The worst case of dog chewing on which we ever consulted involved a Pit Bull named Sally, a fun-loving, exuberant, adolescent dog whose owners left her alone and bored in the house while they each worked ten-hour shifts. They came home one day to find that she had chewed her way through the bedroom wall in order to dismantle the motor of the jacuzzi tub in the adjacent bathroom. It was truly an amazing feat of destructive chewing.
Destructive dog chewing runs the gamut – from “taste nibbles” you may not notice on your leather shoes to complete decimation of your cabinetry, furniture or wardrobe. Unfortunately, chewing is a natural behavior, particularly for puppies and young dogs, who chew to satisfy curiosity, curb boredom and satiate oral cravings. Retrievers, in particular, love to have “stuff” in their mouths, a genetic trait. By understanding that this is in fact a natural drive, you can begin to appreciate that it will take a concerted effort to stop dog chewing.
Dog chewing becomes problematic when the dog isn’t able to distinguish between what’s okay to chew and what’s off limits. Many dogs get re-homed or sent to the local shelter precisely because of this issue. A voracious chewer can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage in a very short amount of time; but your wallet isn’t the only potential casualty: chewing on dangerous objects like electrical cords and poisonous plants can be very hazardous or even deadly.
Prevent Dog Chewing
So, what can you do? Rather than trying to stop dog chewing altogether, you need to provide appropriate outlets for acceptable chewing. This means not only providing chew toys (a common protest from dog owners is “but he already has so many toys!”) but actively encouraging and perhaps even teaching your dog how to use them.
Provide chew toys even when you are home, and make chewing a fun game for the dog by incorporating chew toys into a fetch routine. Some dogs will ignore chew toys when you’re gone unless they’re acticely enjoying them when you’re home, too.
Rather than offering a huge array of toys, rotate the toys and offer new ones periodically. If your dog has a toy chest to rival FAO Schwartz, and still insists on chewing your laundry, an easy fix for you is to remove any object within reach that has a potential chew factor. This includes shoes, kids’ toys, books, DVDs and houseplants. If you do catch a dog in the act of chewing something undesirable, startle him with a loud “AHH!” and immediately offer a more appropriate option.
How to Stop a Dog from Chewing
If you come home to a chewed house, don’t punish him. Although he may act “guilty” and slink away, dogs can’t go backwards in time. All he knows is that chewed object + owner = bad things. Dogs lack the capability to think, “if I hadn’t eaten her Manolos, she wouldn’t be angry….”
Instead, consider thoughtful confinement while you’re away, either outdoors or in a chew-proof room or crate. Don’t allow access to the persistent “chew spots,” like the dining room table legs. Every time that your dog chews something, this behavior is reinforced because it feels and tastes good. Topical anti-chew products that discourage chewing with a bitter or sour taste have been around forever, and depending on your dog’s palate, may discourage chewing, but you’ll have to test them out. Some dogs actually like them! A better bet is to get your dog on an active anti-chew program by offering an interesting daily assortment of chew choices.
Chew toys can be made more desirable by stuffing hollow toys with delectable items that your dog has to “work at” to eat. Many stuffable dog toys exist on the market, and although the Kong remains the number one choice for most trainers, if your dog isn’t digging it, try a different shape or textured toy. Make sure that whatever you’re using to stuff the toys is different and interesting – like bacon bits, wet food, jerky treats, peanut butter, string cheese, Cheese Whiz, or even the horribly textured (but apparently delicious) aerosol liver paste marketed by Kong itself.
Natural, meaty bones for your dog, either from the butcher or the more sanitized and sterilized version available at your pet store, are excellent choices for chewers. There is, after all, a reason why dogs used to be given bones. Natural bones (from beef or pork, not poultry) will provide just the right amount of resistance and hardness to encourage chewing. Make sure that you are carefully monitoring any bones for splintering, though, and remove any that develop sharp edges. You may also want to only allow this kind of chewing outside or on a mat or easily cleaned floor – it can get messy. Avoid rawhide altogether unless it’s compressed, which means that many layers have been formed together (usually in the shape of a bone), which often prevents the dog from chewing it into the doughy, soft mass that veterinarians worry dogs will ingest.
Finally, make sure that your dog is getting enough aerobic exercise. If your dog tends to chew while you’re at work, getting your dog out in the morning for a run at the park or a bit of agility practice may help him settle down when you’re away. Dog daycare or a vigorous midday walk from a local dogwalker are other good choices for an otherwise stay-at-home dog.
Realize that management, not cure, is the goal if you wish to stop dog chewing, and that part of owning a dog means providing outlets for enrichment; just as you read the news, play video games, engage in sports or surf the web, your dog also needs his share of active hobbies.
Many dogs also decrease their voracious chewing with age, so you may not have to put up with this behavior forever, but in the meantime, go stock up on aerosol cheese.