Destructive Chewing: Why and How to Curb It

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April 4, 2010
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Dogs explore and learn about the world using their sense of smell, sight, and touch. We touch with our hands to figure out how something feels; dogs use their mouths.

Chewing is normal behavior for dogs of all ages. While chewing is normal, dogs sometimes direct their chewing behavior toward inappropriate items. Both puppies and adult dogs should have a variety of appropriate and attractive chew toys.

Sometimes chewing exceeds the realm of normalcy and becomes an extension or visible expression of how the dog may be feeling.

Puppies chew to relieve discomfort from teething which can last anywhere from 4 to 8 months. Adult dogs may destructively chew for several reasons:

1: May not know what’s ok and not ok to chew on

2: Boredom

3: Anxiety

4: Attention

5: Fear-related and needs the comfort of chewing

How can you manage the situation and teach your old dog a new trick?

First, you have to make sure that anything the dog should not chew on is out of reach. This is like puppy proofing the house all over again.  Keep shoes, remotes, trash, toys, books, and other items out of reach and preferably out of sight if possible. If you have a child, close the door to their bedroom where brightly colored toys and books may look like to dog toys to your dog. Keep your shoes in a closet and keep those remotes off the floor!

Secondly, try to not confuse your dog with toys that resemble household items. The last thing you need is a chew toy that looks like a shoe or a newspaper. Your dog’s toys should be unique when compared to other items in the house. This helps the dog to visually make note of what’s appropriate to chew on and is “mine” and what is not.

Once you’ve tried to get all items away from your dog that aren’t his and have a few toys that he can chew on, then it’s time to start some behavior modification. Here are 6 easy things you can do to save your furniture:

1: Try to give your dog more “people time” – Spend time playing, teaching, and reinforcing good behavior.  Walks, trips to the dog park, and time to just be a dog are important. A tired dog is well-behaved dog. A bored dog will find something to do and 9 times of 10 it is something like chewing on your glasses.

2: If your dog gets her mouth on something she shouldn’t chew on like the remote control exchange it with one of her toys or a treat. Teach the phrase “give” or “leave it.” Praise her any time you see her using her own toys to chew on. It reinforces good behavior.

You can even put some food in a toy to help reinforce what can and cannot be chewed up. Don’t chase your dog around the house trying to get whatever it is she has taken. It becomes a big game and more often than not, your dog wins.

3: When you are out or unable to supervise your dog, confine her to a place where she can’t get into trouble. If you have a crate, get her used to being in it again. If you have a room where she can be left without any worries, put her there with a toy and some treats stuffed in it to keep her occupied for a little bit.

4: Give you dog some unsupervised time once new toys and positive reinforcement have been started and show signs of working. Let her have 5 to 10 minutes alone in a room where some objects and items are that she used to want to gnaw on. If she resumes her old habits, back up and keep working with her. Rome wasn’t built in a day and dogs can’t change in a blink of an eye.

5: If you think your dog might be chewing due to hunger try feeding your dog smaller quantities many times a day. Some dog toys are made to be stuffed with kibble and this will give your dog some mental and physical workout. Small meals 3 to 4 times a day may keep your dog more satisfied than 1 or 2 larger servings.

6: If the chewing goes beyond simple behavior modification and seems to tightly linked to other problems going on such as stress or anxiety and your dog also seems to pace, pant, spin, and seem nervous quite often throughout a day you may need to talk to your vet or a professional dog behaviorist as to what else can be done to help your dog.

Dogs are not perfect. Keep your expectations real. They won’t change in a day or a week. There will be at least one instance where your dog will chew or swallow something that she shouldn’t have and may need to relearn the rules of the house. Try to stay patient, try to keep your dog interested in her own toys, and keep her stimulated. Play games, take walks down new blocks, join a meet up group, take her to dog daycare, and spent a lot of “people time” with her. All these things will make her and you happy but it takes time.

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