First of all, you can’t and shouldn’t stop dog chewing as it is a natural and healthy activity for puppies and dogs. This article explores the reasons for chewing and what actions you can take to minimise the damage your dog causes through chewing.
Why do dogs and puppies chew?
In general there are three main reasons for your dog or puppy to chew:
Teething : This occurs between the ages 14-28 weeks. Chewing on objects helps sooth and loosen the gums around teeth, thus allowing ‘baby’ teeth to fall out and proper teeth to grow through.
Exploratory Chewing: Occurs roughly from the age of 28-52 weeks. Just as human babies use their hands to explore objects, puppies use their mouths.
Calming / Stress Management: Chewing causes a chemical release of endorphins which have a calming effect on your dog. Many dogs chew to relieve stress and anxiety. This does not mean your dog is necessarily anxious, just that they know chewing calms them and makes them feel better.
How do I stop destructive chewing?
Since dogs have no sense of the value of the items they explore and chew, they can often be seen as destructive in our eyes. Rather than looking to inhibit chewing, you should be looking to focus your dog’s chewing on those items you are happy for it to chew on. The first step is to teach your dog to understand the difference between what is yours and what is theirs. To do this they must see toys as a reward, something that is special and very different to the chair leg for example. Here are some hints and tips to help achieve this:
- To start with, make only 3 toys available to your dog. Make them all different in taste, texture and shape.
- Use these toys and play regularly with your dog. This lets them associate these toys with good things and it is therefore more likely your dog will play with them when you are not there.
- Make one of the toys a hollow fill toy that can be filled with food and treats, further encouraging them to use them. See our article on how to use a Kong and the other activity toys that are available.
- Remove valuable items or put them out of reach. Discourage your dog from chewing other objects (furnishings etc) with deterrents such as Johnstons Anti Chew. This has a bitter taste and if sprayed on furniture, its taste deters chewing.
- Keeping your dog confined when you are not watching them. Crate training is seen as one of the best ways to do this (see our article – Dog Crates & Crate Training). Alternatively you could use a play pen to restrict movement to a specific area.
- When you see your dog chewing the correct items, praise them. This gives further positive reinforcement around chewing the correct objects. Avoid over doing this such that it interrupts their chewing.
- If you catch your dog about to chew on something they are not meant to, catch their attention with a firm “NO”. Immediately give them something they can chew on and praise them when they do.
- The best form of correction is from the objects themselves! Ok, this sounds odd and needs to be explained. If you discipline your dog for chewing an incorrect object, it can lead them to mistakenly believe they cannot chew at all, or cannot chew in your presence. If however, by chewing a certain object, a certain negative consequence occurs, it will deter them later. The best way to do this is to startle your dog with a squirt from a water pistol (on the back of their head) just as they are about to chew the object. It is important that the dog does not see you do this. It must think it is the object itself. This can be considered slightly aversive and is recommended as a last resort where all other methods have failed.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY, keep it all positive and reward correct behaviour. Treat any mistakes as your fault for not correctly teaching your dog those items it can or cannot chew.