Excessive chewing is a commonly experienced problem for dog owners. Unless corrected by a dog behaviourist, this kind of inappropriate dog behaviour can cause wide-scale destruction of personal belongings, erode the bond between you and your dog and may eventually even lead to medical problems.
A common trait I see in dogs as a dog behaviourist is excessive and inappropriate chewing. Here are some of the causes of chewing and how to stop this destructive habit.
Why Puppies Chew
Your puppy’s first teeth start erupting at an age between around 3 and 8 weeks. At about 4 to 6 weeks of age, these temporary teeth are replaced gradually with permanent adult teeth. The painful teething process irritates your pup’s gums and chewing helps to relieve the resulting discomfort.
While using their mouths to explore their world and relieving teething pain is normal behaviour for puppies, it can become inappropriate and undesirable behaviour if it:
- Is directed towards furniture, shoes, hands or feet
- Becomes a habit even after adult teeth have fully emerged
Other potential causes of inappropriate chewing include medical problems; instinct, boredom and separation anxiety.
Puppy Proofing Your Home
The first step towards curbing inappropriate chewing is to puppy proof your home by looking around for and removing dangers/items of interest to your inquisitive pup. This includes:
- Placing household cleaners, chemicals & potentially toxic plants out of reach
- Covering electrical cords or making them inaccessible to prevent inappropriate chewing causing electrocution
- Removing objects your puppy may find appealing (children’s toys, socks, shoes, etc.)
- Blocking access to non-puppy-proofed rooms
You may also want to consider crate/cage training your puppy for times when you cannot supervise him/her.
If inappropriate chewing behaviour is carried into adulthood, underlying medical conditions could be causing your dog’s chewing habit or contribute towards it.
Intestinal parasites or a poor diet can, for example, cause nutritional deficiencies. These deficiencies could in turn cause pica (an appetite for largely non-nutritious substances), which could be wrongly interpreted as inappropriate chewing.
Chewing is also a canine coping mechanism triggered by nausea due to gastrointestinal problems. Getting a vet to check your puppy/dog to rule out such problems is therefore of utmost importance, before you consult a dog behaviourist to address the problem.
Correcting Instinct-Related Inappropriate Chewing
Even adult dogs enjoy a good chew and unless it is excessive, inappropriate chewing, this is perfectly normal, instinctive behaviour. Correcting your dog immediately & calmly every time you catch him/her chewing inappropriate objects, encouraging appropriate chewing and, of course, discouraging inappropriate chewing will minimise destruction.
Encouraging Appropriate Chewing
Encourage appropriate chewing by providing your dog with chew toys. Finding a chew toy your dog enjoys may take trial and error, but as a dog behaviourist I generally recommend:
- Being Careful with Beef & Rawhide Bones. Determined chewers can reduce these bones to small pieces that could be swallowed and become lodged in their oesophagus and/or their small intestine. Supervising your dog when offering such treats and removing smaller pieces likely to be swallowed is highly recommended.
- Avoiding Chicken Bones. Splintering easily, chicken bones can create sharp fragments that could puncture your dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Dental chews and Nyla bones are much safer alternatives.
- Selecting Appropriately Sized Toys. Many dogs like balls and other chew toys. Make sure to choose a toy small enough to be picked up/carried by your dog, but large enough not to be accidentally swallowed. Many Kong-type dog toys have holes – make sure these holes are too small for your dog’s lower jaw to get stuck in them.
- Never giving your dog toys resembling inappropriate objects. Dogs can’t tell the difference between old and new shoes, for example. Giving dogs old shoes to chew on and then scolding them for destroying new ones confuses them and will fail to correct inappropriate chewing.
Discouraging Inappropriate Chewing
Discourage inappropriate chewing immediately by:
- Taking the object your dog is chewing on away
- Scolding your dog
- Directing your dog’s attention towards an appropriate chew toy
- Praising your dog for chewing this toy
This serves to help your dog gradually learn which objects may/may not be chewed.
Occasionally, discouraging established inappropriate chewing patterns can prove difficult. In such cases, applying noxious taste deterrents (like bitter apple, for example) to inappropriate objects may help to teach your dog to leave said object/s alone. For more help with discouraging established inappropriate behaviour, contact an experienced dog behaviourist.
Boredom and Inappropriate Chewing
Boredom and excess energy are common causes of inappropriate chewing. Prevent problems by providing regular, long walks and spending plenty of time playing with your dog. Expending excess energy your dog may otherwise direct towards excessive chewing and/or other inappropriate behaviours, regular exercise and play time will also help to reinforce your bond with your dog.
Separation Anxiety and Excessive Chewing
If your dog predominantly chews inappropriate objects when you are out, this behaviour may indicate separation anxiety – which will need to be dealt with to stop excessive chewing. We will look at separation anxiety in more detail at another time, but essentially, you can reduce this anxiety and subsequent inappropriate chewing by:
- Ensuring your dog is in a resting, quiet mode while you’re out by taking him/her for a brisk, long walk before you leave and rewarding your dog’s resulting calm-submissive energy with water and food.
- Practising the ‘No Talk, No Touch, No Eye Contact’ rule. Not making a fuss when leaving/coming home will reduce anxiety by communicating to your dog that your time apart is not a big deal. Depending on how severe your dog’s anxiety is, you may have to practise this rule for anything between 5 and 60 minutes before leaving/after returning.
- Staying calm & assertive. Leaving feelings of concern/guilt behind and projecting a pack leader’s confident energy as you leave lets your dog know all will be well and helps reduce separation anxiety.
- Getting your dog used to being alone. Leave for only 5 minutes to begin with, then gradually extend your time away until you can leave for eight hours without coming home to inappropriate chewing mayhem.