Ask The Expert: What to do with dogs that chew

I know a guy who’s ‘lost’ so many shoes to his little Jack Russell’s chewing habits that he actually contemplated starting a new line of shoes for dog owners. It was going to be called Haute Couchew — basically a line of shoes that’s already ‘worn-in’ and frayed, almost like the deconstructed denim look. And the more your dog chews on it, the cooler it becomes.

Needless to say, his cutting-edge idea never quite took off.  Yet his dilemma is one that almost every dog owner had to deal with at some point. And it doesn’t stop at shoes: handbags, scatter cushions, imported Persian rugs, garden irrigations systems — it seems that nothing is beyond the tastes of a motivated chewer. In this article, I’ll discuss the possible causes for your dog’s gnawing habits, and also look at some tried and tested ways on how to prevent it.

The first thing to remember is that dogs will do what dogs will do, and one of the most natural things a dog will do is to chew. It’s pretty much ingrained in his DNA. However, there are also some factors that can amplify the destructive habit.

 

Puppy teething

The most obvious and well-known one is that all puppies go through a teething phase. At about 3 weeks the first milk teeth appear, and these increase until about 8 weeks, when the milk teeth start making way for the 42 permanent teeth that should all be in place at around 7 months. During this time, your puppy’ gums will often be in a slightly irritated state, which will result in the habit of getting hold of anything it can get its paws on. This is completely natural.

The best way to prevent your pup from chewing on your treasured possessions is to make sure he or she has enough other acceptable things to sink its teeth into. There are many chewy toys available at your local pet store or supermarket. Some dogs have a favourite toy that it keeps going back to, while others quickly get bored and constantly need new interesting chewy things. In my experience, raw meat bones have the highest satisfaction rating although tough rubber toys last the longest (Remember that dogs should only ever be fed raw bones that don’t splinter easily. Cooked bones and thin chicken bones can be very harmful to your dog’s health).

 

Boredom

The second reason dogs, and especially adult dogs chew more than normally is out of sheer boredom. So make sure that your furry friend gets enough exercise every day and gets adequate play time with other dogs if possible. Highly intelligent breeds will also need consistent mental stimulation to keep them out of trouble.

 

Separation anxiety

A third reason for excessive chewing is that it’s a symptom of separation anxiety. Coming back to a wrecked lounge after leaving your dog alone for a couple of hours is a sure sign that he or she is not comfortable with being left alone. Luckily, there are ways to minimise the anxiety your dog experience. Dog behaviourist Cesar Millan recommends the ‘no touch, no talk, no eye contact’ rule before leaving the house. This way you communicate to your dog that it’s no big deal that you’re leaving. Another trick is to gradually increase the time you leave him alone. Start with 5 minutes and don’t make a big deal of it. What your dog wants more than anything is a calm assertive leader.

 

About ‘guilt’ and breaking the cycle

We all that look just after your dog has been caught chewing your slipper: head down, ears back, body slouching as if to disappear into the background. We humans naturally interpret this as guilt. Surely, he knows he’s just misbehaved! However, that’s a classic case of projecting human feelings onto our dogs. Dogs do not experience guilt at all! In fact, studies show that this is the exact same body language dogs show one another when they’re trying to avoid a fight. Basically, that recognisable ‘guilty’ look is just a scared reaction to your harsh words and your beloved dog is just trying to calm you down.

 

Dogs also have very short memories. Scolding a dog hours or even minutes after the sin basically only serves to confuse it. The best time to break the habit of chewing is when you catch your dog in the act. A consistent “Leave!” command will, over time, teach your dog which objects are acceptable chewy toys. Never forget that dogs learn by conditioning. Therefore, one of the best ways to prevent chewing is by treating non-chewable objects with non-toxic but bad tasting sprays. There are several sprays on the market precisely for this reason and really is a saving grace for frustrated owners.

To sum up, here are four things to remember about dog chewing, which I call the C-H-E-W rules:

 

C — Chewy toys: make sure there are enough acceptable toys to play with.

H — How you react: don’t scold your dog after the fact. Always interrupt him in the act by distracting him and providing an acceptable toy as an alternative.

E — Exercise: enough of it on a regular basis.

W — Watch what you leave lying around. Avoid temptation.

 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go teach my dog that he’s only allowed to disembowel the bad books, not the good ones. Wish me luck.

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by Eckhard Cloete