Destructive and Dangerous
Chewing on inappropriate objects is a very common behavior problem. Dogs with destructive tendencies can quickly put a dent in your wallet as well as your patience. They may prefer eating your shoes, or go straight to destroying the legs on your dining room table. In addition to being annoying and expensive, this type of behavior can be very dangerous for your dog. Ingesting foreign bodies can make a dog very sick, can lead to blockages, and often requires major surgery.
Why Does My Dog Chew on My Stuff?
Dogs chew on possessions for a number of reasons. As with most things in dog training, the approach that might work great for one dog can be the wrong choice for many other dogs. Understanding the reason behind why your dog is performing these behaviors is key in eradicating them. Finding a good dog trainer who can evaluate your dog and design a training plan that is specific to the needs of your individual dog is invaluable in dealing with these types of behavioral issues.
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One of the top reason that a young puppy will chew on things is that they are going through a teething period. Teething typically starts at 12-16 weeks of age, and most dogs will have a full set of adult teeth by the time they are 6 months old. While they are teething, puppies will have a strong desire to chew on things and always want to have something in their mouth. Teething can also be stressful, so chewing can be a stress relieving behavior for them. To counteract this type of chewing, give the puppy plenty of appropriate options to chew on. A variety of textures is best, and good options include Kongs, safe bones and bully sticks, Orka toys, and other similar toys. When selecting toys, pick ones that your puppy can not fit all the way in his mouth and cannot remove a piece from. You can put his toys in the freezer as well, because the cold can help sooth sore gums.
A further note on puppies is that patience is something you will have to exercise until the teething period is over. Your puppy may have been great for weeks, but one day he really, really needs to chew something and makes the bad choice of your baseboards. Rather than getting angry with the puppy and being harsh with him, redirect him onto something appropriate. After teething is over and the puppy is mature, there will be a time for fair consequences when he makes a bad decision like that. However, at a young age and in the middle of a challenging life stage, we need to help the puppy to make his own good decisions and give him appropriate outlets for something that he needs to be able to do.
Another reason that dogs may chew on things is that they have never been told that it's unacceptable for them to destroy your things. Dogs naturally have a desire to chew, some more than others (golden retrievers, labradors, etc). If they think that chewing up your new pair of work shoes is a perfectly fine thing to do, you are going to be hard pressed to stop the behavior from occurring. However, correcting the dog for the behavior is not enough, because the desire to chew is still there. A two part approach is required, where the dog is taught that chewing on your drapes is a bad thing, but that chewing on a dog toy is perfectly acceptable. Set your dog up for success here, and make sure that his toys don't resemble things that you don't want him to mess with. A toy made of balled up socks will backfire when Fido starts raiding your sock drawer, and a stuffed animal toy may not be the best option if your kids have lots of stuffed animals spread out all over the house. Differentiating between these objects can be very challenging to a dog.
Boredom is another factor that often contributes to a chewing problem. I frequently see this issue in dogs of working breeds who are not receiving proper stimulation in their daily lives. These types of dogs have been bred for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to perform a job. Many of these jobs are defunct now, and these dogs can be perfectly happy living in a pet home provided that they are receiving enough outlets for both their mental and physical energy. Establishing solid obedience with your dog and practicing it on a daily basis will help a great deal, as will teaching a good game of fetch and long, structured walks. When at home, you can utilize a strong place command to break the chewing habit. Put your dog on a place with an appropriate chew item until he can demonstrate that he is responsible enough to be free in the house and not destroy your stuff.
Understanding the reasons why your dog is chewing on your stuff is ultimately the key to fixing the behavior and being able to live a destruction-free life with your dog. No matter what the cause behind the behavior, you will need to have patience, and provide the dog with consistent rules and clear boundaries, while also making sure that his needs are met.
Sam is the owner and head trainer at Kentucky Dog Training LLC. She set up this blog to share success stories, training tips, the progression of dogs in our training programs, and other thoughts on dogs and training.