In my opinion, my Winston was the best puppy ever — at least that’s how I remember it. When it came to chewing, he really was perfect. You see Winnie, my black Labrador, took his heritage seriously. Black Labradors are noted for their instinctive need to carry items around in their mouth. That was my Mr. Winston; he never chewed anything, he just picked up objects and carried them around. If he started to chew on something that he shouldn’t, he happily accepted an exchange. The house was puppy-proofed, and his access to space within the home was micromanaged. I did everything by the book. In my mind, I was an expert and conquered the evils of puppy chewing.
Then, a year later, came puppy Socrates, and I realized that I had not mastered puppy chewing. Winnie was just a dog who didn’t take his chewing seriously. Socrates, my Newfoundland, took chewing seriously. He was what I would call an “object of choice” chewer. He loved to chew craft items. Sequins and anything shiny were his objects of choice, and his experience became more enjoyable (I suspect) if the end result made a mess! He also liked to chew the paper that held a skein of yarn together. He would chew the paper and continue to play with the yarn until it was completely unraveled and strewn throughout the entire house.
In my opinion, of the four canine life stages (puppy, adolescent, adult and senior), puppies tend to have the most issues with inappropriate chewing. The good news is that dogs spend only a small amount of time being a puppy. Let’s take a look at why puppies chew and what you can do if your puppy is a Socrates and not a Winston.
Typically from 4 to 6 months of age, dogs begin to lose their baby teeth, and it can take another four months for all their adult teeth to grow in. During this process all puppies experience pain and discomfort — very similar to the discomfort felt by a teething baby. What can you do to reduce the pain and discomfort associated with puppy teething?
- Offer your puppy wet/frozen washcloths to chew on.
- Purchase commercially sold toys that are specifically designed for teething puppies.
- Frozen marrow bones that you purchase from the butcher can also provide relief. Remember not to cook the bone, as cooked bones are more apt to splinter when being chewed. If you keep the bone frozen, it lengthens the overall chewing time and provides maximum relief.
Note: Always supervise your pet any time a chew item is offered to reduce the possibility of choking or accidental ingestion.
Teaching What Can And Cannot Be Chewed
Puppies don’t get a manual that explains to them acceptable and unacceptable chewing items in and around the home. It is our job to teach them. We do this to keep them from destroying our home and to keep them safe.
Many items found in and around the home can become a medical emergency if ingested or chewed by a puppy. Meet Mr. Rocks and Socks. One day, Mr. Rocks and Socks made an unexpected trip to his veterinarian after his owner noticed he wasn’t eating or eliminating. The X-ray revealed that he had a large blockage in his stomach caused by ingesting rocks and a sock. Mr. R and S needed emergency surgery and his owner learned some valuable lessons:
- Supervise your puppy at all times.
- Teach your puppy the “drop it” cue.
- Teach your puppy a “leave-it” cue.
- Teach your puppy to willingly accept an exchange when chewing on an inappropriate item.
- Puppy-proof your home. Take time to get down to your puppy’s eye level. The home looks quite different when you take the time to view the world through your puppy’s eyes.
- If your puppy is an “object of choice” chewer, make sure he cannot come in contact with those items.
People Are Not Chew Toys
Sometimes puppies think people are their personal chew toy. Puppies who are bored or don’t receive enough exercise might mouth their owners to release some of their pent-up energy. Some puppies may mouth their owners when seeking attention, as perhaps at one point in their life this behavior was inadvertently reinforced. Or, perhaps some puppies have not developed impulse control and begin to mouth their owners when they become overstimulated.
If your puppy doesn’t realize that you are not his personal chew toy, what can you do to reduce this undesirable behavior?
- Increase your puppy’s daily amount of physical exercise.
- Provide interactive dog toys to keep your puppy mentally stimulated.
- Enrich your puppy’s environment with appropriate chew items.
- Stop all physical and verbal interactions at the first sign of any inappropriate chewing/mouthing.
Training Tips 101
Successful training begins with the basics:
- Live in the moment. Did you know you have only 1.5 to 2.0 seconds to either reinforce or correct a dog’s behavior after it happens? That’s it. If you miss that window of opportunity, your dog won’t associate what you do with the behavior you want to address.
- Do not muzzle or hold your puppy’s mouth closed, because this teaches your pup to be afraid of you and human hands. Some puppies may generalize and begin to react any time a human hand reaches toward them.
- Don’t get angry. Instead of yelling and screaming, use your energy to determine the motivation for your puppy’s inappropriate chewing. Then, figure out the appropriate strategies to minimize this behavior. Remember, there is a lot to learn and your puppy has only been alive for a very short time — so be patient.
By: Donna Gleason
Featured Image: Antonio Gravante/iStock/Thinkstock