, the less dense and safer they are as a chew.
Half antlers may present a safer option.
- Horns – I prefer bull horns that grew further from the head as, when chewed, they soften readily and become more fingernail like.
- Hoofs and filled hoofs – again watch for how tough they are and their size with them sometimes being tricky to hold while chewing for lots of dogs.
- “Natural” chews come in many shapes, and sizes, and are usually dried, such as: pizzles, dried scalp, tendons, ears from different species e.g. cows, pigs, rabbits, and with or without fur, offal and meats like liver, lung, stomach/tripe, skin and hearts, gullets and fowl necks, oxtails, fish skins and dried fowl feet.
- Many long lasting edible chews may also be available such as Greenies, Yakers and some of the Nylabone or similar ranges.
“But, he destroys EVERYTHING!”
Pet owners often lament that they can’t get anything for their dog, because he destroys toys and chews so quickly.
When we are looking to see what sorts of activities a dog finds rewarding, we first look to what the dog is currently doing. If the dog is destroying things, that might very well be what he needs to do. He’s simply getting his jollies.
Human rules and expectations are so often arbitrary to dogs – minding a toy or not destroying an expensive chew is beyond the cares or concerns of dogs. The point of his interactions with the toy were probably to dissect and destroy!
Dogs need a range of chewing outlets so I don’t just buy the toughest of the tough for Decker. He clearly needs to dissect and chew up, so I get toys that allow him to do that. And boy, does he do it; I have yet to find a toy that this dog can’t and won’t chew up.
Option 2 Pupsicles
Frozen food and treats can provide great chewing outlets for some dogs who enjoy that.
Use any freezable containers, such as :
- lunchboxes or bowls
- freezer or lunch bags
- upturned non-slip dog bowls
Line the underside of the bowl and add food, treats and water. Freeze and then pull the ring out. This can make a great suspended puzzle by hanging the ice-ring up with a dog lead.
- muffin pans or similar baking trays
- ice cube trays, which are available in lots of different sizes
- pyramid baking mats
Smear spreadable yummies and add add treats or food to each space. Freeze and then turn out.
- freeze stuffables
- Fill each gap with a variety of possibilities; scroll down to our list of ingredients for Stuffables that can be used for these frozen chews too. We talk about Pupsicles there too.
- Load each gap in a muffin tray or ice cube tray with a mix of your dog’s favourites and add a stick-like chew, such as a pizzle to each mix. Freeze and your will have pupsicles with sticks, just like a human ice-cream!
- Make a gravy out of wet dog food or spreadables by mixing with a little water. Pour the mixture into the container, freeze and have different sized treats ready for training, for stuffing in toys and for enjoying.
Using a pyramid tray makes small sized, handy treats and there are lots of recipes on line for baked treats too.
- Add treats to each space and freeze or add smaller amounts of food, topped up with water, to make lighter snacks.
- Freeze meat, wet dog food, or even a kibble mash and give the block to the dog to chew.
- For dogs on more restricted diets, just adding their regular kibble or food to some water and freezing in a container can present a novelty that might be attractive to the dog.
- Freeze fruits or vegetables in a tray or whole.
If your dog needs enticement, dip the fruit or veg in some meat juices and freeze that. This is a great way to add low calorie, but very tasty treats, to a fat restricted diet.
Always allow meat juices to cool and skim the fat first, before use.
Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!
Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂
We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!