Why do dogs chew?
Dogs, especially puppies, are extremely playful and exploratory in their behavior.
While play with people and other dogs is an important part of socialization
and social development, exploration and object play are important ways for dogs
to learn about their environment. Therefore it is a normal behavior for puppies
to investigate their environment by sniffing, tasting and perhaps chewing on
objects throughout the home. There are a wide variety of reasons why dogs chew,
for example some may be scavenging for food (as in raiding trash cans), others
playing (as in the dog that chews on objects that spring forth feathers or foam
such as cushions or sofas), teething (dogs 3 to 6 months of age that chew on
household objects), or satisfying a natural urge to chew and gnaw (which may
serve to help keep teeth and gums healthy). Some dogs may chew because they
receive attention (even if it is negative) or treats from the owners each time
they chew, and the owners are inadvertently rewarding the behavior. Chewing
and destructive behaviours may also be a manifestation of anxiety. Dogs that
are confined in areas where they are insecure or frightened may dig and chew
in an attempt to escape. Dogs that are in a state of conflict, high arousal
or anxiety may also turn to chewing and other forms of destructiveness as an
outlet for their emotional responses.
How can chewing be treated?
First, it is essential to determine the cause and motivation for chewing as
this information will be needed when developing a treatment regime. If the dog
is a puppy or young adult that is chewing at a variety of objects in the household,
it is likely that play and investigation (and perhaps teething) is the motive.
Dogs that raid bins and steal food off counters are obviously motivated by the
presence and smell of food. Some dogs are attempting to escape confinement while
in others chewing may be an outlet for anxiety. Directing the chewing into appealing
alternatives, providing sufficient play and exercise, and preventing inappropriate
chewing are all techniques used in dealing with this problem. In addition you
must ensure that you are not inadvertently rewarding the behavior by interacting
with your dog when he is chewing. If the dog is still a puppy the chewing behavior
may decrease in time, provided you direct it into proper outlets. In the case
of dogs that are raiding bins or food stealing the behavior itself is self-rewarding
and booby trapping the bin or food with an unpleasant stimulus, such as taste
or sound, may be necessary. Close supervision and prevention of access are obviously
also needed. Dogs that are destructive in an attempt to escape confinement must
learn to become comfortable and secure with the place where they are to be confined.
Dogs that are destructive as an outlet for anxiety, will need to have the cause
of the anxiety diagnosed, and the problem appropriately treated.
How can proper chewing be encouraged?
Before considering how inappropriate chewing might be discouraged the real
key is to provide some appropriate outlets for your dog's chewing "needs."
Begin with a few toys with a variety of tastes, smells, and textures to determine
what appeals most to your pet. Although plastic, nylon or rubber toys may be
the most durable, products that can be torn apart such as rawhide or pigs ears
may be more like natural prey. Coating toys with liver or cheese spread may
also increase their desirability as may soaking the toy in meat juices. Durable
chew toys with hollow centers are ideal as their appeal can be greatly enhanced
by placing a piece of cheese or liver inside and then filling them tight with
biscuits. This encourages the dog to "work" to get its reward. Placing soup
or meat juices into these toys and freezing it, or freezing food items in ice
makers and placing them in the dogs food bowl may increase the durability to
To ensure that your puppy is encouraged and rewarded for chewing on its toys,
and discouraged from chewing on all other objects, it must be well supervised.
Whenever supervision is not possible, you must prevent access to any object
or area that might be chewed. Although play periods and chew toys may be sufficient
for most pets, additional activities such as self-feeders, other pets and interactive
toys may help to keep pets occupied.
How else can my dog's activity be reduced?
The needs of most working dogs are usually satisfied with daily work sessions
(retrieving, herding, sledding, etc.), while non-working house-pets will require
alternative forms of activity to meet their requirements for work and play.
Games, such as retrieving and catching a ball or Frisbee, and exercise, in the
form of long walks or jogging, are often acceptable alternatives to work, allowing
the dog an opportunity to expend energy and benefit from the attention of their
owner. Obedience training, agility classes and simply teaching your dog a few
tricks are not only pleasant interactive activities for you and your dog, but
they also provide some stimulation and "work" to the dog's daily schedule.
How can I stop the chewing on household objects?
Access to all areas that the dog might chew must be prevented unless the owner
is present to supervise. Effectively booby-trapping the area may be an option,
but in this case the owner must be present nearby so that as soon as the booby
trap is triggered the owner can call the dog and reward it for an alternative
behavior. Taste or smell aversion is often the simplest and most practical type
of booby trap, but many pets will have to be conditioned in advance to detest
the smell or taste in order for it to be effective. Your dog can only be punished
for chewing if it is caught in the act and even then it is essential that the
punishment is humane, immediate and effective. If there is any association between
the punishment and the owner you run the risk that your pet will learn not to
chew in your presence, but the behavior. will to continue, and may even worsen,
in your absence. Remote punishment (where the owner is out of sight while administering
punishment) may teach the dog that the behavior. itself is inappropriate but
the owner must be on hand to deliver the reward for the alternative response.
Arriving home and punishing a pet for chewing that has occurred in your absence
will only serve to increase your pet's anxiety and cause more problems with
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