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When Chewing Is a Problem

by Jean Guarr

Does your dog chew things he shouldn’t? Here’s the way to end the problem.

First, think about why he’s chewing.

Leather shoes, especially fairly new ones that have been worn enough to pick up that yummy sweaty-foot smell but haven’t totally lost the new-shoe smell, are really tasty to most dogs

Most people-food smells good to them, too; so if the tablecloth has gravy spots on it that may be hard to resist.

Used towels or clothes with your smell on them may be comforting to a dog who’s feeling a bit stressed or lonely.

The puppy may be chewing on you with her little sharp teeth, as a part of play.
There’s almost nothing that some dog, somewhere, sometime, won’t chew.
We’re not going to end chewing; but we are going to redirect it to an appropriate object.

We want to do two things: to make the inappropriate object less appealing and to substitute an acceptable – to us and to the dog – object.

The simplest way to make the inappropriate object less appealing is to spray it with something that tastes bad. There are products made for that – there’s a bitter apple spray and a bitter lemon that I know of – but many dogs are not sufficiently put off by those. Some people try tabasco sauce, but some dogs actually like that. The thing that works best is to buy unscented spray deodorant. It must be unscented spray; scented won’t work. Just spray it on whatever the dog is chewing. Respray as needed. If the object is outside, respray after a rain or heavy dew.

Remember, too, that sometimes it’s easier to control the situation than to retrain the dog. Put your shoes in the closet and close the door. Put the dirty clothes in the clothes hamper or in the washing machine. Wash the tablecloth. Buy a chew-proof leash.

Now, buy a couple of hard rubber chew toys per dog – not those soft rubber or plastic ones. A good kind is the Kong line; you can get them in any good pet store or online at www.drsfostersmith.com . I don’t get a commission from them, or even a discount; but when I need something for my pets that I can’t get locally I order from them. When you call their 800 number, you get a person who knows the products. When you order by phone or online you’ll probably have your stuff in four days, and if the product is defective or not what you need they’ll take it back and refund your money. There are several types and sizes of Kong for the various sizes and types of dog.

When you have your Kongs or other hard rubber chew toys, rub them with a thin coat of peanut butter. Buy a good kind like Smucker’s, one without sugar; you don’t want to make your dog a sugar junkie or damage his teeth. Peanut butter is healthy for dogs and most of them love it; but if your dog doesn’t, you can use Gerber’s meat-based baby food from the number 2 jar, the one without onion powder. Remember that onions are poisonous to dogs; they accumulate in the system and attack the liver. Put the toys in the freezer for a few hours or overnight.

Now you’ve sprayed – or put out of reach – the things you don’t want your dog to chew; and you’ve got your frozen peanut-butter or frozen baby-food Kong toy as a substitute. The fact that it’s frozen means it will take longer for your dog to get all the taste, the hard rubber means that he can’t just bite off chunks and swallow them. By the time he chews off the good taste, he’ll probably be ready for a nice long nap. Pick up the chew toy, wash it off, rub on another thin layer of good stuff, and put it in the freezer. You’ll have another one already frozen for when he wakes up.

You’re thinking, “That sounds messy.” Yes, it is; don’t let the dog have the chew toy on the carpet or the couch. If you have a safe, securely fenced yard he can go out in – and if it’s not too hot or too cold for him to be out there longer than 15 minutes - he can take the toy outside. Otherwise, keep him and it in a room with an easily cleaned floor. If you don’t have a suitable area, the weather’s not good, or you just prefer not to let him out, you can put a towel in a chair and give the toy to him there. You’ll probably have to keep putting him and it back in the chair the first few times. but he’ll soon learn that’s the right spot for chewing his yummy toy. If you don’t want to do that, you can also buy edible corn-starch based chew bones from pet stores or from Drs. Foster and Smith. It’s not nearly as good an option, because you’ll have to keep buying the bones rather than just renewing the coating on the Kong toy and because there are more calories in those than in the thin coatings you’d put on the Kong toys.. I don’t advocate turning your dog into a bowling ball with four paws. You can put them in the freezer to make them last a bit longer, but many dogs can go through a large edible bone in 15 minutes. I don’t recommend rawhide – you don’t know where it came from or how it was handled – or real bones which can splinter and seriously damage your dog’s digestive system.

If the chewing problem involves fingers or other body parts, the person being chewed should try to yelp as much like a dog as possible, but really REALLY loud. This works much better than saying NO or STOP or anything else. Your dog doesn’t speak English; you can learn to speak a bit of Dog. If you were sitting or lying down, get up immediately and walk away. Don’t say anything to the dog, don’t touch him or even look at him. Don’t notice him again for at least 3 minutes. If he follows and keeps nipping, pick him up gently or lead him by the collar gently to his kennel and put him inside. Again, don’t speak to him or look at him and try not to touch him more than necessary. Close the door and don’t let him out for 3 to 5 minutes. If he’s yelping or whining, wait until a pause to let him out. If he starts nipping or chewing again, put him back for 5 to 10 minutes. It’s important to handle him gently; if you’re angry and don’t think you can be gentle, ask someone else to put him in the kennel; but it’s better if you do it. If you’re rough with him, he’ll know he got your attention; and he may decide that it’s worth a little rough handling to get a reaction from you.

These methods will work fairly quickly; but remember it’ll work faster if the behavior just started than if your dog has been doing the problem chewing for some time. Be patient, and email me at guarrj2002@yahoo.com if you’re not seeing major improvement after a week.

Here are some other things to think about that will help you resolve the behavior quickly and prevent other unwanted behaviors. Remember that I started this article by asking you to think about why your dog was chewing.

Is your dog lonely and bored too much of the time? Dogs have minds; if you don’t keep their minds as well as their bodies exercised they’ll think of things to do which may not be to your liking. Dogs like to be trained properly; clicker training or other reward-based training gives your dog a good outlet for his mental and physical energy. It also gives him a way to get your attention in a way you’ll like. By the time most dogs get to my obedience class, they think their name is No No Bad Dog. Too many people get into a habit of ignoring their dogs unless the dogs do something which demands attention – like chewing a good shoe or grabbing a favorite T-shirt and running through the house with it. After all, that works, doesn’t it? They get your attention then. Just like a child who feels ignored, a dog may decide that being fussed at or even spanked is better than being ignored. Retrain yourself to catch your dog being good. Petting, praise, and tiny treats given for good behavior will do more to change bad behavior than any amount of correction or kenneling.

On an immediately practical level, there are treat-containing toys – the Buster Ball is one but there are others even better – into which you can put tiny treats or even pieces of ordinary dry food. The opening is adjustable so that, when the dog rolls the ball, pieces of food come out. These can keep a dog’s interest long enough for him to get pleasantly tired enough for a nap. There are stuffed toys with sound chips, more interesting to most dogs than the standard squeak. My own dogs have several of those, including some that play bits of music, that keep them entertained for hours.

You can always pick them up at bedtime if they’re too distracting. One of my dogs never chewed inappropriately again after we got him a playmate – an option you should choose only if you and the other people involved also want another pet and if you’ve considered carefully how your dog feels about other dogs, cats, birds, or whatever.

If you’re still having a problem with inappropriate chewing after trying these things, consider whether your dog may be overstressed. Some dogs are very sensitive to changes in their environment, some dogs may have an underlying health problem (have you asked your vet to check his teeth?), some dogs are so in tune with their owners they are reacting to something in the owner’s life. One client’s dog started problem chewing after she – the client – had a miscarriage in early pregnancy. The dog picked up on her sadness and tried to soothe himself by chewing anything he could find with her scent on it. Another client’s dog started chewing after the death of another pet; yet another started when the client’s business – he was an accountant and it was tax season – started demanding more of his time. When we know the reason we can usually stop the problem behavior. There are prescription and non-prescription medications, cause-specific behavioral modifications, and Bach flower essences which can ameliorate these temporary but serious problems.

Remember that I am always happy to help caring pet owners. Don’t hesitate to email me if you need more than this article provides.

P.O. Box 2091
1058 SFC 200
Forrest City, AR 72336

Phone 870-633-7036
(Please leave a message)