By Dr. Kristy Conn
Inappropriate chewing is a fairly common problem in young dogs and stems from the fact that puppies use their mouths as a means of exploring the world around them. Chewing is a normal behavior for puppies but becomes undesirable behavior when it is directed towards inappropriate objects such as your shoes, furniture, or even your hands and feet. If inappropriate chewing is not corrected then it can lead to wide scale destruction of personal property, medical problems and erosion of the human-animal bond.
A dog’s deciduous teeth will erupt between three to eight weeks of age and around four to six months of age these teeth will be gradually replaced with permanent teeth. Teething is a painful process and puppies chew more during this period of time because their gums are very irritated during this time and the act of chewing relieves their discomfort. Inappropriate chewing is most likely to occur while the puppy is teething but if not corrected can become a long standing problem even after all the adult teeth emerge and teething ends.
Here are the five steps you should take to correct inappropriate dog chewing before it becomes a problem:
1. Rule out medical problems. The first step is to make sure that your puppy does not have any serious medical problems. Nutritional deficiencies caused by poor diet and/or intestinal parasitism can lead to pica which may be misconstrued as inappropriate chewing. Gastrointestinal problems may cause nausea which can trigger chewing as a coping mechanism. Therefore it is important to make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out an underlying medical condition that may be causing or contributing to the dog chewing.
2. Puppy proofing. Look around your environment for possible dangers to your inquisitive puppy. Place household cleaners and chemicals out of reach along with potentially toxic plants. Electrical cords should be covered or made inaccessible to prevent chewing on them resulting in electrocution. Remove objects of curiosity that might appeal to your puppy such as shoes and socks, children’s toys and the like. Block access to rooms that have not been puppy proofed and consider crate training your dog for the times when he cannot be supervised.
3. Encourage appropriate chewing. Provide appropriate chew toys for your dog to enjoy. Each dog will have their own personal preference as to what they prefer to chew and play with. Be careful with rawhide and beef bones as determined chewers can whittle them down to smaller pieces that can be swallowed. They can end up becoming lodged in the esophagus or small intestine so supervision is recommended when giving these treats and be sure to take away any small pieces that might be swallowed. Avoid chicken bones since they splinter easily creating sharp fragments that can easily puncture your dog’s gastrointestinal tract. I prefer nylabones, greenies and dental chewsticks since they encourage appropriate chewing while combating dental disease. Dog toys such as balls and kongs may appeal to your dog, just be sure to select a size that is appropriate for your dog. They should be able to pick it up and carry it but it should be of sufficient bulk that it cannot be swallowed. If you buy your dog a kong type toy check, make sure the hole in the toy is not so big that the dog can get his lower jaw stuck in it.I have seen several emergency cases where a dog comes in with a toy stuck in his mouth. Do not give toys that resemble inappropriate items; for example do not give your dog an old shoe to chew on because he will not know the difference between the old chew shoe and a brand new pair.
4. Discourage inappropriate chewing. By following step two you will have already minimized the amount of mischief your young dog can get into. If you do find your dog chewing on something inappropriate correct the dog by taking the object away and scolding him. Direct his attentions to an appropriate chew object and give praise when he chews on said object. Gradually, your dog will learn what objects are his and which are not. Sometimes it can be difficult to discourage chewing if the pattern is already established. Taste deterrents such as bitter apple can applied to the object, the noxious taste will hopefully deter the determined chewer and he will learn to leave the object alone.
5. Engage in playtime with your dog. A tired dog is a good dog! Spend time playing and exercising with your dog on a regular basis. This not only reinforces the human-animal bond but expends energy that your dog might be otherwise directed to inappropriate chewing and behaviors.
What is your dog’s favorite chew toy?