The best toys for young, strong dogs

Most dogs between five and 18 months, large or small, play hard — so it’s up to us to locate toys that are both safe and last more than 20 seconds once the dog starts using them!

Soft latex or plush toys aren’t suitable for most growing dogs (although some dogs enjoy carrying a fleecy toy like it’s a puppy). Stuffed animals, particularly those with squeakers, tend to be disemboweled after only minutes of play, and latex ones are torn apart even faster.

A game of tug with you or another dog makes many dogs’ lists of all-time fun activities, so knotted rope bones, strong rubber tug toys or large plastic bones are good additions to the toy box.

My first criteria when choosing a toy is “Will it last longer than a week?” If the answer is yes, then the toy likely passes the safety test, as well. The second is, “Will my dog play with it?” Toy-treat combos, such as products made from rawhide, might be enjoyed by your dog, but don’t qualify as interactive or provide much mental stimulation. While some dogs are happy to make a toy from anything, it’s important to start teaching your dog early in puppyhood which objects are for playing, and which objects belong to you.

Here are five of my favorite dog toys (affiliate links to Amazon, but you can find these many places, including your local pet store):

Buster Cube

The Buster Cube is a perfect way to feed your dog if you don’t have time to trade the dog’s dinner for a few tricks or obedience behaviors. The cube has a maze-like center that you fill with kibble or treats, and your dog rolls it this way and that to get the food out. It’s a great way to add a little work to your dog’s day!

Ultra Kong

If ever a toy was designed specifically for big, strong adolescent dogs, the Kong Company has made it happen. The “Ultra” Black Kong toy is made for heavy chewers and can take more abuse than its red counterpart. If you have one a dog who does not enjoy chasing or chewing the Kong, stuff it full of canned food and freeze — this will generate interest!

Jawz disc

The Jawz disc by Hyperflite is an extremely durable disc that flies just like a regular one. Most dogs will destroy a regular plastic disc in one 20-minute play session. Although puppies and young dogs should not jump to catch discs until their growth plates have closed, you can begin teaching dogs of any age how to grab short tosses and pick up rollers off the ground.

JW Pet Invincible Rings

These heavy-duty interlocking rings are perfect for joint tug games, whether with you or another dog. They withstand dogs who are strong pullers and chompers! A determined dog can sit with this toy and chew it apart, so it is best used under supervision and not left alone with your dog.

Kong Goodie Bone

Even dogs who aren’t chewers like this bone, and dogs who are chewers love it! A little peanut butter or cream cheese, or a biscuit stuffed in one end provides hours of tough-chewing fun. My dogs like to “share” it between them with endless games of tug. Perfect for your female who likes to play, “I have it and you don’t”! Put it in the refrigerator or freezer first to sooth teething jaws.

Hol-ee Roller Ball

Not a chew toy, this ball stands up to heavy use primarily because it can’t be punctured!

Be sure to inspect all your dog’s toys regularly, and replace any that are worn or have pieces missing.

How a shelter dog is made

Ian Dunbar talks about how dogs become shelter dogs.

The message in this short video is vital for anyone who is getting or has a puppy, works with shelter or rescue dogs, or anyone considering adopting a shelter or rescue dog.

Creative Commons License (Photo credit: bk2000)

Teach your dog to Shake Hands

This is a great trick to teach your canine companion; what better way for him to greet a new human friend than with the shake of a paw? Shaking hands is a relatively easy trick to train, but as with everything else it may take a little patience. There are a few ways to train the behavior.

Method One

If your pup likes to use his paws to get to things, this method may work the best for you:

Step One: Place a treat in your palm and pin it down with your thumb. Allow your dog to investigate.

Step Two: Your dog may sniff, but just ignore this. As soon as he paws at your hand, mark the behavior with a click or a word such as “Yes” or “Good,” then give a treat with your other hand. This is important!

Step Three: Repeat step two until he is automatically pawing at your hand every time you offer it.

Step Four: Now try offering your hand in the same position, minus the treat; if he paws, great! And remember, keep giving your dog his treat with your other hand. If he doesn’t paw at your hand this time, go back to step two until the behavior is a little stronger.

Step Five: Once your pup is pawing at your hand without the treat, try moving to an open, flat hand. If he paws, mark it and treat as always! He’s getting the hang of it now.

Step Six: When he’s comfortable with this, you can add a verbal cue such as “Shake!” to the behavior by saying your cue then offering your hand.

Step Seven: Reduce the treats he gets gradually, until he’ll shake your hand on cue with no reward.

Don’t forget to treat once in a while to keep the behavior strong!

Method Two

Another way to teach this behavior is by physically taking the dog’s paw into your hand.

Step One: Say your cue (such as “Shake!”), gently lift your dog’s paw with your hand and immediately mark this with a click or a word such as “Yes” or “Good”, and give her a treat.

Step Two: Repeat step one; this can take a different amount of time depending on your pup, but expect to do a few sessions of just step one.

Step Three: Eventually, your dog will respond to your cue word by raising her paw without your hand!

These two methods should help you on your way to teaching your pooch this classic trick. Enjoy!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Bob B. Brown

Best Pets Guide to Crate Training Your Dog

Guess what? Dogs have to be taught to like their crates! Here are a few ways we get new dogs settled into their crate homes:

  • Feed all of your dog’s meals and special treats in the crate. This includes stuffed Kongs, bully sticks, bones and chews, as well as any “just because” treats or table scraps. (If your dog is refusing to enter the crate, don’t force her in or close her in while she eats — just put the food in the back of the crate for a week or two, then gradually start closing the door while she eats.)
  • For the first 2-3 weeks after getting a new dog or puppy, expect lots of whining and crying while she’s in the crate. Do NOT open the crate door if the dog is barking, whining or pawing at the crate door. Wait for even one second of silence. If your hand is on the crate door and the dog puts her paws on it or begins barking, withdraw your hand and wait for one second of silence/paws off before attempting to open the door again.
  • Always leave your dog or puppy with as many stuffed chew toys (Kongs full of kibble and canned food, sterilized bones with peanut butter, etc.) as possible when you put him in the crate. Save an extra-special treat or Kong to deliver right as you’re walking out the door, so he associates you leaving with wonderful things.
  • Unless you have a puppy with poor bladder control or an adult dog who eats blankets and stuffing (which could create a medical emergency), provide a soft bed or blanket in the crate. Test an older dog or puppy by leaving a blanket in the crate while you’re home to monitor them; if they chew or destroy it, go without. Very young puppies can have a towel the first few days as they settle in — but be aware most WILL use the towel as a “diaper” for accidents and you will need to remove it eventually to achieve housetraining.
  • Pick up whatever toys/treats/food your dog hasn’t finished when you arrive home, and quietly put one in the back of the crate later in the day for your dog to find.
  • Use the crate. Keep crate time short and pleasant (lots of GOOD food and treats) at first. Many people give up after a week of listening to their dog whine and bark, declaring, “The dog doesn’t like the crate.” This creates a dog who not only won’t stay in a crate, but has a difficult time being boarded, and who is less welcome on your travels. We have to teach the dog that being in the crate is a good thing.
  • New dogs and puppies should stay in the crate at least one hour per day while you are home. Otherwise, the puppy or dog learns that you only put him in the crate when you leave — not a good thing! This also teaches your new dog or puppy that he doesn’t have to be in the crate when you’re there — not good if you ever need to crate your dog because of visitors or for a medical reason.
  • If your dog is uncomfortable in his crate, but you must leave him there while you’re gone, have someone come every 3-4 hours to let the dog out to relieve itself, and provide re-fills of the tasty treats in the crate. Never leave a puppy under 14 weeks in a crate longer than 1-2 hours, and no longer than 3-4 hours until six months. From there, you can gradually increase crate alone time to 8 hours, if need be.
  • RED FLAGS: If your dog is barking in the crate for a solid two hours or longer (use an audio or video recorder to verify if you’re out of earshot), drooling excessively or damaging the crate or herself (bloody nose or paws), STOP using the crate and contact both your veterinarian and a qualified dog behavior professional. Continuing to crate a dog who is severely anxious can result in both physical and psychological harm to the dog!

Is your dog ready for group classes?


Dogs must be safe and feel safe around people and other dogs before they are ready to learn obedience and basic manners.

Review the categories below to see which best describes your dog:

READY – Is safe with all people and dogs.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT – Is safe with all people, but requires caution around other dogs (snarling, snapping, growling or lunging at other dogs).

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT – Snarling, snapping, growling or lunging at people or other dogs.

If your dog falls into the “needs improvement” category, he or she would benefit from [intlink id=”4″ type=”page”]in-home training[/intlink] before enrolling in group classes. Only dogs in the “ready” category may enroll in Agility, Basic Manners or Puppy Kindergarten class.

The 15-minute feeding schedule

Kibble faceWhat is the 15-minute feeding schedule?

It’s the simplest way to alter the way your dog interacts with you, with the least effort on your part.

If your dog is already on the 15-minute feeding schedule, pat yourself on the back, go grab some kibble and a clicker, and get to work on Charging The Clicker. If your dog turns up his nose at the idea of dinner as a reward, the 15-minute feeding schedule will work wonders.

What to do:
1. Check with your vet about feeding requirements. Most dogs will survive on the low end of the bag of kibble’s feeding recommendations with no ill effects, but if in doubt, ask your veterinarian. If you’re feeding substantially more than the low end suggestion, and your vet says it’s OK, cut back to the recommended amount over a period of days.
2. Pick up your dog’s food bowl. The days of filling the bowl in the morning and leaving it out all day are over. (“But he likes to eat overnight/while I’m gone/etc.!” Exactly… your dog is determining the food’s value, not you.)
3. Set a timer… for 15 minutes! (Or 20, if you’re feeling guilty.) Then, set out the normal portion for that meal. Whatever is still there after 15 minutes is picked up and returned to the bag. Do NOT save the uneaten portion for the next meal. The regular portion is set out at the next meal.

That’s it! Your dog may not eat at first, but soon he’ll realize there’s an expiration date on the food bowl, and it’s determined by YOU.

Soon you’ll see a happy, engaged response when you reach for the food bag, indicating that your dog views his kibble as a valuable resource. And once you control the resources, you can control the dog.

Creative Commons License photo credit: mrdorkesq

Roundup: Your adolescent dog

A roundup of articles to help you and your pup sail through the choppy waters of adolescent months.

Creative Commons License photo credit: lindyireland

Teach your dog to lie down

269/365 Sleepy Heads

Teaching your dog to lie down is a relatively simple task. Start with some tasty treats your dog loves, and in a location your dog is already comfortable. Smaller dogs can first learn this task on a sofa or soft chair, if need be.

Grab a big handful of treats. Ask your dog to sit or lure her into a sit by holding a treat above her nose, just out of reach. As soon as your dog sits, feed one little treat, then put your fist with the remaining treats right on her nose. (It’s OK if she sniffs or licks the treats — that’s the goal!)

Keeping your fistful of treats touching her nose, slowly lower your hand down — not out — to the ground. It’s important that you don’t pull your hand out away from your dog, or she will stand up and follow your fist. Try to draw a straight line from your fist down to the ground.

When your dog’s elbows touch the ground, say “Good down!” and open your hand and feed the treats. Repeat until your dog will lie down with your fist full of six, five, four, three, two, one and then no treats. You will still feed treats even when your dog is lying down for an empty fist — you’ll just pull those treats out of a pocket, your other hand, or off a nearby table, instead.

What if your dog stands up while you’re trying to teach Down? Say nothing, and show her the treats, then start over with your hand on her nose. As soon as her back feet go up, your fist with treats should go away. She’ll soon figure out to keep the treats where she can sniff them, she needs to stay down.

Creative Commons License photo credit: stuartpilbrow

Three simple strategies for training your dog not to jump up

Day 2 of 365: Furry FriendTeaching your dog not to jump up on you or your guests may seem like an impossible task, especially if you have a dog who loves people (and people who love dogs)! How many times have your guests been greeted at the door by your overenthusiastic canine’s nose and front feet, while you haplessly shout “No! Down! Stop it!” in the background? Or you meet a friend while walking your dog, your dog jumps up, and your friend praises and pets the dog, and says, “Oh, it’s OK, I love dogs!”?

Let’s work on changing that scene with three simple strategies for training your dog not to jump on people. You’ll have the most success with your dog if you use these approaches in combination with one another.

Strategy Number One: Ignore the jumping. Unless your dog weighs more than 60 lbs. or is using his mouth when he jumps, ignoring jumping up is the fastest way to permanently make it go away. Dogs jump up to get your attention — so stop giving it to them! Pushing your dog down, yelling “No!”, kneeing him in the chest, stepping on his back toes, bopping him on the head or any other interaction you can think of are a “score” in the needy dog’s book, and make him even more likely to jump next time. (After all, if a dog wants something, what’s the first thing he has to get? Your attention.) To instruct others on how to completely ignore your jumping dog, ask them to turn their backs, cross their arms and look up at the ceiling until all four of your dog’s feet are on the floor.

Strategy Number Two: Manage the behavior (of both people AND dogs). The doorbell rings — where is your dog? Rushing, barking, to the door, waiting to pounce the minute it’s opened? Before you answer the door, grab a leash and put it on your dog. Then use the leash to keep the dog out of jumping up range, even tethering your dog in a secure location if necessary. This strategy is a must if your dog is big, your guests don’t like dogs, or your dog mouths and bites when he or she jumps. On the street, keep enough distance between your dog and anyone unlikely to follow your rules so the jumping isn’t reinforced (and follow Strategy Number Three).

Strategy Number Three: Teach your dog an incompatible behavior. A sitting dog isn’t jumping up — simple as that. Work on improving your dog’s sit or down at the door while no guests are there, and on walks while no one’s around. Then you can ask for and reward a sit or down during progressively more difficult trials: You ring the doorbell, you pretend to greet a guest, enlist a friend or family member to play the guest’s part, etc. When the time comes, have really great treats handy and either you or your guest can ask your dog to sit or down BEFORE the dog jumps. Ask people not to pet your dog unless he is sitting or lying down.

Like everything else in dog training, consistency is key. Teach everyone in your family these strategies, and soon your pup will have one more feather in his good manners cap.

photo by: tentwo.teneight

Doggie Zen

“Doggie Zen” is an exercise I learned from clicker trainer Shirley Chong. This exercise is particularly effective in teaching your dog to focus on you amidst distraction.

Before you begin, remember…

  1. A click is a promise that a treat is coming. Always offer your dog a reward after you click, even if you have made an error.
  2. Reinforce (click and treat) any behavior you like. Ignore or manage behavior you don’t like.
  3. Wait until the dog has offered the behavior several times before putting a name on it. For example, if you are trying to teach your dog to “Sit” using the clicker, don’t use the word “Sit” until you have captured the behavior several times.

Doggie Zen

  1. Gather your treats, clicker and dog. Put your dog on a leash to keep her near you, if necessary.
  2. Hold out a treat in a closed fist for your dog. Your dog will lick your hand to get at the treat.
  3. As soon as your dog stops licking or sniffing your hand (even for a second), click and open your hand to present the reward.
  4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until your dog is no longer attempting to touch you. When this happens, begin waiting for the dog to look at you before you click and treat.
  5. Move your fist to a different place; hold it out to one side, then the other. This will help your dog understand that looking at you, not looking for the treat, is what earns a reward.

Watch a video of the Doggie Zen exercise.