Chewing is a natural and healthy canine activity that soothes sore teething gums, burns off excess energy, relieves tension, and helps canines deal with anxiety. Unfortunately, a dog's chewing can be rather indiscriminate, so teach your pet the difference between acceptable and unacceptable chewing.
Steps to Stop Chewing
Cesar Millan, a professional dog trainer and host of the television show The Dog Whisperer, suggests taking a five-step approach to stop your dog from chewing.
- Keep your cool: Yelling at a dog will only make him nervous, and he may seek other items to chew.
- Correct the dog: Millan recommends a light touch at the nape of the neck. Ideally this will get your dog's attention and allow you to direct him away from the object.
- Distract the dog: Use a treat or an appropriate toy to get the dog's attention.
- Claim the item: Take the item and make it clear to the dog that the object belongs to you. Millan suggests using body language to accomplish this.
- Provide items to chew: Offer toys that are safe for your dog. Dogs use chewing to calm nerves, so you need to replace the item you've taken away.
Alternative Training Methods
While Millan's approach may work wonders with some dogs, an owner with a different training style or a dog with a different temperament may do better with another approach. Try each of the approaches below until you discover one that works with your pet.
Use Praise to Encourage Appropriate Chewing
Praise can be an excellent training method to stop dogs from chewing inappropriate items. When you catch your dog chewing something he shouldn't:
- Remove the object.
- Replace the object with a chew toy, such as a Nylabone or Kong.
- Praise him lavishly for chewing on the appropriate item.
Use Bitter Apple as a Deterrent
The doctors also suggest treating the item you do not want the dog to chew with a product that tastes bad to the dog, such as bitter apple. Bitter apple is a non-toxic and biodegradable spray that can be used topically on abrasions to stop your dog from chewing or licking. It can also be used on furniture, electric cords and molding to deter your dog from chewing. It must be re-applied every few days because it wears off. Your local pet supply store should have several brands of deterrent in stock.
Promote Exercise and Mental Stimulation
It's amazing what a difference proper exercise and mental stimulation can make in curbing chewing behavior.
- Take your dog for frequent walks and play ball. Get his heart rate up. The exercise provides a proper outlet for his energy and takes his mind off chewing for a while.
- Keep your dog mentally stimulated with treat toys. You can put his dinner or treats in it and let him bat the toy around to get the food out. You can find these toys at your local pet store or in catalogs.
- Perform short training sessions a couple of times per day. Dogs have short attention spans so repetition is extremely important. Incorporate training into everyday life as much as possible. Use Sit/Stay to be petted, Down/Stay while getting dinner together and while you eat, and Come while playing ball. Use No to tell your dog not to grab a bad thing.
Dog Proof Your Home
Put away all the things you don't want your dog to chew. It's like baby-proofing your house. Get on the floor down to your dog's eye level. Anything your dog can reach that you don't want chewed should be stored away. Don't forget to warn your guests as well. They may walk into the house and take off their shoes, and then your pup may carry them away as a new toy.
Have a basket handy for items you want to keep out of reach. If your dog does manage to get something that's off limits, blame yourself for forgetting to put it away. Don't scold your dog who doesn't yet know any better. You need to teach him what is acceptable to chew on and what is not.
Acceptable Dog Chewing Items
Make sure your dog has several acceptable chew items available to him, but make sure you supervise him because some items can present a choking hazard as they wear down. Some items you might choose include:
- Nylabones - Nylabones are made from compressed nylon. They fray when chewed, rather than splinter, and they actually help clean a dog's teeth. Just make sure you choose the right size for you pet and take the chew away when it wears down small enough to become a choking hazard.
- Dental chews - These chews help satisfy your dog's need to chew while they also help clean his teeth and freshen his breath.
- Kongs - These hard rubber toys come in different sizes and degrees of toughness and can be filled with pumpkin, bananas, peanut butter, cream cheese or other delicious foods. Freezing the food-filled Kong makes it last even longer. Nylabones come in different sizes, styles, colors and textures for different chewing behaviors.
- Bully Sticks - This chew item is made from dried cow tendons. The chews are very digestible, and dogs really seem to love them.
Make sure to praise your dog when he's chewing the good things. He'll associate the praise with the object and his chewing, and this will eventually lead him to select acceptable chew items all the time.
Think Like Your Dog
It's not impossible to teach canines the difference between good and bad chew items, but it does require patience and persistence. Your dog wants to please you, so you just need to teach him the rules in a way that makes sense to him. Be consistent, stick with one word commands that are more easily understood, and provide plenty of appropriate items for your dog to chew.