As a puppy, Nylabones were great! So were anything else that could withstand heavy chewing, are not toxic, and are not digestive blockages waiting to happen. From adolescence, Mya specially loved squeaky stuffed toys and her favorite throw pillow that she would pounce on and dig into. She became more trustworthy with toys that she could manage to shred as she has learned to spit out the shreds and little pieces that she manages to tear away from her toys- toilet paper cardboard rolls, empty mineral water and Gatorade bottles, and other stuffed toys. As an adult dog, she still loves all of the above, and also plays with interactive toys, as she enjoys the mental stimulation from these.
One regret that I have (though it isn't too late) is not having played tug with Mya as she was growing up. I read more than once in dog behavioral books that playing tug, which is a game of strength, increases the aggression in dogs and should be avoided. ("Child-proofing Your Dog", Brian and Sarah Kilcommons, (C) 1994) Though tug was Mya's favorite game, I banned playing tug with her as we were preparing her for the arrival of our precious baby boy. We simply didn't want to encourage overly playful, aggressive behavior that time. About a year later, I learned from Jojo Isorena, Dog Behaviorist and owner of BetterDog Canine Behavior Center, that there is actually a proper way of playing tug that does not lead to aggression problems. He demonstrated it with Mya and it indeed looked so much fun! I should have known better than to believe the overly-simplification of the dog training books that I read. I wish I knew this when Mya was still a puppy. Nonetheless, I will be practicing this with her from now on.
Proper Way to TugStart with a proper tug toy.
1. A good tug toy is made of fabric that can withstand your canine's teeth and the heavy pressure of tugging. It should be soft enough to be comfortable in his mouth. Avoid stiff as well as rough fabrics that could cause abrasion and sores inside his mouth.
2. Mind the size of the tug toy. Make sure that it fits comfortably in your dog's mouth- not too big, not too small. Mya rejected my past 2 attempts at a home-made tug toy as they turned out a bit too large for her shiba (small) mouth to grip. Instead of going for the tug, she would go for the rope handle, which was, on the other hand, very narrow. I discouraged continuing the game with her just gripping the rope between her teeth because the prospect of having to treat a dog with rope-burn in her mouth did not appeal to me at all.
3. Use a tug with a handle. This is for your own safety. Sometimes, in the middle of intense tugging, your dog would have to adjust his grip. You wouldn't want your fingers to accidentally get caught in between the tug toy and his teeth. That would be ugly.
Catch his attention with the tug toy. Using the handle, hold it in front of him and swing it around, back and forth until he gets the urge to grab it with his teeth and pull it. Your tug game has officially commenced. Make sure you don't lose, as you need to keep your place in the heirarchy. He needs to know you are stronger than him. But once in a while, give him slack so he can also enjoy the game. Now this is the most important part. Throughout the game, you should have intermissions, when you command him to let go. A simple "drop it" command will do. When he obeys and lets go (acknowledging your leadership), you start the game all over again.(reward)
End the game by taking the tug toy and keeping it. (sealing your leadership role)
With a highly playful dog like Mya, almost nothing else comes close to a game of tug in terms of bonding- unless giving her a bath in a very cramped shower enclosure counts! ;)