Jacque Lynn Schultz, C.P.D.T., Companion Animal Programs Adviser. National Outreach
Chewing is a common complaint among those caring for dogs younger than one year old. Part investigation, part teething, and all fun, chewing is a rewarding activity for dogs, and rewarding activities are likely to be repeated. But with a combination of positive reward-based training and chewing-management methods, pet parents can keep prevent inappropriate chewing.
Dogs are apt to chew for several reasons. First, they are curious creatures who lack opposable thumbs. Hence, they cannot pick up most objects with their paws for closer scrutiny. Instead, they examine them with their mouths. Second, from four to eight months of age, they will shed all their deciduous (puppy) teeth and grow a new set of permanent teeth. Chewing assuages the discomfort that accompanies teething. Third, chewing expends energy and gives a bored pup something to do. Older puppies and young adolescents are bursting with energy. If not properly exercised and mentally stimulated, they may expend that energy chewing on your belongings. Fourth, dogs suffering from separation anxiety often chew objects embedded with their owners’ scents to help relieve the stress of being left alone. Finally, some breeds have an innate instinct to use their mouths. Retrievers are a breed that may be prone to excessive mouthing and chewing as puppies.
Take the Bite Out of Teething
It is possible to get through this difficult stage without major losses. The first step is to create a safe haven for your puppy. A dog crate or small, carefully dog-proofed area will do. When dog-proofing an area, get down at puppy eye level to scope out potential problems. Electrical wires, drapery cords, and curling wallpaper corners will jump out at you from this vantage point. When you cannot supervise your puppy, place her in her safe haven with an approved yummy chew toy, such as a rubber toy stuffed with kibbles or treats.
Invest in a variety of chew toys appropriate to the size and chewing preferences of your dog. As a pet parent, the onus to select desirable yet safe chew toys falls on you. Items such as Nylabones bones, rawhide and rubber toys all have their pros and cons. The first few times you offer such items to your dog, watch closely to make sure they’re suitable for her. Throw away any damaged toys or sticky remains. Alternate the chewies to keep her interest high, and save the most desirable of them for crate time or when the puppy is left alone.
Cue Good Behaviors
The only way a dog can learn which items are okay to chew and which ones are forbidden is by getting well-timed feedback from her humans. When she eyes or chews a table leg, give a verbal warning such as “no” and then draw her attention to an acceptable toy. When you catch your dog chewing on an approved object, don’t forget to praise, reward with a tasty treat, and tell her to carry on. Remember that rewarded behavior is more likely to be repeated. If the table leg or rug fringe remains your dog’s favorite chew toy, remove it, prevent her access to it, or if necessary, diminish its desirability by applying a commercial anti-chew cream (for wood) or spray.
It’s also important to remember that a young dog does not need access to the entire house. If you have children who are messy with their toys or a spouse who can’t seem to locate the dirty laundry bin, keep your dog out of those rooms by closing bedroom doors or installing pet gates during her chewing phase. Through a combination of management and training methods, assisted by the natural aging process, your dog will outgrow their chewing phase and eventually earn full household access. Until then, make use of your dog’s safe haven when you aren’t there to supervise, and you’ll set your pup up for success.