Monday, November 30, 2009

Toys for puppies, and adult dogs also!

There are many types of toys made for puppies. I tend to choose interactive toys that engage a puppy's mind. I like toys that I can put their food/treats into and will keep their interest but without being totally impossible for them to get the food. As they get better at using their paws, their mouths, and their neck muscles, I may put the food in a bit differently, or use a different type of food that may take them a bit longer to get out. I may refrigerate, I may freeze, I may stuff loosely, I may stuff tightly, it all depends on the dog. Melissa seemed to give up easily when I first introduced her to interactive toys, so we are slowly moving our way through the easiest to the more challenging. Toys that are durable and offer some good chewing fun are also on my list. Some may not be 'toys' in the true sense; after many hours of chewing they are safely ingested. I still consider them 'toys' because they entertain my puppy, she interacts with them and they give her something appropriate to chew on which is ever so important while she is teething.

Here are a few of Melissa's favorites:

The Everlasting Treat Ball is our newest toy. It is less then two weeks old, and so far is passing the grade. It is made of some sort of squishy rubber that Melissa loves to gnaw on. Treats/dry food can be put into the bottom, and it is capped with a very hard treat that Melissa has yet to make a dent in. The other evening my older dog had a good chew on the Treat Ball, not a tooth mark on the rubber or in the hard treat. This toy so far gets an A+. Melissa is still figuring out how to get the last of the treats out of the bottom, it takes her a bit longer, it keeps her busy, her mind is active. Best of all I know what my puppy is up to...and it's not chewing the furniture!

The Busy Dog Ball: place dry food in either of the two holes. Dogs can see the food, they roll the ball, the food comes out. Great way to feed your puppy while you have your meal. Food bowls? No need for them. Melissa engages her mind during mealtimes.

The Kong company has come out with some new shapes in the last few years. The red dog shaped bone is a new favorite of mine. It is softer then the original Kong and can be stuffed on each end. Melissa was able to work on this one the first day, while it took her a few days to learn how to use her paw to hold the original Kong.
For the traditional pyramid type Kong, I find the black ones to be much harder then the red ones. They can be placed in the dishwasher and are very durable. My oldest Kong is over 16 years old, but to be honest in the last month it is starting to show some wear. After several dogs, a gazillion washings, it might be ready to retire.

The Twist and Treat made by Premier. Made of two separate pieces that screw together. There are tiny holes where peanut butter or cream cheese can be smeared to engage your dog for a longer time, along with putting food inside the cavity. At first I loosely screwed the two ends together so the food would fall out easily for Melissa. Now that she has the hang of it I am able to screw it a bit tighter. We want our pups and dogs to work for their food/treats, we want them to deal with a tiny bit of frustration, but we don't want them to give up totally. Make sure they are successful when first trying these toys, then increase the challenge.

The TUX, made of zogoflex material. I use wet food inside the cavity which isn't very deep. This toy may be a good one to try for dogs who give up easily on some of the other interactive toys. Melissa likes chewing on the knobs, carrying it around, dropping it and watching it land. Keeps her entertained!

The Kibble Nibble ball is another one made by Premier. Melissa has just graduated to this ball, after conquering the use of the Busy Dog ball. This one is edged in rubber so makes it a bit quieter. It is a bit more difficult for the dry food to fall out occupying Melissa for a longer time. She sees the food, she hears it rattle, she moves it around, food falls out and she stays busy.

And two of my favorite chews that are safely digestible. Bully sticks and dried trachea. I obtain mine from Bravo Raw foods. Melissa has only chewed half a 12 inch trachea in the last 3 weeks. Her puppy teeth and gums are getting a good work-out. The bully stick fascinates her, but only after an adult dog chews on it for a bit and softens the edges.

And Melissa's favorite a real bone. A bit messy, so not always easily transportable. This is not an item I would bring into a hotel room while traveling with my dogs. Melissa is chewing on a bone right now as I type. I spread a blanket down for her, she is learning to lie quietly chewing her bone while I work at my desk. I give bones to Melissa in her crate, outside and on a blanket when I can supervise so she doesn't carry it around the house. When using the long bones, I take out the marrow which can cause digestive upset. The bone can be re-used and stuffed with peanut butter, a bit of their dry food mixed with cream cheese or canned. For the dogs who like a challenge, stuff with some softened food then freeze it before offering it to your dog!

My all time favorite is the Buster Cube. Melissa is not ready to try this one, maybe in a few weeks. Right now she is very visual. If she can't see it, she is not going to use her nose to keep searching. I am using those toys that entertain her, cause a bit of frustration but also keep her interest to keep trying.
I have obtained most of these toys through Clean Run, they are located in South Hadley Massachusetts, and also have a on-line store. Check your local shelter, they also carry many of these products.

What is your pup's favorite toy?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Puppies and Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and this year we have a 13 wk old puppy to consider when planning our Holiday weekend. Here is what we have planned:

1) Wednesday late afternoon: a long hike with 2 and 4 footed friends so Melissa will be tired so I can bake in the evening.
2) In fact she will have several play sessions outdoors to tire her out every day of the Holiday weekend. A tired dog is a good dog. Melissa will be content to spend some time in her ex-pen with a bone while we eat dinner. We also have a new interactive toy for her.
3) We will make changes in our schedule to accommodate her. Her house training is coming along nicely, we don't want her to regress by leaving her confined for long periods of time. We will keep to her routine as much as possible.
4) No leftovers or table scraps for puppy Melissa. Few dogs who are given leftovers or who raid the trash come away with no ill effects, most have digestive upset. During the Holiday Season be most vigilant about cooked bones. They should be wrapped and disposed of in a sealed trash can that has a secure lid. Take the trash out to an area where your dog will not be tempted.
5) We will take advantage of this busy weekend to socialize Melissa. New people, new places, new sights and sounds.
6) We will also make sure she has some down time. Away from the hustle and bustle of the festivities. We want to socialize her, not overwhelm her.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Those puppy teeth!!

Puppy Melissa discovered pant legs last week. It began with just a little nibble. If we walked, Melissa grabbed on harder. Not only was the pant material soft to chew, but when the pant leg moved Melissa thought it was great to chase. Dogs love to chase moving objects, it is hard wired in some breeds more than others.

So what were we to do? We have been setting and managing Melissa's environment so she does not have the opportunity to get into bad habits, while rewarding the good choices she makes. We certainly did not want chasing after pant legs and chewing on them to continue. But at the same time I did not want to dampen Melissa's enthusiasm to chase and hold onto an item. In the future I would like her to pick up, hold items in her mouth and bring them to me. If I yell 'no' it is not giving any information to Melissa! If I pull back, she will pull harder. The solution has been to redirect Melissa's attention to a toy. Before she makes a move towards our pant legs, we begin moving the toy in front of her. The toy is on a rope, the movement gets her excited, and she grabs on.

We have also increased her exercise, both physically and mentally. The latter with the use of interactive toys and shaping games (more on shaping in a future blog). Chewing on pant legs has diminished considerably. Melissa has been redirected to appropriate items to chase and chew; and I have increased her enthusiasm for playing with me. Along the way we are building a relationship built on trust and understanding.

Melissa is not being a bad dog when she chews on inappropriate items, she is not trying to be dominant over us. She is simply going through the chewing stage of puppyhood. As very young puppies they use their mouths to explore the world. In a few weeks Melissa will begin to lose her puppy teeth and her adult teeth will begin to erupt. There will be days of sore and swollen gums, and days where Melissa's chewing will intensify. I am ready! I have a freezer full of bones for her to chew, along with some new interactive toys for her to play with. For the days of sore gums, I will feed soft food and offer ice cubes to alleviate any discomfort. I will also be monitor her whereabouts very carefully so she will not be able to chew on any inappropriate objects like furniture, shoes or pant legs. She is not a bad dog, she is a normal puppy, it is my job to set up her environment for her to be successful in all she does. This is just one of many stages of raising a puppy. Keep them safe, while you both continue to have fun.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Puppy Class

Melissa has started puppy class! The class I am attending is taught by using the most up to date techniques based on scientific evidence. No yelling, jerking on leads or choke collars are allowed; positive reinforcement abounds. The atmosphere is stress-free. The setting is conducive for all the puppies to learn because they want to, not because they are intimidated. The instructor takes care that each dog has their own space to work in. No other dog can intrude on Melissa's space while she is trying new skills. She also has opportunity to show off the skills we worked on at home during the previous week. Training in a classroom situation teaches her that the skills we learn at home can follow over to different places. What good would it be if Melissa could only sit, stay and come at home? We learn in a quiet environment at home, then slowly increase the distractions in a class room situation, and then we take it on the road.

I want a dog who is able to follow my cues in all situations. Melissa is learning to focus and follow my cues no matter what is going on around her. She is learning self control skills, along with basic manners that will make her a pleasure to live with in the years to come. The classroom situation is just a tiny part of her continuing socialization. We go to different places and see different people every day. And we practice our new skills where ever we go. This photo shows my friend practicing with 3 dogs we took on a hike. Melissa is learning to come when called; it means run to the person who called and get rewarded with the best of tasty treats. Note that the other two dogs are patiently waiting their example of great self-control! No pushy rude behavior here! All taught by using positive reinforcement techniques.

But what about vaccinations? Melissa had her first vaccine before I brought her home. All the puppies in her class also are required to have at least one vaccine. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has issued a statement on the importance of socialization. ' should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated'. For more info on how the benefits of early socialization out weigh the risk of waiting until the full series of vaccinations are completed:

Have fun with your puppy!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Rainy day: What to do with puppy Melissa?

It began raining late last night. It was still raining this morning when we woke. It is still raining mid-afternoon. What do to with puppy Melissa? Besides putting her meals into interactive toys such as Kongs and the Twist and Treat by Premier, I have done a lot of hand feeding and training today. A few days after Melissa came to live with us, I began clicker training her. For more info on clicker training visit I am focusing on behaviors I would like Melissa to repeat. I am capturing and reinforcing any thing she does that I would like for her to do again. For example: She began to lift her right paw. So I clicked and treated that. Behaviors that are reinforced will be repeated. Guess what? Melissa is now offering the paw lift more and more. This morning I began putting a name to it, 'wave' just as she was lifting her paw. Click and treat. I'm having fun, her mind is engaged, she has something to do.

By focusing on the good stuff our dogs do, it puts us in a different frame of mind. Look for the good stuff, and either ignore the unwanted behavior or manage things so they can't do the bad stuff. Telling a dog 'No' is not giving them any information...remember that our dogs do not come to us knowing the English language. By focusing and rewarding the good stuff, Melissa is becoming more attentive and focused on me. A dog that is focused on you and knows what is expected of her will be calmer.

Rainy day? No problem. Hand feeding during training sessions, interactive toys, lots of bones for Melissa to chew on, and several 2 to 3 minute training sessions spread out through out the day makes for one tired puppy.

Got a question about your puppy? Write me at If you want your question published let me know and I will include it in this blog along with an answer so everyone with a new puppy can benefit.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What new experiences did your puppy have today?

Melissa had another busy day. I had a cancellation mid-day so I put the free time to good use. Along with time I had set aside in my schedule to expose Melissa to new things, this extra time allowed us to see and do more than I had planned.

What did puppy Melissa experience today?

1) She met a woman carrying a backpack.
2) She met a child.
3) She walked on a new trail, just the two of us, no other dog or person.
4) She met several people wearing heavy winter coats.
5) She visited the bank and met several more new people.
6) She saw and heard commercial lawn tractors sucking up leaves.
7) She got the chance to go up close to one of those tractors once the engine was stopped.
8) She got her nails trimmed.
9) She ate one of her meals in her crate in the car.
10) She put her feet in mud puddles, and in a creek.
11) She walked on tile, cement, asphalt, rugs, a floor with grids that had a rough surface.
12) She discovered grates in parking lots. She sniffed, peered down, and walked across.
13) She hiked with friends and 3 Labradors.
14) She heard gun shots in the distance.

Don't let the all important socialization period go by without your puppy experiencing several new things each day. Socialize in your house, at a friend's house, and out in public. Now is the time for your puppy to explore and discover the world. Having strangers touch Melissa and lean over her, while wearing different type of hats, jackets etc is just a tiny part of her socialization. Hearing different sounds, seeing new sights and taking in new smells is also part of Melissa's puppy-hood. The more she experiences during this critical period, the better she will be able to cope with every thing that comes her way during her lifetime. Have fun with your puppy, I know I am!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Puppy Playgroups

Melissa has been busy meeting many two footed and four footed friends. This past weekend Leslie Nelson of Tails U Win training center in Connecticut was in the Albany area for a two day seminar. It was a great opportunity for puppy Melissa to meet different sizes and shapes of dogs.

At 11 weeks of age, I want all her encounters during this critical socialization period to be positive. A scary experience at this time in her life could have ramifications for life. So I am careful as to what dogs she meets and who she plays with. She has played with one or two puppies at a time. She has played with stable adults who have good social skills.

By allowing her these opportunities, Melissa is continuing to use the social skills she learned from her dam and siblings. She is also learning how to use her mouth softly. Puppies play rough and tumble games, they have mock battles, they use their mouths...a LOT. By playing with other puppies and adult dogs they learn just how hard to bite...this is called bite inhibition. Should Melissa bite too hard on a playmate, they will move away and end the game or they might bite harder, communicating to Melissa that she went too far using her mouth.

Just this weekend Melissa did not heed the warning from an adult Toy Poodle who had wanted to greet Melissa but puppy Melissa moved too fast. He turned his head, a message in dog language to slow things down a bit. Melissa did not heed his message, she pushed right into his face, she wanted to play now! The Poodle escalated his communication. He growled at her, he was telling her politely to back off. And she did, she offered a play bow, slowed things down a bit and then they were off playing. It was a valuable lesson for Melissa, she learned another dog-dog communication skill. I know the owner of the Poodle, I knew the Poodle has good social skills, I knew it was a safe learning opportunity for Melissa.

In the past few days Melissa has played with a 20 week old Doberman named Jules, a 14 week old Collie named Darrowby, and 14 weekend old German Shepherd named Bessie, a 7 month old Australian Terrier named Lily, a year old Beagle named Pip, a year old Lab called Lucy and our 12 year old Borzoi Catera. Each with different play styles, each offering Melissa valuable play time while enhancing her social skills.

Playing with other dogs and puppies not only teaches our dogs social skills it tires them out and helps develop muscle. Whether you opt for a small group or a large group of dogs, choose her playmates carefully. When your pup offers the famous play bow you know she is ready to have fun.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Puppy Chewing!!

Those teeth, those needle sharp teeth! I am sure anyone who has had a puppy has experience that sensation. Puppies explore the world with their teeth, they are investigating how things taste, how certain items feel in their mouths, and they play using their mouths.

Puppies are not being dominant, which is an old fashioned term in this day of training, when they use their mouth on you. Your pup is just being a puppy. But what do to about those sharp teeth? Start by giving her appropriate chew toys. In the photo you see Melissa chewing a bone, but also notice that she is on lead...the other end is being held by my husband. We do not allow Melissa free run of the house. Just like a toddler you must monitor your pups every movement. You must know where she is at ALL times. There are just too many items in your house that Melissa would investigate using her teeth: the leather furniture, wires, wood cabinets, shoes etc. We are setting Melissa up for learning good habits. She is learning that we can watch TV while she is on a rug chewing a bone. Chewing her bone is more rewarding to her then chewing other items.

So what are appropriate chew toys? Kongs stuffed with some food, it can be part of their meals, it can be some cream cheese or p-nut butter. Melissa enjoys her Twist and Treat and Kibble Nibble Ball made by Premier Check out their website, most local pet stores carry these items. Bones are another option for chewing. The marrow should be taken out as this is what causes digestive upset. Melissa is eating a raw deer bone. Raw bones are fine, they can be part of a raw diet (Bones and Raw Food BARF), but cooked bones can splinter.

Melissa was well exercised before she was given the bone while we relaxed last night. More on how to exercise your pup and how your pup learns to use her mouth appropriately in the next few blogs. Melissa has been chewing a bone while I type, time for a potty break...and more exercise.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More photos of Melissa

Exercising puppy Melissa

Just got back an hour ago from hiking with a friend and her dog. Of course puppy Melissa went with us! She met a fisherman coming onto shore with his canoe, ran on the beach with her Lab friends, walked thru a pine forest, laid in a mud puddle, climbed up and over fallen trees.

She has had a busy day for new experiences: 1) a trip to the vet just to spend time in their waiting room where she got to meet more new people, 2) my friend coming to the house to visit, 3) Melissa spent time with other dogs while on the hike 4) she was on several different surfaces....tile at the vet's office, cement on the sidewalks of Albany, sand on the beach, pine needles in the forest, grass in a meadow, and lots of leaves not only to walk on but also to roll in! and 5) she walked around a shopping plaza, met a man pushing a cart full of groceries, and saw more cars moving. A busy day for a 10 week old puppy, but oh so important for her socialization. Don't forget new experiences in your own home for your pup...have dog loving visitors come at least 3 times a week.

Right now Melissa is sound asleep. Time for me to catch up on things around the house...before she wakes up and needs to go out. Have fun with your pup, I am having a blast with Melissa!

Puppy Socialization

A big word...socialization. Simply put, take your puppy to as many places, to meet as many people, to see as many different things as you can. Pups who are exposed to many sights and sounds between the age of 4 to 18 weeks, the prime socialization period, are more comfortable living in our world.

Melissa has been having at least one new experience each day since she arrived at our home two weeks ago. Socialize but don't terrorize your puppy. Select appropriate pups to play with your pup. Breeds have different play styles. I am monitoring who she meets and how they meet. I am cautious that she does not get body slammed or frightened by other pups or adult dogs. Just like people, dogs have different personalities. Some are bold and play rough, some are softer and like to play with only one pup at a time. I respect this in my dogs, some are leaders some are very happy being followers. That said, Melissa has met many different breeds in the past two weeks and has been having a blast rolling and running.

Melissa had her first hotel experience this past weekend....another chapter in her socialization. A friend and I were at Dogs Learning Center in Massachusetts for a training seminar with Kathy Sdao from Seattle Washington. Melissa got to meet many different people, dogs, she slept in a new room, walked on different surfaces, and played with different toys. Being among other positive reinforcement trainers I knew the environment was going to be relaxed and safe for Melissa.

Today my older dog had an appointment at the vet, you guessed it..another opportunity to expose Melissa to the world. She met a man wearing a hat and heavy coat, and a young boy who stopped to pet her. She saw fish in the aquarium. She walked on the side walks and watched cars, trucks and buses go by. All part of her being exposed to the world.

If you have a new puppy and would like to ask me a specific question please e-mail me at I will answer you on this blog so everyone with a new puppy, or anyone about to get a new puppy, can read what we all are doing with our new pups.