Destructive ChewingMike Romberger, CBCC-KA
Chewing is a natural and healthy part of any dog’s life. You may notice that each dog has its own chewing style. Some dogs will not harm a plush toy while others will rip through a durable Kong toy. We should always encourage our dogs to chew since it is both mentally and physically stimulating. Our issue occurs when dogs chew on things that we, as humans, find unacceptable. For example, the dog chews on a pair of shoes that you were just about to wear rather than the chew toy purchased at a pet store. In this case, the chewing on shoes is destructive chewing.
Dogs chew for a wide variety of reasons. Dogs enjoy chewing and many use it as a relaxing activity and to reduce stress. Most owners report that destructive chewing happens when they are not home. For a dog, separation from his family is a stressful situation. Chewing is an excellent way to reduce that stress and boredom. Additionally, chewing promotes jaw health and can assist in cleaning the teeth. It should be noted that chew toys, even those designed for dental health, are not a substitute for brushing your dog’s teeth.
Many owners will discover that most destructive chewing takes place before the age of ten months. In addition to the reasons above, puppies use their mouths to explore the world. Anyone that has spent time with a puppy knows that everything a puppy encounters becomes a chew toy. Our job is to teach our dog which items are appropriate for chewing. This part is not only easy but can be a great deal of fun.
Present a single toy to your dog and spend several minutes playing with your dog. This routine will make it clear to your dog that this is a toy and is all right to chew. Make this a habit for any new toy. It is also wise to spend a couple minutes a day playing with your dogs. Many owners tell me that they introduce a new toy by tossing it on the floor for the dog to find. The biggest drawback to this practice is that your dog will see anything thrown on the floor as a chew toy. This may include children’s toys, pillows, or clothing. Teaching your dog what is appropriate to chew and making it fun is more effective than trying to teach your dog which items are not chew toys.
There will be times that your dog may chew on non-toy items. If this happens, present a high-value treat or toy to your dog. Entice your dog to drop the item, then say “Good!” and give them the toy or treat. You should always use substitutions when taking a non-toy item away from your dog. This method will teach your dog that a reward is involved when giving an item to you. Moreover, it shows your dog which item is appropriate. Otherwise, it is possible your dog consider the item a treasure that you are keeping for yourself. The dog may try to steal that item in the future. If this happens repeatedly, your dog may keep the item from you and start a game of chase. It will not be long before your dog steals the item just to engage you in play. In rare cases, if you do not substitute a toy, it may lead to resource guarding, which can lead to aggression.
As with many things in life, the less expensive chew toys tend to be of lower quality. When choosing your dog’s chew toys, try to find sturdy toys that hold up to your dog’s chewing habits. For my dogs, products from Kong and Nylabone are the most durable. These companies have a wide variety of products to keep dogs interested. No matter what toys you use to keep your dogs occupied, you always want to avoid using old clothing. While a pair of shoes you are ready to throw may seem like the perfect chew toy, it will only lead to confusion for your dog. Your dog does not have the capability to differentiate your old shoe from the pair you just bought. When it comes to clothing, the best plan is to keep your clothes in closets or drawers and off the floor.
Sometimes teaching proper chewing habits is as much about safety and as it is about cohabitating peacefully. Dogs may chew simply because they are bored. A bored dog may seek out odd and potentially dangerous item to relieve that boredom. Some of these items cannot be digested by your dog and may cause blockages. Other items, such as electrical cords, can be potential deadly. To keep your dog safe, you may need to manage situation as you train your dog. Baby gates or dog crates are tools used to keep your dog safe when unsupervised. When using any management technique, keep appropriate and durable chew toys with your dog. For more information on crates, see Crate Training Your Best Friend.
A common complaint I hear about chew toys is that the dog becomes bored with chew toys. In fact, there is research that supports this. An adult dog may start to lose interest in a toy in as little as two days. If your dog has as many toys as my dogs own, you probably have some to spare. Take all your dog’s toys and create two piles. Give one pile to your dog and put away the rest. After 5-7 days, start introducing toys from the other pile. You will be amazed how happy your dog will be to see the “new” toy. Also, if your dog shows little interest in a toy, you can spice it up with a little beef bouillon or peanut butter. Some ingenuity on your part can go a long way in teaching proper chewing habits.
©2013 Who's Your Doggie.
Mike Romberger is the owner of Who’s Your Doggie in Harrisburg, PA. Mike is a certified canine behavior consultant that specializes in rescue dogs. He has spent most of his career preparing dogs for adoption by modifying behavior through positive reinforcement methods. Mike can be found at www.WhosDoggie.com.