Talking Dogs: Pet behaviorist Lisa Moore on what to do if a dog becomes a toy destroyer.

Share story

Mary is frustrated with her dog Digger and his tendency to destroy every toy she gave him.

She has stopped giving him toys, and is also wondering whether there are any indestructible toys available for dogs.

Yes, Mary, there are some nearly indestructible toys for dogs on the market, but I’d suggest that you look at your situation in another light. Isn’t the whole purpose of giving your dog a toy supposed to be to provide him with some fun? I submit that if Digger is destroying his toys, you are on target with what he likes, and he’s having a great time with them!

Toys should play a huge role in the raising, training and bonding process with your dog. Aside from the dog’s perspective of toy equals fun, they can provide oral activity for the mouthy adolescent, relieve boredom, be a reward for good deeds, provide activity and exercise, and make you more relevant.

Edible items, like rawhides, raw bones, pig ears, etc., are great choices for chewing and relieving boredom. Some of the hard rubber items with ports to stuff goodies inside are also good choices, especially for the power chewers. A simple tennis ball, soccer ball or a Chase It (a toy on the end of a line) can provide lots of activity. Virtually any item your dog likes should go into your toy chest. But it’s how you offer these items that really makes the difference.

In my house with three dogs, I have more than 30 toys. Chewable items, plush squeaky toys that can easily be destroyed, toys that crinkle, toys that jingle, tug toys, retrievable toys, hard rubber toys, etc. I have every possible texture and material variation available. They are all my toys, but I generously let my dogs borrow them.

Like everything else, time with toys must be earned. The toys are not down at the dogs’ level, where they can get to them anytime they please; I keep them up and out of sight. Time with toys can be earned by simply complying with a simple cue, like “Sit” or “Down,” “Shake,” “Rollover,” etc.

If the dog chooses not to comply with my request, that’s OK; I just don’t offer the toy, and we try again later.

My dogs love to destroy plush squeaky toys, and I let them — under my supervision. When they have pulled all of the stuffing out, I collect the remains and either restuff the item and sew it up to be offered at another time, or toss it.

If I want to give my dogs some toy time while I’m reading, I offer them toys that will keep them settled rather than active, like a rawhide or rubber stuffed chewy. If I’m out exercising the dogs, I always have a small tug toy and a ball tucked away, to use as rewards for coming when called, or responding correctly to a variety of cues. Having these items with me increases my value from the dogs’ perspective. Of course they will come when called; there’s a chance they will get to play tug with me!

So keep a variety of toys on hand for Digger, Mary. Just control the play sessions a bit, and offer those plush toys as a reward for interacting with you, and tougher toys when he needs a good, long chewing project.

Lisa Moore’s pet-behavior column is an occasional feature.