Dogs: Chewing Behavior

February 12th, 2013 posted by VirtualVet.com

Why does my dog chew everything in the house?

Chewing is a normal behavior for dogs. Your dog’s mouth is equivalent to our hands; it is used to explore the environment, to grasp food, and to relieve boredom and tension. Occasionally dogs will chew household items in response to a medical problem. The most common medical cause of excessive chewing is irritated or painful gums due to teething in puppies or gingivitis in older dogs. A single destructive episode may be caused by inflammation of the stomach or esophagus. Excessive chewing and destruction can also be the result of psychological stresses such as anxiety or phobias. Finally, chewing problems can be inadvertently reinforced by the owner. For example, if you allow your pet to chew on old socks and stuffed animals, your dog may not be able to differentiate these items from new towels and couch pillows! //

How do I recognize destructive chewing behavior and determine its cause?

Frequently, chewing problems begin as “a cute game” the puppy plays, and the behavior is ignored. However, as soon as something valuable is destroyed, the behavior becomes a problem. First, have your pet examined by your veterinarian to rule out an underlying medical cause. Your veterinarian can also help you determine if the chewing is related to an underlying phobia or to separation anxiety. Phobias should be suspected if the destruction is directed toward windows or doors (escape behavior). Separation anxiety should be suspected if the chewing occurs only when the dog is left alone or if there has been a recent change in the owner’s schedule (new job, new baby, etc.).

Are there any secondary problems associated with destructive chewing?

Yes. Aside from physical damage to your property, your dog may swallow foreign objects (clothing, plastic, etc.). This may result in serious medical complications.

What can I do to eliminate destructive chewing?

Since chewing itself is a normal behavior, you must allow a proper outlet for chewing. This is most easily accomplished by providing appropriate chew toys for your dog. A chew toy is “appropriate” if it is safe, interesting, and significantly different from your own possessions. Examples include Kong™ toys, Nylabones™, and large rawhide bones or strips. Offer your dog a large variety of toys until you discover what it likes. To make toys more appealing, hide small pieces of food inside (this works especially well with hollow Kong™ toys). This keeps the dog occupied for a longer period as it tries to work the food out of the toy. You may also coat the toys with food such as bacon grease, peanut butter or cheese. To train your dog, provide both appropriate and inappropriate items in a confined area that you can monitor. At first, lay out nine chew toys and one inappropriate item, such as a shoe. Tell your dog to “get your chew toy” (or whatever command you choose). Whenever your dog picks up a chew toy, give it a food treat, a pat on the head or verbal praise. Whenever it picks up your shoe, scold it until it drops the shoe, then praise it and repeat the command “get your chew toy”. If you do this consistently, you can gradually decrease the number of chew toys while increasing the number of inappropriate items. In about two weeks, you should be able to lay out one chew toy and nine inappropriate items, and your dog should consistently pick up only the chew toy. Keeping your dog busy and tired may also help prevent destruction. Teach your dog to play fetch; this is a great way to wear your dog out without wearing yourself out! However, do not play tug of war with your pet because this encourages aggressive behavior. If your dog has already developed a chewing problem, booby-trap items that you do not want chewed. Spray the items with a mixture of cayenne pepper and water or with bitter citronella sprays. If you catch your dog in the act of chewing an inappropriate object, immediately reprimand it. Do not scold your pet after the act, since your pet will not connect the punishment with the chewing. Remember to praise your dog every time you see it spit out an inappropriate item. If your dog chews trash, place empty aluminum cans on top of your garbage can. Your dog will associate the startling noise of the cans falling with the trash and will stay away from it. Finally, supervise your dog at all times while it is learning which items are appropriate to chew. If this is not possible, confine your dog to an area safe from destruction. Remember, even bathrooms and kitchens contain baseboards and cupboards that your dog may chew. For that reason, you may want to train your dog to be confined in a dog carrier or crate.

Key Points:

  • Chewing is a normal behavior for dogs.
  • Have your veterinarian eliminate any medical and psychological problems.
  • Provide appropriate chew toys.
  • Booby-trap inappropriate items.
  • Consistently reward appropriate chewing behaviors.
  • Supervise or confine your dog.

References:

Bokenkamp G: Good Manners for the Modern Dog, 1980, published by Perfect Paws, PO Box 885214, San Francisco, CA 94188. Rutherford C; Neil D: How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With , 1981, published by Alpine Publications, Loveland, CO. Pryor K: Don’t Shoot The Dog , 1985, published by Bantam Books, New York, NY. Produced by the 1995 Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

Copyright ©1995 Bohnenkamp, Perfect Paws, Inc.

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