How to curb problem chewing and promote healthy, appropriate behavior!
Chewing is usually a healthy, normal thing for dogs to do. Dogs chew for many reasons such as to release pent-up energy or stress, puppy teething (usually between the ages of 3-6 months) and because, well… IT’S FUN!
Puppies learn with their mouths in the way that babies learn with their hands. We know something is a ball, because we can feel it in our hands and it is round and has texture. A dog uses their mouth to figure out that the ball is round and something they can chew on. So sometimes, the chewing is actually a way for them to explore new things.
In order to promote positive behavior, it is important for your dog to learn the difference between appropriate chewing and inappropriate chewing.
Here are some steps to help teach appropriate chewing:
Dog-proof your home! Make sure the home is safe for your dog. Dogs can chew some items that can have serious health consequences, especially if swallowed. No household chemicals should be in reach of your dog. Keep electrical cords out of reach, or if you have to have them available, cover them (you can buy pipe foam covers inexpensively at any hardware store). When you first bring your new dog home, make sure items like socks, shoes, and remote controls are not in reach.
Encourage chewing on dog toys/treats! Provide appropriate chew toys for your dog. During training, you may not want to give them full access to their toys, as they will still need to earn this reward. However, if you are working with a dog that is already showing excessive chewing of inappropriate objects, you will want to leave appropriate items around. Toys such as Kongs, Nylabones, compressed rawhides, or dental chews are good choices. Make sure the dog is not going to be able to rip pieces off of the toys or that the toys or bones are small enough to get into their throat (note: be especially mindful with rawhide, which tends to get soft and can get lodged in a dog’s throat. Chewing rawhide or similar items should always be monitored). If your dog is already engaging in chewing of inappropriate items, do not give them toys that resemble those items, such as an old shoe or a stuffed animal. It will be tough for your dog to distinguish what a new and old shoe looks like.
Discourage inappropriate chewing! If you do find your dog chewing on something inappropriate, redirect the dog away from that item. This might be as simple as a verbal command (which would mean you've already taught them this command, such as ‘leave it’ or ‘drop it’), or just offering them a different resource like a dog toy or treat. If they are not letting go of the object, a correction may be appropriate, such as a stern verbal command. You want to distract their focus away from that item. Once they've let go, and are calm and/or obeying, give them the appropriate chew toy. You want your dog to understand they cannot chew inappropriate items, and the only things they can chew are the toys you provide for them. If your dog goes near your shoes, redirect them away with a verbal correction, or you can stand and block the item until the dog turns their attention away. When they lose that interest, praise them with a reward.
Chewing the scent! Sometimes a dog will chew items because they have your scent on them, such as shoes or socks, and especially when they are left alone. Some items can hold more value than others. In some cases, you may want to use a taste deterrent, such as bitter apple, which is available at most pet stores. The taste will often deter the dog from chewing the item. Also be mindful to pick these items up when you are out of the house, so that your dog is not left alone and tempted!
Engage in playtime with your dog! Be sure to provide plenty of exercise and stimulation for your dog. A tired dog is a content dog and a content dog is a happy owner! Dogs will chew when they are bored or frustrated. Chewing helps to relieve frustration, but so does exercise and play!
Chewing while you're away! The best way to discourage unwanted chewing while you're away is to utilize a crate. This will give your dog a place of their own, where they can chew appropriate toys. Frozen and filled Kongs are a great way to keep your dog occupied while confined.
Recap! Your dog is learning what is and what isn’t appropriate to chew on and needs your help! Don’t get discouraged if he makes a mistake. Learn from that mistake and move forward. Be sure to pick up and put away high-value items that you do not want chewed and be consistent in showing him what is his to play with. Consistency will pay off in the end!
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