What is autoshaping or adressing problem behavior using chewing toys

Autoshaping is a training technique, which does not require the trainer to actively do something – instead, the behavior of the trained subject is modified by a specific setting of the environment, which will eventually modify the behavior.

The form of autoshaping I would like to talk about here is autoshaping using chewing toys. What you have to do is feeding your dog form specialized interactive chewing toys instead of feeding from the bowl. Every piece of food, which the dog receives from the toy will reinforce (“reward”) the behavior the dog is currently performing.

Every time it will be something like:

  • I am not barking
  • I am not seeking the attention and I am playing alone with my toy
  • I am not chewing anything inappropriate
  • I am laying down quietly

It is proven, that this kind of feeding – just like any activity when the dog is using his nose and is solving some “puzzle”  –  is reducing stress and in long-term leads to calmer and balanced dog, which barks less. It is a simple and effective technique for prevention and solving of problems like excessive barking, separation anxiety, destructive chewing, “hyperactivity” and so on…

Also, it increases the probability for the dog to choose this toys for chewing instead of something inappropriate like shoes.

In free nature, the canines are spending the most of the time when not sleeping by searching or consuming food. By feeding from bowl we are taking away this natural activity from them. When feeding from chewing toys we are using the feeding ritual to provide the dog with this natural activity and also we are using it for training.

There are a lot of toys on the market so everyone can choose whatever toy he likes. Or you can create your own. Important is for the toy to be health-conscious and durable. It is appropriate to have more toys, so the dog has more toys to rotate.

The way of filling the chewing toy should meet following:

  • part is easily accessible – it serves as an immediate reward and to gain dogs attention
  • another part is not so easily accessible – it is rewarding the dog continuously during its play with the toy
  • last part is the most difficult to be accessible  – it serves for the dog not to lose the interest. Also, the dog can learn to bring the toy to us to help him. If we will help him to access the last pieces, we will “increase on price” in dog´s eyes.

Great way how to fill such a toy is to soak the kibble and create mash from it. Then we will fill in the toy and put it into the freezer for some time. This way we will create a popsicle. (of course, we need suitable shape of the toy).

If the dog is not interested it probably means that we did not choose an appropriate toy, or we filled it wrongly.

You can learn more about the benefits and possibilities of using chewing toys for feeding the dog from free e-books written by veterinarian and dog trainer Dr. Ian Dunbar – BEFORE You Get Your Puppy and AFTER You Get Your Puppy. You can download these books in the Dog Training & Education part.

Here is an additional video. It is in Slovak language, but there are English subtitles added:

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