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Dogs and chewing problems

By Travis Brorsen, first published in OKC Pets, December 2019

Chewing is one of the most common reasons I get called in as a trainer. Who wouldn’t be frustrated to come home to find your favorite pair of shoes or jacket chewed to pieces. It’s also frustrating to have to constantly take away items your dog shouldn’t have. Dogs naturally chew. Dogs, especially puppies, do like and sometimes even need to chew, but the goal is to prevent chewing on unwanted items--and it will save you money on buying new shoes!

Ever wonder why dogs chew in the first place? Let’s start with puppies. Puppies chew to explore the world. Have you ever witnessed a litter of puppies happily and joyfully romping around a play pen? It’s all fun and games until someone… YELPS! Puppies use their teeth during play and when one of the pups bites too hard, it isn’t long before the bite lets everyone know it. This is why puppy socialization is so important at a young age. Puppies also chew because they are teething up until at least six to eight months. Chewing can help relieve pain, stress and in some cases anxiety. But no one wants to come home to destroyed shoes or the couch stuffing all over the house. For dogs over eight months to a year old, chewing can happen for many reasons. One of which could simply be it has turned into a bad habit. This happens many times when families believe that their dog loves chewing on shoes so they give him an old one. In their minds, the old one is his, the new ones are ours. The truth is, dogs don’t know the difference between old and new, they just know shoes are fun! You might have heard a trainer say, “set your dog up for success, not failure!” What they are saying is, if you don’t want them to chew on inappropriate things, then don’t tempt them.

Here are five ways to prevent chewing unwanted items and set your dog up for success.

  1. Puppy/Dog Proof Your Home

Before you ever bring home your dog, you can start to prepare your home. This includes puppies and dogs that are older that you might have adopted. The best approach is to walk around your house and ask yourself, “If there was a crawling baby or a toddler in my home, would they try to get into that? Or would they put that in their mouth?” If the answer is yes, move it, get rid of it, hide it, whatever you have to do! If a baby or toddler would get into it, you can bet your bottom dollar that your dog will be enjoying it within minutes of being in your home. Some examples are lamp cords, television cables and glass trinkets lower than four feet off the ground. Survey your low areas like the coffee table and side tables. Remove anything that would be interesting and a problem for a child or dog. It is also a good idea to place your trash cans behind closed doors or get one with a lid. Here is something you can count on, if your new pup finds something you missed, don’t let it happen a second time because if you don’t move it, there will definitely be a round two!

  1. Exercise

Chewing is a problem for a lot of my clients. I do my best to help the owner understand that we want to fix the root of the problem, not the symptom. If you go to a doctor with a cough and sore throat and the doctor sends you home with cough drops when you know there is a bigger problem, you wouldn’t be too happy. Come to find out, you have bronchitis but the doctor only addressed your symptoms, not the main cause of your discomfort. Same goes for unwanted behaviors. Ask yourself, why is my dog chewing in the first place? If it’s an older dog, it could simply be because he is looking for a way to release his energy. If you have a dog older than one year and you are still having destructive chewing problems, you need to get an exercise plan in place. A tired dog doesn’t chew, bark, whine, or beg. A tired dog is a happy dog. Make a goal to exercise your dog at least 90 minutes each day. I know this might seem excessive, but if your dog isn’t tired, how can you expect him or her to not look for ways to release their energy.

  1. Replace

This brings us to the importance of giving them an approved item so they know what is allowed. Because chewing is a natural thing for dogs of all ages, it’s important to make sure they know what they can and can’t chew. If you make this clear from the beginning, you have an opportunity to start good habits which inevitably prevent bad habits. Let’s say that your dog is chewing on a hair brush and you would rather him not. The first question I would ask you is, how did he get it? Maybe you just missed it when you were puppy proofing your house. We all make mistakes, right? So what you want to do is, get something your dog can chew on, a bully stick or Kong toy and simply replace the item with the chew toy that is approved. If you are using edible chew bones, keep in mind you don’t have to allow them to completely finish it. You’re actually better off taking it away before it’s gone as this will add value to it and make them want it even more next time.

  1. Supervise/containment

Supervision is a must with a new dog, regardless of the age. Our family rescued a dog that was a year and a half old and on the first day he came into the house and pee’d on the couch. How could this happen if he was house trained? Well, he was house trained at someone’s house, but not mine. There is no rule that says just because your dog lives with you that they should be allowed to roam free if they haven’t earned that right. Most babies are placed in a bassinet or crib as small children because it’s safe and they haven’t adapted to their surroundings yet. So why do we think that puppies and new dogs will just all of the sudden be okay in a new space? I will tell you why, it’s because we have unrealistic expectations of how this works. Dogs, both puppies and adults, that are new to an environment must be supervised in the beginning. When you leave the home, it’s a good idea to contain them to a small space for their own safety. Possibly a crate, a small room (dog proofed), or a pen area. You can also use a leash on your dog at all times, in the house and out. This will help you prevent unwanted chewing for sure. It can feel like a lot of work, but at the end of the day, there aren’t many things of value that don’t come with hard work.

  1. Be Consistent

Consistency is the key! If you keep your home clean half the time, then the other half it’s a mess with dirty socks and underwear all over the place, don’t get upset when your dog decides to eat your clothes. I’m not kidding. When I lived in Los Angeles my roommate was sitting on the couch with his girlfriend. My boxer, Presley, was laying on the couch with them. In the middle of the movie, Presley starts to get sick. He then proceeds to throw up a sock that he had eaten earlier in the day. I can’t imagine it was a clean sock, but I can promise it didn’t smell as bad the first time as it did the second time! If you’re going to make rules on what your dogs can and can’t have, be consistent and follow through.

Whatever you do, do not punish your dog for chewing on an unwanted item. If you do, they will only associate you with being the source of the pain, they will not understand that their actions caused them to be punished. If you will be consistent, treat your puppy or new dog like a toddler and have realistic expectations about how long this process takes, you will be a much happier pet parent— and save money on new shoes and socks!