Give them something to feel good about

black & white dog with stuffed inchworm toyFearful dogs’ brains have become very good at feeling afraid, startled, anxious and I’d guess that if a person exhibited the same symptoms as many of these dogs do they’ve be considered depressed. To help fearful dogs start having a better outlook on life we have to find ways to provide them with either things or opportunities that make them feel good. The easiest solution should be obvious, it’s the one many of us come up with, we settle down with a pint of our favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Forget about feeling guilty afterwards, I don’t think I’ve met a dog who has said, “Gosh I shouldn’t have eaten all that.” Heck even after puking it up most will eat it again.

There are a variety of good options as far as chews and bones go, and if you buy them english bulldog playing with treats in a muffin tinin bulk, can store them in the freezer and save some money. By far the least expensive and versatile is to buy a few food dispensing toys, like the Kong. If properly cared for- not exposed to the weather, removed and cleaned before a dog destroys them, they can last for years. There are other dispensers which are used for kibble that require a dog to interact with the toy beyond holding and licking. Nina Ottosson makes a variety of these toys. Not only does the dog need to think about ‘how’ to get the food, the toys itself may have moving parts or make noise as it rolls around on uncarpeted floors. This can be helpful for dogs who are startled by movement or sound. Some toys may not be appropriate to leave with a dog unsupervised because of parts that could be ingested.

Dogs can be fed all of their meals from a toy or hollow marrow bone. You can use the dog’s regular food, filling them with their kibble or canned food and sealing the ends with, cream cheese, peanut butter or some other soft food. It may not take a dog much longer to finish off their meal than from a bowl, but if you moisten their kibble, mix it with canned dog food, baby food or other soft food to bind it, and freeze it, it will take longer. I like to put a few bits of kibble in a Kong first, I find that sometimes the dog can’t reach that far and soft food ends up being stuck there. Then I let my creativity run rampant, or just empty out leftovers from the frig. Dogs on low fat diets can have canned pumpkin, yogurt, cottage cheese or baby food. I like to add different textures, dropping in bits of kibble, training treats, apple pieces, biscuits or other crunchy bits, layered in with whatever else I’m adding. I’m not sure if my dogs appreciate this effort, but it makes me feel good. I fill several at a time and keep them in the freezer.

The local thrift shop in our town always has a selection of stuffed animals for $1 a piece. I choose ones with no plastic eyes or other parts a dog could chew off and eat. The stuffing should be fiberfill. Many have either styrofoam or tiny plastic beads. Neither is a good choice. The styrofoam balls will stick to everything and the plastic beads can be found in dog poop days later. Check for squeakers or other noisemakers. I actually feel guilty when I purchase many of these toys as they are in great condition and I know that won’t last once I hand them over to my dogs.

If you have a dog who is too afraid to explore their environment, play or go for walks you need to start somewhere to help them feel better about life. What better way than a guilt-free pint of Karmel Sutra.

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14 comments so far

  1. rangerskat on

    Chewing seems to be something that dogs across the board find relaxing so our fraidy dog Finna has an endless supply of bones, bully sticks, hard rubber toys that squeak, and other chew items (Check-up Chews are a favorite although they don’t last very long) Marrow bones that the dogs have emptied if t hey are still in good condition are washed and restuffed with ground meat mixtures and frozen. We have a bunch of Kongs and kong like food toys but to me they’re harder to keep clean so I tend not to use them. Easier for me to reuse the marrow bones. I like the pattern we’ve established where she goes for her morning walk, we play ball in the yard for awhile and then we come in and she gets something to chew on while I feed the cats and then settle down to deal with e-mail, etc.

    Currently, she’s asleep at my feet. I was very pleased with her today. On our walk she’d stopped to read the pee-postings on a popular retaining wall and when a woman came out of the house across the street my reactive fearful dog gave me two soft attention getting barks “hey do you see it” and when I responded with a calm “yep, someone over there, shall we boogie” she trotted happily along with me in a calm and well mannered way. Last month she would have totally lost it to have someone she didn’t know that close.

  2. Jen on

    This was a good read!

    I have a knockoff Ottosson-style toy for Elka, and she also has Kongs and her Monster Mouth, and she seems so very pleased with herself when she successfully empties any of them. For a fearful dog, this must be a fantastic baseline confidence builder!

    • Debbie on

      Thanks Jen. I realized that many people may not realize the value of these activities for dogs beyond just keeping them quiet.

      Debbie Jacobs Fearfuldogs.com

  3. KellyK on

    Diamond loves her marrow bones. Chicken feet too. I’ve noticed that my grocery store carries marrow bones in the meat section sometimes, much cheaper per bone than the ones from the pet supply store.

    • fearfuldogs on

      We don’t get chicken feet around here. Do you special order them? Do you feed them raw? I might check with the food coop where I get necks.

      • KellyK on

        There’s a pet supply store near me that has a huge variety of treats, chews, and food, which is where we get chicken feet. They’re dehydrated, I believe, not raw.

        If you can get them from a food co-op, that would probably be a lot cheaper. (I know grocery store marrow bones cost less than half what Primal frozen marrow bones for dogs cost.) I keep meaning to talk to the farm stand/store up the road from us, since they work with a bunch of local farms.

  4. Emma on

    Great post and ideas. We also use treats and dry food hidden in empty boxes of all shapes and sizes, cereal, tea, bisuits etc. We also stuff old kitchen and wrapping paper tubes. It’s a little messy and only suitable for those who won’t eat the cardboard too but it’s cheap and our dogs have great fun with it.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Those are other great ideas for helping a fearful dog think about something else. Don’t tell Fedex or the USPS- I like their mailing envelopes for treats. The tyvek envelopes require a fair bit of effort to shred.

    • KellyK on

      Ooh, good idea. That’s a great way to reuse wrapping paper/paper towel tubes. I wrap treats up in a dish towel. Diamond unwraps it pretty neatly and doesn’t even chew up the towel. She’s even figured out how to untie a loose knot.

  5. Heather on

    These can also be wonderful ideas for those busy or recuperating dogs, not just the fearful ones. Keeps them occupied, works some of the brain and stretches the calories. This saved our sanity when Abby recovered from her knee surgery for a few months. Hers have to be frozen or no challenge.

    I did find with my fearful guy, he needed a little guidance and high value stuffing. He’d come from a puppy mill with no resources, and really just gave up rather than chewing and discovering the food. He does better if it’s not frozen, or the top layer is smelly. He’d get it now though, he’s recognized he has a right to have stuff.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Dogs who have been confined for much of their lives, with limited stimulation, may have very little tolerance or resiliency, and few problem solving skills. Thanks for pointing out that it can take some time, and adaptation, to help them learn.

  6. Jay from The Depp Effect on

    My first thought when I get a dog who chews my furniture or the wall (yep, had both) is to go out and buy a good quality smoked bone to give them something they are allowed to chew. So many people don’t realise that chewing is a self-calming behaviour in adults, and that punishing the dog will only make them worse.

    My second thought is to buy a DAP diffuser to help calm them. And my third thought is a bitter ‘anti-chew’ spray for the protection of my furniture!

  7. Wendy on

    To make your stuffing moer challenging, add some cheese and zap it in the microwave then let it cool. The cheese will become tough or hard. Depends on the cheese. I love the muffintin-tennisball puzzle!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Great tip, and it can spread out and line the inside of a bone nicely. Makes me want a microwave.


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