Something to Chew On

Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC

Dogs chew.  It’s not just a puppy thing either.  Dogs actually chew throughout their lifetime.  It helps pass the time, keep their teeth clean and diffuse stress.  More than that, it appears to be fun and satisfying for most dogs.

A lot of folks ask, “How do I get my dog to stop chewing?”  We should probably ask a different question.  Perhaps, “can I teach my dog to chew something else other than my stuff?”  Now we’re on to something.  The idea is to teach your dog to chew this and not that.  Here’s a straightforward two-step process.

Step one:  limit choices.  Make it more difficult, if not impossible, for our dog to make the wrong choice.  If your dog is chewing furniture, keep him away from his target.  If he’s tearing up clothes, make sure all the clothes are out of reach.  Woodwork?  Safely confine and carefully supervise your dog.  Some trainers call this management.  I call it good common sense.  Don’t set your dog up to lose time and time again.  The truth is your dog doesn’t live by a moral compass.  There is no right or wrong; there is only available or non-available.  Make the wrong choices hard to find.

Stewie and Stella enjoying elk antlers

Step two: make it easy to make right choices.  Give your dog chewing options which are both allowed and better than the other options (like furniture).  I’m a huge fan of fully packed Kong Toys.  Don’t just smear peanut butter in there with a measly treat.  Load that bad boy up with a meal.  Then revel in watching your dog solve the puzzle of unpacking it.  Of course, there are tons of other chewing options.  My dogs love elk antlers.  Stella, in particular, really enjoys cardboard paper towel rolls.  Of course, I give these to her and we always supervise chewing.  Avoid putting out too many choices for chewing.  Remember, we want to make the choices easy.  A room full of toys and chew sticks doesn’t make for easy choosing.  Everything looks like a chew toy in that setting, and then we’re back to square one.

Changing your dog’s behavior is all about making smart changes in the environment.  Left to their own devices dogs will do the best they can, but they won’t always make the right choices.  With just a little help from us, they can win every time.  Make it harder for them to chew on the stuff we don’t want them to chew on.  Make it easy and rewarding to chew on the right stuff.  Keep that up for a few months and watch what happens.  You’ll be so happy watching your dog chew up something you gave him that you’ll wonder why you ever wanted to make him stop.

Originally published on the Houston Pet Talk blog.