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DESTRUCTIVENESS: CHEWING

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 the treats.

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 its behavior.

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