Five strategies to chew toy train your dog

Get your dog hooked on chew toys with these simple yet effective strategies

If you’re looking to develop house manners in your dog, and to feel comfortable leaving your precious doggo at home, then chew toy training may be the perfect option for you. 

Having your doggo find comfort if they are understimulated by suckling, chewing or gnawing on your blankets, furniture, shoes and more to pacify themselves, can be very frustrating for many owners. But a pup or dog that’s addicted to their chew toy will most likely stay out of trouble. However, if you realize that your dog is not into chew toys, it’s really not the end of the conversation, as it’s not what they are, but what you train them to be. So if this is the case, you have to train your dog into liking chew toys.

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Having your dog play with squeak toys or plush toys is fun, but eventually they’ll destroy them which opens a gateway and encourages them to then turn their attention to other options and this may include your shoe, underwear, comforters, pillow corners and such. 

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The act of chewing for dogs is quite calming and are healthy outlets, as it relieves them of boredom, calms them down and gives them something to funnel their energy. The idea is not to discourage chewing but to channel it into more suitable items, like chew bones as it’s a great management tool. 

So if you have a doggo that’s a heavy chewer, here are five tips to help chew toy train your dog.

Gateway toys

Baited + roughed up toys 

2 Step - redirecting

Targeting + shaping

Praise, praise and more praise

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1. Gateway toys

Gateway toys is a strategy where you use temporary inbetweeners meant to lead the way into chew toys. If your dog has an affinity for squeaky toys, you can find one that’s a bit tougher and more durable as a good bridge. These toys are great, as it keeps them engaged with chewing and audible squeaks. 

You can also get dental toys and apply foods such as peanut butter in the ridges to make it a lot more addictive and interesting. The goal is to not only crate train or occupy alone time, it’s also about getting your dog comfortable with chewing on something in the first place. 

The takeaway is not to necessarily go out and purchase new toys, but to think of things 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 aren’t too durable as it’s only a short term solution. Remember you’re trying to get them hooked into spending time with a toy in the first place. Keep in mind each dog will be a bit different and the gateway toys should decline at some point, no matter what.

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2. Baited + roughed up toys

If you have other dogs and they have chew bones which are worked on, with a lot of nooks and crannies on it, this is perfect for the dog you’re trying to train and is more inviting to your doggo than a brand new one. 

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You can also add a bit of peanut butter in the cracks to make it more appealing. This will make your dog work on the toy just to get to the peanut butter, so they have to actually chew on the bone and while they do this try to encourage them with enthusiasm.

This in essence is what’s called classical conditioning, while your dog chews on the bone, you give them praise for the duration, which allows them to connect chewing as an indicator of praise and will eventually do it without praise.

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If you do not have an old chewed on bone, try to rough up the new one by using some sandpaper, a cheese grater or even a file. This will reveal all of the good smelling stuff that is under the smooth factory surface. 

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3. 2 Step - redirecting

The process of chew toy training is necessitated by your dog chewing and suckling on items like your blanket or other unapproved things like shoes, purses, underwear and even the mail and this is where the 2 step-redirecting method comes into play.

A lot of 2 step-redirecting instructionals encourages the owner to redirect or swap their dog's activity from the non-sanctioned items to a chew toy. However when you are making the transition, it’s important to have the operations order correctly. You can’t just thrust the new chew toy in their face when trying to suggest an alternative, when you are redirecting. The first thing you’ll need to do is calmly get your dog to stop chewing on whatever it is they are chewing on, and praise them for doing it. When you praise them for stopping the behavior, it creates a whole operantly conditioned sequence in their brain unto itself. And then step two, offer the chew toy to fill that gap and praise them when they interact with it, again it's a two step process.

When doing this transition you want to keep your calm and be persistent and non confrontational. Whenever they are chewing on the unapproved item, you can hold on to it and when they let go of the item, praise them so that they shut down and refuse the suggested item. The process should be supportive yet resolute. However, some owners may not be able to sell this strategy to their dog, which takes us to targeting plus shaping.

4. Targeting + shaping

This strategy is a more structured process that includes building up your dog's interest and then reinforcing the engagement with the item. This method has been used by many trainers to train their dogs to pick up specific items or to adjust to muzzles or a gentle leader. This is basically willing engagement, that is encouraged and cultivated, not forced. This process can be broken down into many parts to ensure success. 

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For example, if your doggo is not taking the bait and working at the peanut butter, reward and praise them for simply investigating it, reward them for just touching it with their nose, praise and reward them again for putting their mouth on it. You do this until they are taking the item and you praise them once more. This process is called targeting and over time you  can shape it to be closer and closer to what you desire.

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5. Praise, praise and more praise

And the final and easiest strategy of all is to praise your dog. You have to praise your dog non-stop during the training phases. A Lot of dog owners miss multiple golden opportunities by missing this simple step in the process: and that is to simply praise your dog the entire time they are engaging with the toy. Many times owners are elated that the dog has now taken the toy and are working on it, so they leave them and get busy doing other things which leaves the dog without social interaction. If your dog is hooked into the act of chewing itself from the get go, then you will not need as much buy-in. However if they are not, you have to hand them a toy, engineer the situation to get maximum interaction and praise them like there’s no tomorrow. 

Remember that you are still in the training phase and you have to tend to it and cultivate the habit. Soon you’ll be able to use the chew toy to keep your dog busy while you do other things.

In the training phases however, you are your dog’s cheerleader, as soon as they interact with the chew toy, you get cheering. Give them some loving petting and tell them how proud of them you are. Again you are trying to let them associate the chew toy with praise, after all chewing is a comforting activity for them, so they’re doing what they love and are being pampered for it.


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