While a classic source of dog owner frustration is chewed-up shoes, socks, underwear, books, rugs, baseboard, table legs, you name it, chewing is a natural behavior. In fact, chewing is vital for a dog's physical development.
Puppyhood is the most common time for chewing destruction to occur, but many dogs will maintain vigorous chewing as a lifelong hobby. So the keys are teaching your dog to redirect his or her jawing to acceptable items -- and keeping unacceptable ones out of reach.
The following tips can help save your stuff and your sanity:
* Remember that a puppy or dog tend to have no recollection of recent activities. So unless you catch him in the acting of chewing something unacceptable, scolding won't help.
* When you do catch him in the act, direct him to "leave it," "drop it" or "out." This requires that you teach your dog this command before putting it in action.
* If the dog drops the item on command, praise lavishly and give him an acceptable substitute item to chew. If he does not drop the item, it's time to take out the leash and training collar to work on teaching him to release things from his mouth. (That's the subject of another Dog Tip; also consult books, web sites and recommended trainers for humane training techniques.)
* Never hit the dog with the chewed item, or anything else. Don't scream at the dog after the fact; that will not work.
* The Monks of New Skete book, "How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend," cautions: "Don't count on sprays, ointments, or magic saves to relieve you of chewing problems. White they may help to a degree, the best method of chewing control is early vigilance, a sharp reprimand, and disciplinary action.'
* Puppy-proof the house. Remove your treasured items out of the dog's reach. Put socks in the hamper, place shoes in the closet. You might also have to temporarily remove throw rugs and block off some rooms. And watch the dog in places like the kitchen -- if he begins to gnaw on a cabinet edge or the tile floor, you'll need to immediately give a sharp, loud verbal command to stop him.
* Move appliance/lamp cords out of reach; dogs can chew on them and get electrocuted. Always block access to potentially poisonous plants, cleaning supplies and other risky items.
* When you bring a new dog home, give him one toy to focus chewing on. Especially for dogs with a destructive chewing habit, limit the number of toys.
* Spend time to really teach your dog what her approved toys are. Play together, using the toys as a focus. Your dog can learn what appropriate play items are only if you teach her.
* Start obedience training right after you get a new dog.
* Establish yourself as the "alpha."
* Suspend all treats during the process of retraining a dog with a real chewing problem.
* Spray Bitter Apple or sprinkle hot pepper sauce on favorite illicit chewing targets.
* Make sure the dog has access to approved chewtoys, especially during times you can't watch him.
* Keep a favorite approved toy away from a dog for a couple of hours before you leave the house for extended periods -- then give it to him when you leave.
* Smear peanut butter on the inside of a Kong toy -- this can preoccupy a lonely dog for hours.
* Never give the dog old shoes or socks to chew on...he's not going to know the difference when he spies your new expensive new Air Jordans.
* For puppies or problem chewers: use a crate to safely confine the dog when you cannot watch him. When the dog is properly introduced and taught to accept a crate, and when the owner is not using the crate too many hours a day, crates are a wonderful, safe, humane tool for housebreaking and training good house manners. Never teach a dog that the crate is a place where he's being punish. Instead, teach him to associate good things with the crate: feed him in the crate, place his favorite toys in it, teach him it is his comfy, secure den.
* Exercise your dog -- every day. This will rechannel the energy he directed to problem chewing. Play catch, run with the dog -- make it active play. A tired dog is a content dog, and MUCH less likely to engage in destructive behaviors. Note: a puppy play group can work wonders.
* Lack of sufficient exercise and lack of obedience training are the roots of most dog problems...which are actually dog/owner problems.
* 10 or 15 minutes of training a day will make a world of difference. For puppies or dogs with short attention spans, try one-minute mini obedience sessions each day. Focus on consistent, positive reinforcement.
* Do not resort to hitting a dog with your hand -- and never hit a dog with an object. If persistent, destructive behavior continues after teaching and practicing the "leave it" and other techniques mentioned above, consult a trainer. Also, good training books illustrate caught-in-the-act alternatives for humane physical discipline.
* For obedience training as well as for chewing problems, work with a good trainer. It's worth every penny.
* For chewing problems related to separation anxiety, see articles/books
about helping a dog overcome separation anxiety.
All puppies chew. What you can control, both for his safety and your sanity, is what the pup chews. Controlling unwanted chewing is not difficult. Here are the basics:
* Accept the Inevitable
Your puppy will chew. He isn't a bad puppy. He isn't defiant.
He's just a pup. Some pups, like Retrievers, chew a great deal for a long time. Many such dogs can't be left unsupervised until they are two or more years old. Don't rush things.
Behavior is much easier to prevent than to change.
* Supply Good Toys
Good toys mean safe, long-lasting dog toys not used human items. Dog toys teach him to focus his chewing urges on rubber, nylon or non-splintering bones. Used human items encourage him to seek out fabric or things that smell strongly of you.
If you can't see him, you can't help him make the right choices. He has to be in your sight all the time or confined (during the training phase).
If you see him starting on a table leg, tell him sharply (not loudly) to "Leave it!" then redirect him to a toy and praise him. Whenever you give your dog a 'No,' give him a 'Yes' as well.
There are plenty of anti-chew products that a pet owner should apply to all electrical cords a pup can reach. That way, if you miss the moment, your pup will not be hurt and he will get yet another lesson in what should not be chewed.
Such simple measures will get you through puppyhood with minimal damage.
WHY DID MY DOG START CHEWING?
"My Yorkie Toby, who is now 10 months old, has always been a very good puppy up until last month when he started chewing on everything in sight. He has ruined many shoes, belts and furniture and doesn't understand why he can't continue chewing on what he wants. How can I train him to chew on his own stuff? Toby has tons of chew bones and toys, but isn't very interested in them anymore. Is it time to replace his toys with new ones?"
Since Toby was a nonchewer up until last month, this situation begs the question -- what happened last month? Did someone move out or in? Did a work schedule change? Is he chewing when you are home? Does he make sure you see him chewing or "sneak" off to chew?
Regardless, here's what I would do:
Interested in dogs who are less likely to chew? Consider adopting an older canine.
For more of Robin's Dog Tips, see the index at: www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/dog_tips.php
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