Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dog Training: Teaching Dogs to Be Gentle with Toys

After writing this post, we had an overwhelming response asking for our secret to teaching Mr. B not to tear apart his toys. When we first got Mr. B, he was a pro chewer: ripping apart baseball mitts in minutes and quickly tearing through all of Miss M's toys.
Knowing we couldn't afford to keep buying new toys, we decided to train Mr. B to be more gentle. We know all dogs are different, but this is how we trained our Mr. B:
1) We reinforce positive toy-chewing behavior
Dogs really don't know that we get upset when they tear apart their toys, so we have to reinforce positive behavior by marking when they're gentle. We started by supervising all of his soft-toy chewing. Every time Mr. B would nibble on the toy we would associate the words "Yes gentle". When he licks the toy we say "Yes  kisses" and give him lots of head rubs.

2) We have a signal to let Mr. B know when we're disappointed
Dogs are in-tune with us and they don't want to hurt us. Like when Miss M first came to live with me she thought she was showing affection by mouthing and chewing on me. Every time she did that I pretended to cry or be in pain, and eventually she learned to stop that behavior. We do the same thing with the toys; every time he would become aggressive with the toy we would pretend to cry and he would stop chewing it. Then when he would lick it and become gentle we would give the positive reinforcement. Eventually we were able to stop the fake-crying and insert a mournful "Oh no!" which gives the same effect.

3) We supervised toy playings and kept chewing time to a minimum
We would supervise his soft-toy chewing and only allow it for short amounts of time before taking it away. Eventually, he built up the time and we trust him to chew on his own. Sometimes we hear him getting rough with the toy and we just take it away. But now that he understands how to play with toys,  he's content just laying with them in his tepee.
We know Mr. B is sensitive, but I wonder how this would work with most dogs. Or does anyone else have some other tips?

PS. If you like Mr. B, his former foster mom is now fostering this "Mr. B look-alike" that we've heard is just as sweet. Read more about him here.


Unknown said...

Oh, what a cutie! He'd fit right in with your two! :) Hopefully he'll find a great forever home, just like Mr. B did. I like your way of teaching him to be gentle. If we could have toys in our house, I'd consider trying it. Flash demolishes stuffies in no time!

Granite State Pet Sitting said...

Dogs are a lot smarter than people give them correct for! We sure hope Mr B's Look alike gets his forever home.

Kerri said...

I should try this training tactic. We just bought a new stuffy toy on the weekend, and last night I had to remove all the stuffing from the chewed hole, and sew it back up with just the squeaker in it.

Anonymous said...

This is so exciting. I'm going to go buy some new toys today and start this regimen with ours. Miss Lollie Wonderdog is pretty gentle with toys, but her foster brother Chick is a total maniac. If it has a squeaker, it MUST DIE. We're going to work on this and will let you know!

follow our foster: loveandaleash.wordpress.com

Brenda said...

Hmmm... I may just try this! Mine are committed toy destroyers, but Lucky in particular likes to remove stuffing if given the opportunity (and it really does seem to be the stuffing, not the squeaker!). I usually say "don't eat it," but it's usually in a happy or neutral voice because I can't really raise my voice or get angry with him. Because of his past, he gets too cowed by any harsh tone. I never thought about sounding "sad." Might be worth a try!

Corbin said...

Those are really great training tips about the soft toys!

KP said...

This is such, such good advice. (By the way, I've been a lurker of your blog for awhile, and I just love it!)

My pug is super rough with toys! It is crazy! She will be really good at first, then she will just start ripping into them. I've been avoiding soft toys (though she loves them), but I think I will work on this training. Thank you for posting it! :)

Unknown said...

Mr. B looks so sweet with his toys. Good luck to his look alike; hoping he finds a forever home soon!

Anonymous said...

Okay, remember when I said that you SHOULDN'T tell how you did this? Now I'm gonna have to spend the rest of the day making sure my mom doesn't look at your bloggie. Yeesh!

Wiggles & Wags,

brooke said...

Great advice! I wonder how Darwin would respond to this! We may have to try it!

Anonymous said...

This is some great advice. It sounds so simple but I am sure it took a long time before you were able to trust him to chew alone.
Like everything, there is no easy fix. So congratulations for having the patience to work with him slowly. It has paid off so well!

Sarah said...

Hmmm....I may have to rethink my "no plush toys except for Christmas" rule. They get destroyed in nano-seconds at my house. Great training method!

MCM said...

I'll try too, thanks!

Elaine Pritchard said...

I love lying with my head on my stuffies too.

I'm quite gentle with my toys but I think your tips for training sound really great.

Love and licks, Winnie

Mary said...

Interesting techniques. Neptune is very mouthy when he gets excited, so I am going to try to feign (or sometimes not!) pain and see what he does. I suspect he never learned bite inhibition as a puppy. Unlike Mr. Independent Levi, Neptune is very eager to please for the sake of just pleasing you, so I hope he will understand like Mr. B and Ms. M.

That foster dog is quite the hunk! I hope he gets adopted quickly and goes to a great home!

Liz said...

Gentle is not in Bogart's vocabulary. Neither is elegant or dainty. He is just one goofy dog! :) He is gentle with his stuffed fleece toys though only because he likes to suck on them. It's strange.

houndstooth said...

We also sometimes substitute a more durable toy when Morgan gets really into chewing one of the stuffies, too!

jen said...

That is amazing that Mr.B would stop chewing on his and lick it when you pretended to cry. That is just awesome how sensitive he was to it.
I sometimes try to get a reaction out of Leroy and I will act like I am crying and he either walks away or head butts me, I think they forgot the sensitive gene when they made him:)

ForPetsSake said...

I can honestly say I had never thought to teach a dog appropriate chewing of toys. When Nyxie was in her puppy chewing stage, Matt would tell her no and I would yelp like another puppy having been bitten too hard. To this day, Nyxie NEVER chews on me. She still gnaws on Matt and now they make a game of it. It was a long road to learn this for them, but the yelp technique works very well. Gotta love the kind hearts of dogs that don't actually want to upset us!

Two French Bulldogs said...

Adorable!! We never break or rip our toys. Lily pulls a few eyes out causing us to have blind babies. But we never rip them either.
Benny & Lily

Kari in Alaska said...

We have more of an issue with one dog getting a toy, another wanting it and a game of tug breaking out that results in a shredded toy in 5 seconds


Heather Cherry said...

This is an excellent tutorial. My pibbles can't be in the same room with a new, unblemished fuzzy toy without immediately engaging in a furious competition for the title of fastest de-stuffer and squeaker-killer. Hint: Clover always wins.

Malu'sMom said...

Thanks for these tips. I have had the hardest time teaching my pittie not to kill her toys the minute she gets them!

Kim @ Yellow Brick Home said...

Love these tips! We'd love to try them out on our Jackie boy. Thank you for this!

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