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
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,
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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