Recently I went grocery shopping, and as usual, had three dogs in the car (the "Patty Wagon") -- doesn't everyone?
When I returned home, I left them in the car as I carried in the first load. Someone called with a dog emergency (the puppy threw up in their car), so I was delayed getting the rest of the groceries and the dogs out of the van.
Guess who was chewing a cucumber and the package of ground turkey? Not the trainer's perfect little puppy! Well (gulp) yes, my 6-month-old Newfoundland puppy has been a chewing machine for the last month -- rugs, dish towels and laundry. And it was my fault for leaving her in such a tempting position. As much as I tell my clients every day not to compare their puppies to their "perfect" older dogs, I am just as guilty of expecting a baby to act all grown up.
If you have a dog between 5 and 8 months, you can pretty much guarantee that they are going to chew anything that is available to them.
The main reason is because their adult teeth are coming in, and they need to chew to soothe their irritated gums. The other most common reason for chewing at this age is lack of exercise and/or boredom. When a young dog has too much energy and not enough outlets for moving their body or mental stimulation, they are bound to chew out of frustration.
Here are some things to do if your dog of any age is a chewer:
More exercise! I've said it in this column many times; a walk around the block is not enough exercise, especially for dogs between 5 and 24 months old. A tired dog is a good dog, who usually sleeps! Make sure your dog is getting plenty of aerobic exercise, suitable to his breed.
Management: This means when you cannot watch the dog, he should be in a crate or a gated area with appropriate chew toys. Dogs under a year usually need supervision and cannot safely be left alone. Think of a toddler; it's easier to put her in a playpen than to "train" her not to pull down the lamp cords. Set your dog up to succeed; don't do what I did and leave your pup alone with a package of turkey! Another easy way of management is the use of plastic-coated wire tethers.
When confined, your dog should have appropriate and fun things to chew. Some ideas are frozen marrow bones, a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or canned dog food and frozen so it lasts longer, and my favorite -- cow hooves. Rawhides do not last long enough and I don't like them anyway because of the chemicals used to whiten them in China.
Lots of praise for chewing the correct things. This cannot be overemphasized; humans have this silly habit of expecting a canine to know what they can and cannot chew. Chewing is a natural dog behavior, so he must be taught what is OK and what is not. Too many people give their puppy old socks or shoes, then get mad when he grabs their brand new ones! Now, is that fair? I think not!
Train a good "Drop it" and "Leave it" or "Off." This helps build communication between you and your dog so he understands what is expected of him. Reward generously for backing off and dropping objects on voice command; this is hard. These also teach your dog impulse control. I love these exercises!
Note: If your dog chews very destructively when you are separated, then you may have a more serious case of separation anxiety or related disorder, not just a chewing problem. This usually requires professional help or research.
If you catch your dog chewing the wrong thing, use an interrupter such as "eh-eh!" or call him to you, ask him to sit, then reward with an appropriate toy to chew. Punishing your dog only makes him fear you, or worse, can cause a dog to guard things from you aggressively. That's the last thing you want, because then you'll have to come see me!
Happy Halloween! This holiday can be a great way to socialize dogs to children in weird outfits. But if your dog is not used to kids, put him away with a special chew toy.
Patty Crichton is a holistic dog trainer and behavior specialist with a training studio in Petoskey. She teaches clicker training for basic behaviors and manners, as well as for behavior modification, including aggression. She believes in treating all dogs with kindness and respect, and that the best form of control is teaching a dog self-control. For more information on training programs, visit www.northwoodsdogtraining.com or call (231) 439-0365.