Dawn Harris founded the Benton County, TN nonprofit Tree of Life Education Center (focusing on community outreach and resource alignment for pet owners), Revelation Gardens (a dog and cat sanctuary), and Reset Your Defaults (offering virtual retreats and stress reduction tools for pet owners).
Simple Strategies for Living Life Well: The Power of Toys
By Dawn Harris
Our dog and cat sanctuary is home to rescue-pets from 9- weeks old to 16-years old. We see all kinds of pet behaviors including grief and aggression. Often when a rescue comes to live at the sanctuary, they are afraid but slowly they begin to build trust and become content and playful. It is so rewarding to see a rescue-pet that hid on their first day, learn to play with toys and snuggle up to nap with a new rescue-brother or sister.
Sometimes though, pets show behaviors that can be challenging especially when life is very full and the behaviors are destructive or aggressive. There are really great books and videos available that provide ideas on how to work with difficult behaviors. One simple strategy I found that works really well with my aggressive, dominating puppy dog is the use of toys.
When my rescue-pet puppy began to gnaw on her rescue-brother, I found myself unsure how to stop her. Through trial and error I found toys to be a very effective distraction and method of training. Now I am a firm believer in the power of toys!
It was important to find very durable toys because toys can be harmful if they are torn apart and ingested. Once I found durable toys, I gave both dogs a bunch of toys exclaiming how special they were that they had so many toys. By making a big deal out of the toys and speaking in an upbeat way, they associated the toys with feeling good.
I began to condition the aggressive puppy through consistent use of the key word TOY and the upbeat positive tone in which I spoke it and I provided lavish praise when she played with a toy. This coupled with her experience of comfort the toy provided when she chewed on it instilled in her a very positive experience with toys.
Over time when she became aggressive and began to dominate and gnaw on her rescue-brother, I used the keyword TOY and she would find a toy choosing to chew on it rather than him.
Even though this has been very effective, it doesn’t work 100% of the time. Sometimes even when I do all the right things, the outcome is not what I want or expect. So, what do we do when our best efforts don’t work the way we intend?
Stay tuned for more Simple Strategies for Living Life Well when I talk about letting go of expectations.
Until then, remember to purr often, wag without hesitation, and nap in the sun at every opportunity!
If you would like to use toys as a way to curb difficult pet behaviors but cannot afford them, or if you would like me to answer a pet related question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are a store manager and would like to donate durable toys or if you are a community member interested in providing a donation, please send an email to email@example.com.