Dogs are animals and animals love to chew. This is especially true for puppies and young dogs. What they do with their teeth can be both instinctive and learnt behaviour. Thus it is perfectly normal for dogs, especially puppies, to explore their world through their noses and their mouths. They chew to ease teething discomfort, to play, to satisfy hunger, to establish dominance, and to relieve boredom. Chewing releases tension which builds up in the dog’s mouth and face and is often related to stress/ anxiety (e.g. separation anxiety) or a lack of mental and physical stimulation.
However, we also need to understand that dogs have no knowledge or understanding of what humans expect from them. They must be taught all the behaviour the owner wants from them. Dogs do not do things to spite us or teach us a lesson. They do not chew your shoes or tear the washing because you left them to go to work. So, when they have problems we must realise that we did not teach the dog the correct behaviour or that something in its basic instincts or needs is not being met, i.e. food, water, exercise, social company etc.
Every family with a dog has suffered the destructiveness of their needle-sharp teeth.
I shall never forget the first time I took Bosun my GSD puppy for a ride in the back of my new Camper van and as I turned the first corner he dug his teeth into the seat to steady himself. Not to mention the destruction caused to my garden hose and the tap connectors, which I had to replace with brass fittings.
Mouthing of hands by young dogs is a fairly common problem. It usually starts as a playful greeting in the young dog. When he wants attention and you stroke him, he wants to hang on to your hands. With increasing strength, as he gets older, it can become very painful indeed. Therefore, it should never be allowed to happen in the first place. Smacking the dog is the wrong way to go about it and can be dangerous.
Chewing the seat cushions, demolishing a doll or tearing clothes may amuse your dog but it is something that you cannot allow and has to be corrected as soon as possible. However, I have found that by the time most owners ask for help, they have already considered having the dog “put down.” The dog is generally more than a year old and the deviant behaviour has been in existence “for a long time.” When you tell them what to do, the reply is often, “I’ve tried it, but it does not work.” That is because, in order to modify behaviour i.e. removing unwanted behaviour or teaching a new response in place of it, requires dedicated, consistent effort from the whole family. There are no quick fixes in deviant behaviour.
Here are some suggestions:
1) Puppy-proof your home in the same way you child-proof an area for a child.
Pick up rugs and mats. Remove plants and electrical leads. Shoes and chewable objects must be out of reach. Take in the washing as soon as it is dry.
2) Say “No” when you catch him chewing something he shouldn’t. Every young dog needs to be taught what it is allowed to do and what not! What can be bitten and what not. If the pup chews the wrong thing, he should not be smacked or shouted at, but be told firmly, “No Leave” or “No bite” in a low growly tone. Then replace the article with a chew toy and praise him when he takes an interest in it.
3) Confine Bozo when you cannot watch him. A confined pet cannot chew the furniture. Place him in an area, or in a crate, where he cannot cause damage. It should not be a punishment. Make sure he has a chew toy he is allowed to bite, available.
4) Rotate his toys. Give him one or two chew toys at a time and change them every few days so that he can remain interested in them. Do not leave a tennis ball as a chew toy. Research seems to indicate that the saliva of a dog and the glue of a tennis ball produce a substance that will be harmful to the enamel of the dog’s teeth.
The KONG is an excellent chew toy that will keep any puppy busy for a long time.
5) Make chew toys interesting. Ensure your dog’s interest in what he is allowed to chew by dragging it on a string or coating it in peanut butter. Soaking it in some broth or rubbing your scent all over it may help
6) Apply bad scents. Most pets dislike the smell of perfumes and colognes.
Mix one part perfume with ten parts water and spray the solution on what the pet shouldn’t chew.
Hot pepper sauce will discourage him from chewing some items.
Tabasco sauce can be wiped on furniture and other non-chewable items. Try a test spot first to ensure that it won’t stain your belongings.
7) Obedience train your dog. Young and immature dogs need regular daily obedience training.
Join a club and learn the basics that are required to make your dog a friendly well-mannered dog that is a pleasure to live with. Enrol your dog in agility training classes. It builds co-ordination, confidence and is fun.
8) Hide shoes. Objects like shoes have your scent on them and when you are away and your pet misses you he will be comforted by them. Before you leave home rub your scent all over your dog and the toys you are leaving for him.
9) Punishment after the act must be avoided. Dogs have a very short memory and will not connect your anger with the misbehaviour, unless you catch your pet in the act. Never scold your pet when he comes to you, no matter what he did.
What to do with an older dog that was allowed to develop bad habits for some time can be a more difficult exercise. Much will depend on the dog, the breed and the nature of the dog’s basic problem. At age two most dogs will have stopped being destructive. The garden hose, washing and the plants will generally be left alone. It must be remembered that, “Dogs do what works for them.” If they have been allowed to get away with it, they will continue to do so. Now stronger methods will be required and it will take longer to correct. Discuss individual cases with the trainer at your club for further advice. The use of Down Dog Spray, a non toxic bitter spray, can be very effective in cases where you can catch him in action.