You've finally done it; you've decided to add a dog to your family. The day you bring your new dog home will be a day that you never forget. He will fill a hole in your life that you didn't even know was there. While filling your heart with joy, your dog may also fill your home with destruction.
Chewing in dogs can be real problem, and one that we humans do not cope with well.
Chewing in dogs is a completely normal behavior. Read that again. It's normal! Your dog is not trying to assert his dominance over you, nor is he chewing your shoes 'out of spite.'
Dogs evolved from wolves thousands of years ago. While our domesticated dogs are not much like their wolf ancestors at this point, they still contain pieces of wolf software. One piece of that software is the predatory or hunting sequence. For wolves, being a proficient hunter could mean the difference between life and death. They must learn how to quietly stalk prey, chase and tackle that prey, kill it, and then dissect it in order to fill their bellies. You may notice your dog likes to 'stalk' other dogs at the park, or will chase anything that moves quickly!
Others enjoy chewing on and destroying things. This is their application of the 'dissection' portion of their predatory sequence. Yup, a plush toy is no deer, but that doesn't make much different to Fido!
More than just instinct drives our dogs to chew. Dogs explore the world, and everything in it, with their mouths. Just like humans explore the world with their hands (think of a toddler in a toy store!)
Puppies are particularly apt it putting every thing they find in their mouths for fact gathering. Your puppy might quickly discover that chewing on certain things is really rewarding; it feels good on their angry teething gums, and provides enjoyable exercise for their jaws.
Chewing is fun! Chewing for dogs is like an engaging Netflix series for us.
Much like us, not every dog is the same, and they have personal preferences. The same rule applies to chewing. Some dogs prefer hard items: wood, sticks, table legs, baseboards (cringe!) Some dogs prefer soft, plush items like bedding, pillows or stuffed animals. Others like rubber (tires, soles of your shoes), while some will chew anything and everything!
Luckily for us, chewing is a problem that we can deal with, and fairly effectively. Here's how we do it:
1. Provide your dog with legal chewing outlets
It's futile to try and smother your dog's natural desire to chew and expect it to just 'go away.' Instead, teach Fido what he CAN chew on to fill his desire to work his jaws. Provide him with plenty of chewing opportunities, and plenty of variety. You may need to experiment with various toys or chews to determine what your dog prefers best.
Reward Fido when he makes good choices, like chewing on his Kong instead of your shoes.
Behavior that is reinforced is behavior your dog will want to repeat in the future.
2. Set-up the dog's environment for success
Young puppies or untrained adult dogs should be under active supervision when they are loose in the house. Interrupt any 'illegal' chewing and redirect your dog to an appropriate outlet, such as one of his toys.
Dogs live in the moment, so it is critical that we are not punishing our dog after the offense has been committed. If you come home from work to discover that your dog has shredded a couch pillow at some point during the day, too bad! The opportunity has passed to reprimand your dog, as he will have no idea what he is being punished for. Rather than focusing on telling Fido that he made a mistake, focus your efforts on better managing Fido's environment to prevent him from making these mistakes in the first place.
If you are leaving the house for the day, you should place your dog in a dog-proofed room or a crate. This ensure there is no way Fido can 'screw up' and chew on the wrong thing (remember, chewing is a self-rewarding behavior!) Ensure you leave your dog with plenty of legal, safe chew toys that are not at risk of being destroyed and ingested while you are gone.
3. Address and eliminate your dog's boredom
Chewing is more commonly seen in a dog who is bored. A bored dog is a dangerous dog, in the sense that they generally make poor choices when it comes entertaining themselves. If your dog is chewing because he is bored then we need to address this!
Prior to leaving your dog alone be sure to provide him with ample exercise; a hike or run, visit to the dog park, vigorous game of fetch or long walk.
If you work long days you may want to hire a dog walker or drop your dog off at daycare for the day.
Toss out your dog's food bowl! That's right, just get rid of it. Have your dog earn his meals through training exercises (obedience, or tricks, it doesn't matter), interactive feeding toys, or stuffed Kongs. Use your dog's daily caloric requirements as an opportunity to work their brain at the same time. Remember, our dogs are scavengers, so lets provide scavenging opportunities for them that are also mentally stimulating.
Join a dog sport! Dog agility or nose work are great ways to provide mental and physical enrichment for your dog. A tired dog is a happy dog, so work on addressing and fulfilling your dog's mental and physical requirements on a daily basis.
Dogs do what works. Strive to set your dog up for success, and make sure that what works for them, is also working for you!