Destructive chewing

By admin Posted in Basics, Problems, Puppy /

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. Once puppies have their adult teeth they continue to chew to settle them into the growing adult jaw. This can continue up until 12 to 14 months of age. During this time the dog has a biological need to chew. It helps to exercise and develop their jaws and to keep their teeth and gums healthy. If they do not have something suitable to gnaw, they will find something else to get their teeth into.

Because chewing is enjoyable and calming, dogs will do it again and again and so form either a good or a bad habit depending on what its owners have taught it or allowed it to chew.

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.

Dog’s teeth are highly specialised structures that tear, cut and grind food small enough to swallow. They also serve as weapons for attack or defense. Dogs generally have 28 baby teeth and 42 permanent teeth and there is little that that can survive a determined dog. Teaching dogs what to chew and what not must start as early as possible.

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.The dog should have developed bite inhibition as a priority by four and a half months of age. Properly socialised and handeled dogs are not likely to bite because they have learnt to like people. Smacking the dog is the wrong way to go about. (See Bite Inhibition)

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. Go down to see what puppy can see and chew on.

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.

Try to create at least one “safe” room in your house with lots of toys and let the others be out-of-bounds.

2) Puppy teething pain can be relieved by freezing an old wet washcloth and give it to the puppy to chew on. Do not give a puppy old socks and shoes to chew on because they cannot tell the difference between those and good ones.

3)  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” 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.

4)  Confine Bozo when you cannot watch him. A confined pet cannot chew the furniture. Place him in a “safe” area, or in a crate, where he cannot cause damage. It should not be a punishment. Make sure he has his bed, a tasty treat and a chew toy he is allowed to bite, available. If it is introduced gradually, the dog will soon regard it as a safe haven. Leave the cage door open so the dog can go in or out as it pleases until he relaxes and sleeps inside. Now the door can be closed for short periods. Leaving the dog for short periods and being able to return knowing that there is no damage allows for short good-byes and happy returns for both. Remember that puppies under 6 months cannot be left for longer than 4 hours between potty breaks.

5) Rotate his toys weekly. This helps to prevent boredom. 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.

6)  Make chew toys better. 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. Kongs, hard rubber balls, rope toys, squeaky stuffed or rubber balls are amongst dogs’ favourite toys. Toys that can be stuffed with treats such as kongs will keep dogs occupied for long periods, especially if stuffed with meaty treats, soft cheese spread, bacon fat, etc., etc. Play games with the toys so that they have your scent from handling them often. I get my dogs to, “Fetch the Kong” when I return home to check if it is quite empty. Praise your dog for playing with the right chew toys and something like, “Bah” or “Drop it” for picking up the wrong toys. Replace immediately with the right toy!

7) Apply bad scents. Most pets dislike the smell of perfumes and colognes. The peppermint taste of Listerine, the mouth wash, has been used very successfully to prevent the chewing of furniture.

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-chewables. Taste deterrents vary in their effectiveness from dog to dog. It is worth experimenting with other tastes, but substances such as chilly powder can make a mess of carpets. Try a test spot first to ensure hat it won’t stain your belongings.

8)  Bitter Aloe mixed with water can, with the aid of a small syringe, be squirted into the mouth of a destructive chewer. Repeat three times and then spray the articles you want to protect with water containing a very small amount of Bitter Aloe. As soon as the dog nears the article and smells the Aloe, he remembers the bad taste and avoids biting it.

9)  Obedience train your dog. Young and immature dogs need regular daily obedience training. Walk your dog for half an hour before leaving for work.

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. Enroll your dog in agility training classes. It builds co-ordination, confidence and is fun. Plenty of exercise is the best way to prevent destructive chewing. Play fetch indoors on rainy days.

10)  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.

11)  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. If your dog has not responded to the suggestions above, speak to an Animal Behaviourist or your Vet to rule out an underlying medical cause such as a nutritional deficiency. Separation anxiety or a phobia may be indicated.

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.

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