Chewing is a very natural, normal and necessary activity for dogs. The problem is not that your dog chews, but what your dog chews. Puppies in particular chew to alleviate teething irritation, adult dogs engage in destructive chewing for a number of reasons such as anxiety, boredom, a dental problem, or a deficiency in the diet. Without a doubt, chewing problems are easier to prevent than correct.
Dogs generally sleep at night and in the middle of the day. However, chewing is often your dog’s primary form of entertainment during his morning and late afternoon activity peaks. Let’s face it, your dog cannot entertain himself by watching TV, surfing the internet or building model aeroplanes. If you don’t understand the causes of his chewing and don’t take steps to solve them then it’s not unusual for a dog to destroy couches, books, family heirlooms, endless pairs of shoes and so on. Additionally, dogs can eat non-digestible items and develop a stomach obstruction (blockage) which can be life-threatening. We’ve talked to veterinarians who perform emergency surgeries and they have removed items that would surprise you such as: rocks, fishing line, kids toys, remote controls, cell phones, underwear and other items that would amaze most pet owners. Prevention is the best medicine.
At Canine Path we have many solutions to reduce your dog’s unwanted chewing sprees and redirect him toward appropriate chewing items. Give us a call or send us an email and give us more detail about the destructive chewing you may be experiencing with your dog.
Below we’ve outlined some possible causes of inappropriate chewing and have outlined some helpful tips and techniques to address the problem.
Finding the cause of destructive chewing in the adolescent/adult dog starts with asking questions:
• When (what times of day/night) does your dog usually chew inappropriate items?
• What does he chew most often?
• Are you home when your dog chews or does he chew more when you leave?
• Does he have appropriate chew toys available to him?
• Is your dog getting enough exercise and stimulation to help prevent boredom chewing?
• Is your dog free to roam around and chew anything he comes into contact with or is he chewing things he shouldn’t in a confined area?
A combination of responding to the suspected causes of unwanted chewing along with behavior modification techniques and good supervision usually results in a reduction of unwanted chewing problems fairly quickly. Additionally, there are some well-known reasons as to why dogs go on chewing sprees:
• Anxiety: Dogs often become anxious when left alone, meeting new people, and even when you come home. Chewing is a natural vent for canine anxiety. It’s important to figure out what is making your dog anxious and consequently, his need to chew inappropriately may be alleviated.
• Diet & Nutrition: Some dogs chew inappropriately because they lack a nutrient in their diet. Check with your veterinarian or vet nutritionist to see if your dog is getting everything he needs in his diet. It may be that a change in his food will eliminate his need to chew destructively.
• Dental Problems: Chewing can make sore teeth feel better. Have your vet do a dental exam to ensure that his teeth are in good condition, and learn how to clean your dog’s teeth with a toothbrush and pet toothpaste (many dogs learn to enjoy these sessions!)
• Exercise: All dogs need exercise! Regular exercise is an excellent outlet for the destructive chewer. Physical activity often reduces anxiety and boredom and may replace the need for inappropriate chewing. Exercise needs to be gauged to your dog’s age, energy and physical capabilities. Walks, hikes, agility, flyball are amongst just a few activities you can enjoy with your dog. Tired dogs are happy dogs (and are apt to be less destructive).
• Training & Stimulation: Group training classes and also at-home training sessions can provide mental stimulation which is another outlet to replace destructive chewing activities.
• Socialization: If your dog is friendly with others supervised outings to the dog park or doggie daycares are excellent ways for your dog to learn to engage with other dogs. Additionally, your dog often comes home tuckered out from playing with his friends, he may not be as driven to conduct search and destroy missions in your home.
Maturity: Most adult dogs grow out of chewing at full maturity, thus eliminating the entire issue of destructive chewing. Keep in mind that while a one-two year dog sold looks like an adult – he’s really just a teenager. At the same time chewing is a necessary and enjoyable past time for you dog so keep lots of great chew toys around for him no matter what his age.
Destructive chewing issues are most successfully corrected using a combination of techniques. The general approach needs to be positive and supportive. All members of the household need to support the process to make it work. Remember that chewing is a completely natural canine activity in wild as well as domesticated dogs. They do not perceive it as bad or unacceptable behavior. We recommend setting up a schedule that defines where the dog can be and at what times – in the crate, in the yard etc.
Additionally, we also recommend setting aside sturdy container of appropriate chew toys (click here for a list of suggested chew toys). Keep in mind that interactive toys such as balls, rope and tug toys and other items that you use to engage dogs are not chew toys. Toys that are interactive (toys that you engage him with) often encourage unwanted chewing since the dog starts to play with these toys and if you aren’t around may go and find other things to play with (the remote, your cell phone, socks – you get the idea).
Outlined below are some tips and techniques that may help reduce inappropriate chewing episodes (and may save your favorite pair of shoes at the same time).
• Correct Inappropriate Chewing – One of the best techniques used to teach a dog to chew on appropriate items (and not on inappropriate ones) is to reward him whenever you see him chewing on acceptable items. Lavish your dog whenever he comes in contact with one of his acceptable chew toys.
• Catch Him in the Act: Dogs live in the moment and our responses are associated with what is happening at that particular time. If you reprimand your dog for destructive chewing that was performed hours previously, you may worsen the situation by increasing his stress and anxiety. His interpretation is that your behavior is unpredictable and scary and in many cases creates trust and fear issues that can have repercussions. Simply put, even if your dog looks guilty when you come home and see the mess he made, he is most likely responding to your behavior and upset body language. Unless you change your dog’s environment and set him up for success your dog will repeat the unwanted chewing episodes and the behavior may get worse.
• “Set your dog up” and catch him in the act, so that you can immediately give your dog feedback for what he is doing wrong and then redirect him to the right chew toys, For example, if your dog traditionally chews when no one is present, stage a scenario where everyone pretends to leave the house; Secretly observe your dog and at the MOMENT he begins chewing on an inappropriate object, correct him with a firm commanding voice, “Ahh, ahhh”, and immediately provide him with an appropriate chew toy. If he takes the offered chew toy, praise him and tell him good boy!. The more times that this exercise can be performed, the more the new behavior will become ingrained. It is also helpful to consistently put all of your dogs chew toys in the same places he learns that these items are always a good choice.
• Don’t Chase Your Dog: Dogs love to go around and pick things up with their mouth – legos, socks, shoes, plants, silverware, pillows and such. So first, limit where he can go on chewing sprees. Additionally, as tempting as it is – don’t chase after your dog when he has inappropriate items in his mouth. If you chase him he may think you are playing are may engage in more of this behavior (once he has your attention). Furthermore, yelling at your dog when he has the wrong item in his mouth may make you feel better but may scare him and lead to other problems. Instead, when you see your dog with something he shouldn’t have, pick up something he should have (a chew toy) and say in a happy voice ‘what is that’, then stand still and when he comes to you give him what he should have. Redirecting your dog to the correct chew toys usually results in him learning to make the right choices.
Redirect Chewing to Chewtoys
With the use of a crate or small gated area actively train your dog to want to chew toys. Offer praise and maybe a freeze-dried liver treat every time you notice your dog chewing the right chew toys. Do not take chew toy chewing for granted. Let your dog know that approve of his good choices. Additionally, play chew toy games with your dog, such as fetch and search.
Chew toys can provide endless hours of fun and stimulation for your dog. Chew toys should be indestructible and non-consumable and be used in conjunction with manufacturer suggestions, We recommend always supervising your dog with new chew toys because some dogs are power chewers and destroy even the toughest of toys. Additionally, the consumption of non-food items is decidedly dangerous for your dog’s health. Though the destruction of chew toys necessitates their regular replacement which can be expensive. However, compared with the cost of reupholstering just one couch, $50-$80 worth of chew toys is a reasonable investment.
One great recommendation is that until your dog is fully chew toy-trained, do not feed him from a bowl. Instead, feed all kibble, canned food, and raw diets from chew toys.
We recommend using your dog’s kibble/regular food in the chew toy to entice chewing.
Prevent Destructive Chewing
When leaving home, confine your dog to a crate or to a long-term confinement area, such as a single room—your puppy dog’s playroom—with a comfortable bed, a bowl of water, a doggy toilet (if not yet housetrained), and nothing to chew but 3-4 freshly-stuffed, yummy chew toys. Housetrained adult dogs may be confined (with their chew toys) to a dog crate. When you return instruct your dog to fetch his chew toys so you can remove the freeze-dried liver pieces and give them to your dog. Often a dog will happily settle down and entertain himself with his chew toys as soon as you leave in the morning, and he will be more inclined to search for chew toys when he wakes up in anticipation of your afternoon return. This is a key success factor since most chewing activity occurs right after you leave home and right before you return, and a well-placed chew toy(s) will entice and entertain your dog.
Good behaviors start when you are home. When you are home, confine your puppy to his doggy den (crate) with nothing but a freshly-stuffed chew toy for entertainment. Every hour or two (or at longer intervals with housetrained adult dogs), take your dog to the doggy toilet and if she goes, praise and play with him with a chew toy before putting him back in her crate with another freshly stuffed chew toy.
The purpose of confinement is to prevent your dog from chewing inappropriate items around the house and to maximize the likelihood your dog will develop become a chewy toy-aholic!
Jumping up and other obnoxious or potentially dangerous behaviors can elude even the best of owners. Give us a call or send us an email so we can offer some tips, advice and lessons to help you and your dog through this process.