This is a composition of two pictures beside each other. On the left is a beagle puppy nuzzling a rubber ball with his nose. On the right is a jack russell terrier playing tug of war with a man who is mostly off camera. All you can see is his hand holding the other end of the tug toy.


A Lesson on the Finer Points of Toys

Magic! I pull out ‘red ball’ and my border collie Fen is ‘in the game’. She is ready to work, play or ham it up. Whatever’s on the menu.

Sure, dogs love to play. Dog’s love to hunt for things, forage, chase, catch and tug. This makes them prime partners in top-notch frolic. There is an art to teaching your dog how to play with you. You want your pup to recognize and use the suitable toys versus your socks, to know the rules and follow them, and to stay engaged.

Lets explore some details about toys including appropriate things for your puppy to chew on. I will refer to these as ‘Chews’. Let’s break things into categories and talk about how to use them most effectively for optimal fun and safety.

5 Components to Good Toy and Game Practice

The Right Toy for the Job

Rope toys or stuffed animals can be fun to play with but they are not the right toy when it comes to teaching a puppy to love his crate. This is a job better suited for a stuffable rubber toy filled with food your puppy loves. Plush animals and ropes can be shredded and ingested posing a threat to your pup’s health not to mention they are hardly appetizing compared to a toy stuffed with delectable chicken and pumpkin or yogurt and apple. Many young pups can’t navigate a hard rubber food-stuffed toy so they give up. A softer or easier toy to start off with will help teach the puppy the joys of working for their food. A tiny stuffed toy is not the right toy to play a good game of tug with. A longer rope with room for your hand to be at a safe distance from the puppy’s mouth is more suitable. A tiny ball is not safe for a larger dog. Using the right toy for the job is very important; it contributes to effectiveness of teaching and training as well as to optimal fun and safety. Finding the right toy for the job is reinforcing for both you and your pup.


Warning, accumulating a collection of different toys for your pup may become habit. I LOVE buying dog toys. I frequently have to will myself to keep walking past the toy section, or not. Having a variety of toys is fun and helps keep things interesting. Your pup will grow to have his favorites.


Before you go crazy buying toys for your pup it is a good idea to learn his preferences. This will come with getting to know your pup, experimenting and paying attention to what toys and games they love. Remember your puppy decides what is reinforcing.


Keep your dog’s toys stowed away. Trunks, baskets on top of crates or in a drawer are some good options. Safe storage helps keep toys off the ground, aids in keeping the dog interested in toys and helps prevent the destruction of toys left unattended with a pup.


Pick up all the dog toys. Avoid leaving any lying around. The toys you play with together should get put away when the game is finished. The toys that are safe to chew on like food stuffable toys and appropriate bones and other ‘animal bits’ can be given to the pup to chew but you should still check on the puppy frequently. When he is not chewing they should be picked up. Rubber stuffable toys with an opening and an additional air hole are safe for crate time with the puppy. Toys and chews should be inspected regularly for loose bits and wear and tear. As bits from the chews get gnawed down they should get thrown out so the pup doesn’t ingest anything that could be a choking hazard.

A Toy’s Purpose

Toys serve many different purposes. They can entertain your pup when you can’t. They can be therapeutic in nature providing chewing, gnawing or foraging opportunities for your puppy. You can play awesome games together using toys. The fun and lighthearted nature of games is superior when it comes to teaching your puppy new things. Not only is holding a chew, as your puppy gnaws it, a nice way to bond; it is also an opportunity to work on exercises to help prevent resource guarding. Games like retrieve, tug and hide and seek give your pup the opportunity to exercise their predatory chops. Some dogs may find toys more reinforcing than food when it comes to training. Toys serve many worthy purposes for lots of different jobs. Learn to be toy savvy.


This is a graphic that says “TOYtorial, Seven puppy toy categories”. It also has the & logo on it

  1. Things to throw Balls and discs. There are so many different styles of balls for your dog to play with, all of these toys should be brought out to play with and put away after the game. Soft mesh rubber balls are great for pups – choose appropriate sizes. Avoid tennis balls, which will act like sandpaper on the dog’s teeth, not to mention the chemicals used in these ball. My Puppy Pick…  JW Pet Hol-ee Roller
  2. Things to play tug with Ropes, fleece ropes, rubber rings or long soft plush unstuffed toys for puppies.The main thing here is that your puppy likes it and that you have ample space for hand safety. Tug is a fantastic game to teach your puppy.
  3. Stuffed animals Soft plush toys and snuggle toys. Sometimes these toys have a squeaker in them. These toys are frequently shredded and chewed by dogs and sometimes ingested. They are super-cute and fun to play with but be sure your dog is not going to chew it up. They certainly aren’t my first pick for leaving in a crate or pen with a pup. I think they are better suited for indoor retrieve.
  4. Food Stuffable Rubber Toys – Food Balls and other food dispensing toys – Puzzles, and snuffle mats (AKA work to eat toys)Stuffable rubber toys, food balls and other food dispensing toys and puzzles all have something in common. They provide your dog with the opportunity to work for their food. Foraging and working or searching for their meals, treats or just for a fun game is fulfilling for your dog. Dog food bowls are the biggest waste of time. Why feed your dog from a bowl when you can use his food to provide this enriching opportunity. Kong dog toys are a popular example of a food stuffable toy.  My Puppy Picks… West Paw Toppl Treat ToyOmega Paw Tricky Treat, Kong Wobbler Nina Ottosson is Queen of the dog puzzles
  5. Squeakies Pups respond to rapidly repeated, short burst, high-pitched sounds. Enter the squeaky toy. These can be most helpful in getting your puppy’s attention. They can help with a lagging puppy learning to walk on a leash. They can help speed up a dawdling recall or chase me game. Plus they are just fun to play with, toss around or let your pup run around and squeak. They come in all types of different shapes and sizes and materials.
  6. Chews A bone produced from nylon does not a good chew make. Would you like to chew on nylon? Do you really want you puppy ingesting nylon or some other bizarre man made material. Chews should be biologically appropriate for your dog to ingest. They may be given raw, baked, smoked or dried. They include but are not limited to hooves, bullies (bull penis), Beef knuckles and marrowbones, chicken feet and necks. My Puppy Picks… Bullies, hooves smeared with goat cheese, yak cheese sticks, smoked knuckle bones
  7. Grippers to hold chews These are rubber toys that you can jam a ‘bully’ or other animal bit into and they grip the chew tightly. They add a layer of safety since the pup will not be able to swallow the small part left inside the gripper. It also gives the dog something to hold on to as they gnaw away. Examples… Kong Goodie Bone, Orbee Tough Nooks

A word on animal bits

It might be gross to you but to your dog gnawing on a big raw meaty bone can be one of the most satisfying parts of his day. I encourage you to learn about the benefits of providing this type of chewing for your dog.

Give a dog a bone

Often people are surprised that they might have to do some introductions to get their pups into bone-chewing mode.

Hold the bone at first and let the dog sniff it if he acts disinterested smear a little something tasty like goat cheese on the bone. It shouldn’t take long for your pup to start to learn to enjoy. For the first handful of sessions hold the bone as your pup chews on it. Since bones are often very high value items to dogs they can be most helpful in crate training game plans and are also good aides in helping to keep your dog’s teeth clean. Finding a good pet supply store that can educate you about bones and keep you in good supply with healthy chews is a smart move.

Safety Considerations

  • As with all toys, bones and other animal bits must be managed carefully and small pieces that could pose a choking hazard should be taken away.
  • If your dog has shown signs of guarding, a raw bone is not advisable. They are very high value items and the dog may become stressed at the prospect of you taking the bone.
  • Always work with the help of a certified professional trainer if you are dealing with guarding issues with your dog.


A composition of two different pictures. The photo on the right is a of a german shepherd puppy sitting, looking at a food stuffable rubber toy. There is some kibble spilled out of the toy. The photo on the left is of a brown poodle hunting for kibble on a snuffle styled mat.


Toy Stuffing Tips

  • Think Goldilocks; you want the food to come out just right. If it is too hard to get at, the dog will give up, too easy and he will be finished too quickly. Stuff it just right and he is reinforced and satisfied. Honing your toy stuffing skills will take some time and consideration. Learn you pup’s preferences, get creative and use your imagination.
  • Anything that is healthy and safe for your dog to eat can be stuffed in a toy, chicken, pumpkin, yogurt, sweet potato, apple, banana, strawberries, blueberries, cheese, turkey, chicken stock (then freeze).
  • Need some inspiration? Check out Kong’s recipe section. You will find lots of shared recipes on other sites too if you do a search for dog toy stuffing recipes.


Any of these toys can be used to play fun games with your dog. There are rules to playing games. Rules for you to follow, and rules your pup needs to follow.

Your Rules

Stay engaged with your dog; keep your head in the game.

Quit the game (especially when teaching a young pup) while they are still engaged. You will build on this as the pup’s attention span grows.

Put the toy away after the game is over.

Pup’s Rules

Teach your pup the give/sit cue so he doesn’t jump for the toy.

If he bites too hard while playing and gets your skin, stop the game.

If he quits on you – the game is over.

Tip – teach your puppy to play outdoors too. This ensures you can have a good game of retrieve in a field or park or a fun game of hide and seek or tug in the vet’s office.

Inexpensive ways to create DIY puzzles

Brown cardboard TP or paper towel rolls can make a great toy. Fold one end. Drop in a handful or kibble or treats, fold over the other end. Punch a couple holes in the tube and let your pup have at it. The same game can be played with a brown paper egg carton. Drop treats in a muffin tin and cover with balls. Uses a couple of old towel tossed on the floor, create creases and crevices to drop treats into.

In my practice I consider games of greater importance to condition sooner in a young pup than some of the everyday moves like down or loose leash. Everything is important but if you focus on providing these fun outlets for your puppy it is bond building and so enriching for your relationship. This will benefit every aspect of raising a pup. Learning your puppy’s preferences when it comes to toys and games and chews is a win-win endeavor.

Over to You

What are your dog’s favourite toys? Do you have any toy stuffing recipes or DIY dog toy project you’d care to share?

7 Things You Might Not Know About Your Dog

young woman standing on a dock with a dog. They are facing away from the camera looking out over some mountains. The woman is carrying a backpack. They look like they are about to set out on an adventure together.

Big Plans!

New puppy, exciting times! You are now responsible for another creature with an entirely unique agenda that is much different from yours. Whether this is a new puppy, an adolescent or an older dog you are adopting; I’m sure you have some ideas concerning the behavior or your dog and what you want him to do for you. Common things that top most people’s list are not mess up the house with bathroom accidents or destructive chewing. Not pull you when you walk on leash together. Sit and down when you ask. And to come a running quickly when you call. Okay you’ve got your plans now what about your dogs?

Learning about what makes a dog uniquely ‘doggy’ is something that anyone caring for a dog should aim to do.

This means learning things other than how to teach your pup to sit or walk with you. This is about understanding what makes your dog tick. This makes you that much more compassionate and scholarly. A pet dog ethologist! This is really doing right by your dog.

You might be surprised to learn the following about your beastie


A Jack Russell puppy is biting into a chew stick which is being held by a man's hand.

1. Most behaviors that we perceive as a problem are natural for your dog.

Some examples to help illustrate this point are; your dog wants to walk fast in lots of different directions and explore and sniff. They might want to eat gross things or roll in smelly things. They want to jump up to say hi and greet you and sniff and lick your mouth. They don’t want you to brush them or bath them or trim their nails. They don’t want you to leave them home alone.


Dog laying upside-down in the mud,

2. Most behaviours that we want from our dog on a regular basis are unnatural for the dog.

Walk nicely beside me. Don’t jump up to say hi. Stay still; let me clip your nails. Stay still while I give you a bath. Don’t chase that squirrel! Don’t pee there!

3. Dogs don’t know the difference between what we deem as right and wrong. They are not concerned with the rightness or wrongness of something.

They learn to do things that we want when we take the time to teach them with compassion and respect, using force-free methods and positive reinforcement.

Our dogs can also suffer undue stress and learn to not trust us because they may perceive us as volatile and dangerous for reasons they don’t understand. Here is an example. Arriving home to find a mess the dog gets yelled at. So people coming home starts to become a predictor of yelling and anger. The dog slinks and offers appeasing behaviours that people misread as ‘guilt’… his ‘admission’ to his ‘bad behaviour’.

Far different are the emotional lives of these dogs from their fellow dogs educated gently and compassionately with science backed, force free methods.

4. Dogs are concerned with what is safe and what is dangerous.

This doesn’t mean that they naturally understand the concept of crossing a busy street as being dangerous.

Dogs learn from their experiences, be they good or bad. If, after a certain behaviour, something good happens, they are likely to repeat that behaviour. Conversely, if something unpleasant occurs after the behaviour, they are less likely to repeat it.

5. Dog’s never do things out of spite or jealously. To impart these emotions on them without understanding more fully why they behave a certain way is irresponsible.

They may try to keep other dogs away from you at the park when you have treats but this is because an important resource is at risk of being nabbed by an intruder.

6. Dogs are predators, they love to chase, catch and chew.

Providing a pup with these outlets by playing games is an important part of having a dog.


A Vizsla running full out across a field.

7. Dogs are not born with a desire to please us.

This is a tough one for many people. This doesn’t mean you can’t build a beautiful relationship with your dog. But the Walt Disney myth of the dutiful dog is a pile of BS.

Dogs are interested in what’s in it for them. Who can blame them for that?

Continued Reading

I applaud anyone who goes the extra mile to really understand the nature of a dog. I think one should be interested in learning about the finer points of their dog. This will certainly contribute to a deeper more fulfilling life together. I have three continued reading picks to offer you now. Every dog person should read these and keep them on the bookshelf to refer to!. They were all game changers for me. I am grateful to the women who wrote them.

Jean Donaldson’s – The Culture Clash will change your life. How you look at your dog will never be the same. Reading this book and taking it to heart will make you a better person.

Suzanne Clothier’s – If A Dog’s Prayers Were Answered… Bones Would Rain From the Sky You will laugh and cry and become that much more of an advocate for your dog.

Patricia McConnell’s –The Other End of The Leash Another inspiring, uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable read. It will elevate your knowledge to new heights and your sense of dog.

Does anything you have learned here surprise you? Which of your dog’s behaviours might you look at differently now? Perhaps with more compassion, wisdom and an educated eye.

Everyday Moves – Life Beyond The Classroom


“Lately I have been calling behaviours like sit, lie down, come, loose leash walking, leave it and off ‘Everyday Moves’ ”


The more I learn, grow and evolve in my field, the more I dislike the word ‘obedience’. It denotes subordination. Our dogs don’t owe us, if anything we owe them. I think a solid education taught without force and with plenty of positive reinforcement would be a great starting point.

Lately I have been calling behaviors like sit, lie down, come, loose leash walking, leave it and off ‘everyday moves’ or EDMs. These are things the pup already knows how to do; it is just much easier, fun and safer when he does them reliably for us. I think that the ‘EDMs’ we would like our dogs to do are similar to our parents teaching us manners as we grow up. Knowing how to do particular things and behave in certain ways in certain situations can help us get along better in life. Perhaps be welcome in more places too. When we are gracious and patient we make the world a nicer place for ourselves and for others. The same goes for our pups. When we take the time to teach them certain behaviors this may allow them to be out with us more often and to feel safe and calm in life.


A young woman sits at a table doing needlepoint while a beagle sits next to her on a chair with his head resting on the table while watching her work.


The pet industry is a multi billion-dollar industry but the dollars in the dog sector are barely being spent on education. The majority is being spent on food and vet bills with a tiny piece of the pie going towards training classes. Preventable behavioral problems remain the number one reason dogs are relinquished or euthanized so it seems to me more attention to training and behavior could go a long way to help ensure that our dogs are able to live long, happy lives.


“There is a process involved in your dog’s education; a series of steps necessary in order to achieve a particular outcome.”


There is a process involved in your dog’s education; a series of steps necessary in order to achieve a particular outcome.  This process often requires a financial investment and it will require your time and energy as well.

The early steps look like this:

1.   Decide what you want to learn and who will teach you. Special consideration is to be taken with puppies that should not be denied an early education. They have specific needs that must be met within a certain time frame.

2. You learn.

3. Your dog learns from you.

4. Use everything you and your dog are learning and apply it into everyday life.

Continue reading

Shut the Front Door!

Small brown dog is peering out the front door or a house.

Front door etiquette for your puppy is an important set of skills to teach early on in the game plan! And no I am not talking that malarkey about your dog having to go out the front door behind you!

The doors and large windows in our homes can elicit excitement in a pup. There is the opportunity for viewing or smelling or greeting that can cause a puppy to become over aroused or stressed and ultimately become a problem.

As with any of the preventative exercises that we do, we embark (pun intended) on them with a knowingness that this is predictable doggie behavior that just might get them into some serious hot water (putting it nicely) if we don’t pay attention and do our due diligence.

You can teach your puppy that the front door is not such a big deal. Even if their favorite person arrives bringing treats and toys. Santa, is that you! (I know your weren’t expecting him to use the front door) No matter what is happening at the door you want to be able to get your pup to settle with relative ease and play it cool.

Hey all you puppy people, games are the way to go! Your training sessions should feel like a game. Aim to make them fun, short and lighthearted. With some practice under your belt you can start to put these skills into play in ‘real life’ situations. Just like all the magic that happens with your pup’s education, training is all about layers. Teach your puppy basic skills and build upon them as he learns and matures.

Here are some foundation behaviors for you that teach a puppy the ins and outs (pun intended) of door etiquette. Continue reading

Dogs will be Dogs

woman running on dock with a lighthouse in the background. She is running towards viewer and has a dog on either side of her running along in a carefree manner.

I have a challenge for you. For one day I want you to observe your dog, play with your dog, and work with your dog without judgment!

I have a vivid childhood memory of being at my Grandparent’s place. We were celebrating a birthday for my younger sister in their beautiful back garden. My Sis and I were messing around as sisters will do and my Grandpa Johnny got impatient with us. What I remember so clearly about this was what my Mom said to her father, she gently chastised him and informed him that kids will be kids. I felt so good when she defended us from my stern Grandfather. It felt liberating and safe to be me!

I think the quality of any relationship can be enhanced with an absence of judgment. This is no easy task! We are constantly labeling and defining everything in our lives. Events and people are condensed down to good or bad. Things make us happy or make us sad. Maybe we are missing some of the richness of life when we view things this way.

We have a propensity to do this with our dogs too. Whether it is teaching a puppy the ways of the world, or working on more complex moves with a more mature dog.

New puppy parents frequently want more from their pup than what is realistic. Or get impatient when everyday behaviors, like come and loose leash walking take time to train to fluency.

I am not going to call any of this bad. That would be judging and today I am taking myself up on my own challenge : ). Today I am going to hang around with my dog and simply be with her and have fun. We will work on moves, some that I have been working on for months! We will play and walk. Sometimes she will pull me, sometimes she won’t. She will mostly always come running when I call. I hope that I contribute to her feeling good and safe and free to be her, I think I do.

If you feel inclined to take us up on this challenge maybe you will share some of your experience of that day with us here.