Why Puppies Chew
Chewing on objects is perfectly normal behavior. Puppies, like infants and toddlers, explore the world by putting objects in their mouth. Their deciduous teeth erupt between three and eight weeks of age and around four to six months of age these teeth are gradually replaced with permanent teeth. Like babies, puppies teethe for about six months. It’s a painful process, because their gums are highly irritable; chewing helps relieve their discomfort.
Why Adult Dogs Chew
Adult dogs may engage in destructive chewing for a number of different reasons such as BOREDOM, STRESS AND ANXIETY. Chewing releases endorphins and relieves stress, thereby making it a self-rewarding behavior. Chewing in adult dogs can lead to widespread destruction of personal property, serious medical problems and an erosion of the human-animal bond due to frustration and poor communication.
The Root Causes of the Issue
In order to address the behavior and resolve the problem, you must first determine WHY your dog is chewing – and remember, he’s not doing it to spite you. Possible reasons for destructive chewing include:
As a puppy, he was not taught what he can and cannot chew.
He suffers from separation anxiety.
His behavior is fear-related.
He wants attention.
(Important! You may need to consult a professional canine behaviorist for help with both separation anxiety and fear-related behaviors.)
How to Resolve the Issue
Rule out medical problems. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions, such as pica or gastrointestinal problems, that may be causing or contributing to the chewing problem.
Check for nutritional deficiencies. Read the label on your dog’s food. Nutritional deficiencies caused by poor diet can trigger chewing behavior as a coping mechanism. Check out this website to see how your dog’s food measures up. I recommend Grandma Lucy’s freeze-dried dog food. Check back for a future post on canine health and nutrition.
Puppy-proof your home. It’s simple, really: if you don’t want it in your dog’s mouth, don’t make it available. Keep clothing, shoes, books, trash, remote controls, household cleaners and chemicals out of reach along with potentially toxic plants. Electrical cords should be covered or made inaccessible to prevent chewing on them. Remove objects that might appeal to your puppy such as socks, shoes (especially leather shoes), children’s toys and stuffed animals.
Supervise your puppy at all times! Keep him with you on a leash in the house until he learns the house rules. Make sure fresh water and “safe” toys are readily available. Whenever you’re unable to supervise him, put him in his crate with a chew bone.
Exercise your puppy. Physical exercise and mental stimulation are keys to successful pet ownership. I recommend two 30-minute RIGOROUS daily walks with no stops for sniffing or mosying around.Doggie backpacks are awesome and give your dog a ‘job’ to do. For mental stimulation I recommend interactive toys, such as a stuffed, frozen Kong: mix kibble, peanut butter, a teaspoon of coconut oil and some water then stuff it into a Kong and freeze it. Your dog will love it! If you choose to bypass exercising your dog he’ll get bored, and I promise you he’ll find something to do to amuse himself (and you probably won’t like the choices he makes). A tired dog is a happy dog. Note: The amount of exercise you give your dog should be based on age, health and breed characteristics.
Build a toy obsession with your dog. Use toys as a reward during training. Introduce something new or rotate your dog’s chew toys every couple of days so he doesn’t get bored with the same old toys.
Freeze a wet washcloth for teething puppies. The cold cloth will soothe his gums. Be sure to supervise your puppy so he doesn’t chew up any pieces of the washcloth.
Make items unpleasant to your dog. Coat furniture and other items with a taste deterrent (such as Bitter Apple®) to make them unappealing.
Trade with your dog. Offer your dog a treat in exchange for the item in his mouth. If you catch your dog chewing on something he shouldn’t, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise (such as a clap). Offer him an acceptable chew toy or treat instead, and praise him lavishly when he trades you. As your dog catches on to this idea, you can add the command “Give” or “Drop” as his cue to release the object in exchange for the chew toy or yummy treat.
Don’t chase your dog. If your dog grabs an object and runs, don’t chase him! If you chase him, you’re giving him what he wants – being chased is fun! Instead, call him to you and offer him a treat in exchange for the object. (Remember, this scenario can be avoided by keeping your puppy or dog on a leash until house rules are learned.)
Have realistic expectations. At some point, your dog will INEVITABLY chew something of value to you; this is often part of the transition to a new home. Your dog needs to learn the house rules, and you need to remember to take precautions and keep things out of reach.
What Not To Do
Never discipline or punish your dog after the fact. If you discover a chewed item, even minutes after your dog has chewed it, YOU’RE TOO LATE. Dogs learn through association. If your punishment comes more than one second after the ‘crime’ has been committed, your dog will not make the association between action and punishment. Some people swear their dog “knows what he did wrong” because he looks “guilty.” In reality, the dog is not sulking in the corner because he knows what he did wrong. He’s showing a submissive posture based on your tone of voice, body posture and/or facial expressions; he can sense that you’re angry with him. Punishment after the fact will not only fail to eliminate unwanted behaviors, but it may also provoke new unwanted behaviors as well.
Good luck and happy training!