Month: February 2022

Tearribles Review: Neither a Chew Toy nor a Tug Toy

Tearribles Review: Neither a Chew Toy nor a Tug Toy

There are thousands of people searching for that perfect stuffed toy: the one their dog will love playing with and which will last longer than a couple of days.

The Tearrible sounds like that toy, but for us, it wasn’t. It’s a toy meant to be played with in one limited way—a way a dog might or might not enjoy. Surely there are dogs for whom this would be a great toy. But be sure to understand how the toy actually works before you assume your dog is one of them.

Even though it is advertised as very tough, and gives hope to us guardians of super chewers, the company advises against letting the dog just play with it. They recommend playing tug using the toy, but a very specific kind of tug game that stretches the meaning of the word. The toy is not well suited for normal tug play at all.

Tearribles

Tearribles was a Kickstarter project of an innovative dog toy in 2017. The inventors got great backing and set up manufacturing. The toy was a sturdily made stuffed monster featuring removable appendages the dog could pull out: legs, arms, and a tail fastened with Velcro. After the dog ripped them out, the human could press them back in place.

They now have an adorable (yes, it’s really cute) virus toy with16 protein spikes to pull off.

I was an early donor/investor and paid enough to get the Extra Large Tearrible. It seemed like a good idea—if the dog did indeed enjoy playing with it the way it was designed.

That turned out to be a big “if.”

Pros

  • The toys are absolutely adorable.
  • They are made well.
  • They are tougher than a lot of toys.
  • For certain dogs it could be a favorite toy.

Cons

  • I believe the signature removable limbs are of limited interest for most dogs.
  • Dogs can shred and destuff the toys, despite the advertising.
  • They are marketed as tug toys, but they lack the most basic features of a good tug toy.
  • There is misinformation about dogs on the website.

The marketing takes advantage of our desire for the impossible: a toy that is fun for a dog to rip up that doesn’t rip up.

My Experience with the Tearrible

The Tearrible out of the box

I received mine in early 2018. I gave it to Clara and Zani with some other toys. Within just a couple of minutes, Clara had removed an ear from the Tearrible. She swallowed it before I could intervene. She usually spits out the things she tears off, but this piece went right down.

I supervised more closely and let her continue with the toy. She did pull the bottom legs unit off (as the toy is designed for). Then she immediately set to work chewing out the seams she had exposed on the bottom corners. She pulled out a fair amount of stuffing while I made sure she didn’t swallow it. But after she tore off two more pieces of the outer fabric, I traded her some goodies and took away the toy. I didn’t want her to ingest any more fabric after that entire ear.

I had my answer. Despite the marketing, the toy wasn’t magically tough.

Full disclosure: What I did was not how the Tearribles are now instructed to be used. The toy didn’t come with instructions to use it as a tug toy then, although they did say to play with it with your dog. My goal was to check the sturdiness and observe how much pleasure the dogs took in ripping the limbs off, the main selling point. They didn’t. The limbs were just one more bite to remove and discard. They wanted to get deeper into the ripping.

Perhaps breeds that have had the dissection part of the predatory sequence diminished would enjoy them more, unlike my Arkansas varmint dogs.

YouTube and Social Media

I searched for videos and posts about dogs having a great time with Tearribles. I found no video on YouTube of extended (or even more than brief) play in the manner the company recommends. The company marketing video has two short segments of a dog playing with the toy totaling 23 seconds: a few seconds of ripping appendages off while playing tug with a person and a few solo kill-shakes. There is a video review by a fellow who only shows the features of the toys and never shows his dogs playing with them, and there’s a video by Dr. Patricia McConnell of her border collie happily pulling the spikes off the virus, but not playing tug with it. She does have two dogs who enjoy removing the appendages and don’t do further dissection. On her blog, Dr. McConnell cautions not to offer the toy to a dog who swallows small, removed parts.

I found a couple of positive posts about dogs who liked their Tearribles in an enrichment Facebook group. They played with the toys as intended and the toys lasted.

Social Media Addendum

I found some videos. Instagram, of course. Keep in mind, though, that it’s the perfect medium to show a dog tearing the toy apart…once. IG videos have to be short. So it’s hard to tell how how long a dog’s interest lasts. But you can see some very happy dogs pulling limbs off toys.

The Marketing Is the Problem

So while there seem to be some dogs out there who enjoy the Tearrible, the company doesn’t sufficiently clarify the very narrow intended use of the toy.

Original Marketing

There was originally no real caution in the whole Tearribles website that dogs could actually tear the toy up. They implied the opposite. And they made the following strange statement:

In our tests, we played tug of war for 45 minutes with our 80lb destructo-dog, Izzy. The results? Not a single tear on the toy, and one really tired dog.

I took this text directly off their site in 2018, but it is no longer there.

The statement is odd. Playing tug with a human is not how dogs usually rip up toys. Supervised tug doesn’t test a toy. Any well-made toy can have a good lifespan if you play tug with it rather than giving the dog unfettered access.

These tug toys belonging to Marge Rogers are about eight years old. Her dogs and her client dogs have played with them several days a week for years.

Current Marketing

The Tearribles company has amended its claims and includes some qualifiers now. This is from the FAQ page.

Question: Are Tearribles chew toys/indestructible toys?

Answer: No. Dog teeth, no matter how small, are built to crush bones and tear tendons – there is no material (safe to be in your dog’s mouth) that your dog cannot chew through.

True! But they still focus on their toys’ toughness. Their YouTube movie says dogs can destroy any stuffed object in seconds, then says, “It’s time we stopped insulting our dogs’ abilities with weak toys.” That’s not how you sell a tug toy; it’s how you sell a chew toy.

They state on the website that if you play with the Tearrible in a structured way with your dog, the dog will learn it is your “together” toy and will stop trying to “annihilate” it. My take: true if you remove the toy after your “together” time, but that’s something you can do with any toy.

And they top it off with this false statement:

Dogs chew non-food things for two reasons:

  1. they are teething
  2. they are bored

No. Chewing is a natural and necessary behavior for dogs. Dissection is one step in the predatory sequence. Giving your dog a full and stimulating life will not prevent him from wanting to chew stuff up. In fact, chewing stuff up is part of a full and stimulating life for most dogs.

Lewis and the Tearrible

Here’s the hero of our story. I wrote much of this review three years ago. But I never published it, because I didn’t want to post yet another grouchy review. I felt bad about criticizing a well-meaning company that sought to create a novel toy for dogs, even though I disagreed with their claims.

I still have the toy, even with its holes and leaking filling. When Lewis first came, all the Velcroed appendages still worked. He figured the toy out and pulled it apart. He did seem to enjoy that. I put the toy back together and he pulled it apart a few more times, sometimes while I held it. But the minute I stopped putting it back together, he started working on the seams. He removed one of the Velcro strips (I nabbed it before he or Clara swallowed it). So now the bottom legs no longer reattach. But although Lewis likes the toy, even he doesn’t want to limit himself to pulling off arms, legs, and the tail. He wants to continue on to destuff it. But I did finally get a dog who seemed to enjoy the signature aspect of the toy. One dog out of four pulls the limbs off, but zero dogs out of four were happy to stop at that point.

Stuffed Toys and My Dogs

Every one of my dogs has enjoyed pulling toys apart and destuffing them. I’ve tried tough toys, and the tougher they were, the less fun they were for the dogs.

I finally decided the only stuffed toys that made sense for us were cheap ones they could rip up while supervised. I supervise as they pull them apart, then throw away the husks when they become unsafe. Before the pandemic, I would pick them up at garage sales. Nowadays, I concentrate more on edible chews and playing tug and scent games.

Clara and Lewis played with the husk of this Snoopy toy for a long time after it was completely de-stuffed

Why Isn’t the Tearrible a Good Tug Toy?

Unless you want to redefine tugging as a dog repeatedly pulling off discrete appendages and starting over, this is not a tug toy. It does not have the features of a good tug toy: long and slender, attractive to chase, a clear target area for the dog, and a handle for the human. The torso of the Tearrible is a nightmare for the human to hold on to.

The company didn’t originally advertise the Tearrible as a tug toy. Check out this post from July 2018. There is no mention of tugging. They may have added the directions to tug after too many people (like me) tried to use it as a regular chew toy.

Alternatives

  • If your dog likes to tug, make or buy a real tug toy. There are hundreds on the market. The best tug toy is something your individual dog wants to chase and grab and that you can hang onto. Try Clean Run or Dog Dreams Toys. You can even try a flirt pole if they are permitted in your area. Playing with a flirt pole is like tug on steroids; your dog gets to chase and tug.
  • If your dog prefers to shred and dissect, you are probably already letting them tear up stuffed toys. Be sure to supervise your dog closely so they don’t ingest fabric or plastic squeaker parts. There are always risks of swallowing, however. Check out the Canine Enrichment Facebook group for more ideas for safe shredding activities.
  • If your dog enjoys chewing and/or squeaking a fabric toy and you don’t want them to rip it apart, there are some decent options. The Outward Hound Fire Biterz toy is made of firehose material. The goDog toys might do for some dogs. My dogs don’t chew up the canvas-covered toys like Kong Wubbas. The Tearrible may be tough enough for some dogs. And maybe you’ll just want to get one to support an independent business with a very cute and sturdy product.

Bottom Line

The Tearrible may be the perfect toy for some dogs, and I hope it finds its way to them. But it looks like a chew toy, and they market it that way. At the same time, they instruct you to use it as a tug toy and it’s not designed well for tug at all.

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Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

Photo of well-used tug toys copyright 2022 and courtesy of Marge Rogers. All other photos copyright Eileen Anderson.

Training a Teenage Puppy

Training a Teenage Puppy

Two dogs are sitting on a couch. The younger red and white hound dog on the left has a playful look on his face. The older, larger, black and tan dog looks happy but tired.
Clara looks as tired as I feel. (But notice how happy she is!)

Whew! It’s more than a month later and I maybe, possibly, barely can write about how things have been with Lewis.

Preparation

I had only a couple of days to prepare for Lewis before he came. I did three main things.

  1. I moved Zani’s old crate to my bedside. It is a good size for him and has a lovely cushy bed and blanket in it.
  2. I got a 48-inch-tall exercise pen that’s been in my garden for several years and set it up in the main living area of the house. I outfitted it with a good-sized donut-style bed. The bed is not puppy-proof, but it is sturdy and doesn’t have a lot of tempting chew areas.
  3. I inventoried and cleaned up my food toys and chews.

Number 1 was a bust, Number 2 didn’t work out the way I expected, but Number 3 paid off.

1. The Crate

Lewis had been living at a veterinary clinic for the past two months, so I assumed he was accustomed to being in a cage or crate. It turns out that accustomed to and accepting are two different things. The first night, after a very active day which was undoubtedly stressful for him, we went to bed. I showed him the crate door, and he went in. I gave him some treats and closed the door. He instantly tuned up to yell. I, just as instantly, let him out. I have experience with hounds. They are persistent and loud. For both his benefit and mine, I knew not to even try to let him cry it out. So I caved ASAP.

Lewis wandered around my room a little, then settled into a dog bed I had stashed in a corner. He slept there the first night and half of the second night. Midway through the second night, he got up onto my bed with me and Clara. First, he slept on a throw blanket at the foot of the bed. Over time, he moved closer to me and now he cuddles.

I scrapped the sleeping crate idea and returned it to its normal location. I found out much later that part of the problem was the plastic crate. He likes wire crates a lot better. But he still probably would have protested. I got super lucky with my last two dogs, Clara and Zani, who both came to me thinking crates were nice.

Why had I tried the crate?

  • I had no idea of the status of his house training.
  • My bedroom is not puppy-proof.
  • I didn’t want him to bother Clara.

Luckily, his house training is great. He has woken me every morning (at first on veterinary clinic time, yawn!) to go out to potty. My bedroom is not puppy proof, but I wake up if an animal gets off the bed, so he is safe at night. And the extent of his bothering Clara has been to become more assertive about getting a prime spot on the bed. Nothing Clara and I can’t handle.

I am doing very slow and careful crate training with Lewis in a wire crate (see photos at the bottom of the post).

2. The Ex Pen

I had this idyllic mental image of Lewis chilling in the ex pen when the rest of us were also in the room. (Bwa ha ha!) In my defense, I did that with Clara when she was a very young puppy. She was so little that I suspect she hardly registered it as an enclosure. Ex pens, in a household of four not-entirely-compatible dogs, were just a fact of life for her since she came to me so young. Zani, who came to me as a teenager like Lewis, also did fine with them.

But Lewis had three problems with the lovely ex pen.

  1. Lewis is not good at chilling. In fact, he is in the dog life stage probably least amenable to chilling.
  2. Lewis showed early on that he would try to climb out of the ex pen. Whether he could be successful I’m not sure, but he would have hurt himself the way he was trying. He probably would have toppled the whole thing on top of himself or gotten his toes hurt in the wires. He is a capable, near-full-grown dog, not a malleable puppy. Think of those awful YouTube videos showing beagles escaping impossible situations or climbing impossible things. He’s like that.
  3. Lewis tuned up to yell about the ex pen confinement the moment he wasn’t eating something or the moment I left the room.

So I kept the ex pen but only closed it when I was right there. In the last month, I have helped him build up good feelings for the ex pen. He bounds to it to eat. I can now leave the room for a few minutes, off and on, while he is eating from a food toy. I pull the pen closed, but I make it my business always to return before he might object. I don’t want to trigger the song of his people or a climbing incident. And we’re working on chilling skills.

3. The Food Toys

The food toys have been a success and are very helpful. So far, I have used frozen Zogoflex Toppls, Zogoflex Tux, and Kongs; a Kong Wobbler and a couple of other action-based food toys; gullets and buffalo horns; and tendons using holders to prevent choking.

Behavior Issues

Here are some of the problematic behaviors Lewis already had going strong when he came to me.

  • Grabbing sleeves.
This is a very early video, and the grabbing behavior is virtually gone now. I taught him something else to do to get my attention when I was seated, and he learned it quickly.
  • Biting/mouthing hands.
  • Grabbing arms with his teeth or scratching with his paws when the person is sitting.
  • Jumping up when the person is standing, including from the back, sometimes while biting or scratching.
  • Grabbing items from human hands.
  • Trying to grab other dogs’ treats.
  • Opening baby gates (see video below).
  • Mild toy resource guarding from Clara.
  • Mild reactivity to strange dogs and humans.
  • Humping Clara.
  • Repeatedly trying to initiate play with Clara when she doesn’t want to. This is probably our biggest ongoing problem. I should also mention that Clara does like playing with him and they play a lot!
I was trimming Clara’s toenails. I have not put him in this position again.
  • Demand barking in general.
A red and white hound mix dog wearing a harness sits on a hardwood floor and barks.
  • Finding and chewing up all sorts of things I should have put out of his reach, including the hardwood floor (which would be hard to put out of reach!).
  • Expert and ongoing countersurfing. Not just kitchen counters: every counter, dresser, desk, and table in the house. And not just for food. Even a view seems reinforcing.
A red and white hound mix dog shreds a large, raw baking potato on a mat on the floor.
He scored this raw potato and chewed up a fair amount of it before I even realized he had it
A red and white hound mix with a curled tail stands on top of a large crate
Lewis has expertise in climbing and escape
  • Asking to go outside over and over, not to eliminate but because the rest of us are just being too boring.
  • Eating dirt and acorns.

Lewis’ Needs and Emotions

Just because I wrote out the above list of behaviors from the human “problem” point of view doesn’t mean I don’t see these as what they are: Lewis expressing his natural doggy needs.

The behaviors above are either hard-wired dog behaviors, such as the scavenging-related ones and the humping, or ones that have worked in his previous environments, such as hopping along behind a person with their shirt in his mouth and clawing at their back.

As difficult as Lewis’ behaviors are for me and my household, our behaviors and constraints are at least as difficult for him.

Besides food, water, health, and safety, Lewis needs human attention, doggy companionship, love, and novelty. The ways he asks for these things are part of who he is. I am respectful of that in the ways I attempt to influence them. (This is between tearing my hair out and trying not to yell. I don’t always live up to my intentions!)

Two dogs are walking together in a yard with trees. We see them from the rear only.
I’m breaking the photography rule of “Don’t show the south end of an animal going north.” I like the companionable way Lewis and Clara are walking, though.

As for Lewis’ emotional needs: I am more accustomed to dogs whose primary difficulties center on fear. Lewis’ primary uncomfortable emotional state, per my observation, is frustration. This is new for me, but I’m giving it my best. He definitely led a life of deprivation for the 10 weeks before he came to me, and his life experience before that is unknown. My goal is for Lewis to get a lot more of what he wants and needs without 1) endangering himself; 2) hurting humans; 3) terrorizing other dogs; or 4) damaging property excessively. It’s a given that he’ll damage some property, even with my best management attempts.

In the following clip of Lewis and the Manners Minder, he frustration-barks when I ask him to lie down. I have a couple of theories about why; see what you think. He hasn’t done it in any sessions since then. This is a minor example, but frustration, and the attendant barking and throwing of behaviors, is usually right under the surface for Lewis.

Lewis shows apparent frustration when I cue him to lie down

My Training Philosophy

I want Lewis to be happy. I want him to express his dogginess in all the ways that are in keeping with my four caveats above (not hurting himself, humans, or other dogs, or damaging much property). So I am in a paradoxical situation. I have to limit some natural and learned behaviors while I try to satiate his need to express himself and satisfy himself in dog activities. This is, of course, a normal paradox for those of us who live with dogs. But because of his previous deprivation, it’s extreme with Lewis.

I believe in training dogs. I wouldn’t always have felt the need to say that. But there are trends, even among professional trainers, that are actually anti-training. I understand this as a response to the common tendency to over train and over-control dogs’ lives. I do not understand it as an achievable primary goal with all dogs. There are some dogs who fit into the human world easily and naturally. I think there are more like Lewis, who need to be taught ways to get what they want without hurting themselves or others.

When I look at the list I wrote above, I wonder how I could address those issues without training. For instance, the pestering of Clara. It seems to me my choices are:

  1. Let him do it and ruin Clara’s life for the near future.
  2. Prevent him with a leash, barriers, and constant supervision.
  3. Somehow teach him different behaviors with her. Or teach her. She doesn’t tell him “No” convincingly. But anything besides positive interruption of him, which I already do, is likely beyond my skill level.
  4. Teach him that going into a crate or ex pen or even another room with a nice chew object and being alone there for a short period is pleasant. Ask him to do that when he is ramped up in a loop of bothering Clara.

Right now I am doing #2 (barriers, a tether, and constant supervision) while I work slowly on #4. I don’t know any acceptable long-term solutions except training. But this training is not obedience-based. It’s heavy on classical conditioning because I don’t want him to hang out in a crate just because he has to; I want it to be pleasant for him. I want Lewis to be happy.

Progress

I’ll use the list above as a framework for future posts. I’ll fill in links to the follow-up posts as I address the issues. I have already gotten a good start on one (door behaviors) and linked back to it above in the list.

P.S. My dear friend who also lives with Lewis just pointed out that I didn’t mention that Lewis is good-natured, sweet, a love-bug, and a lot of fun. More posts on that in the future!

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Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

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