Destructive Chewing

Chewing is a very natural activity for most canines. The problem is not THAT your dog chews, but WHAT your dog chews. Destructive chewing in an adolescent/adult dog may be the result of anxiety, boredom, a dental problem, or a deficiency in diet. In any case, chewing problems are easier to PREVENT than to CORRECT.

Possible Causes:

Finding the cause of destructive chewing in the adolescent/adult dog could offer a quick solution to your problem. The risk associated with this approach is that if your assessment of the cause is not accurate, an instance of destructive chewing may occur again. However, a combination of responding to the suspected cause along with behavior modification techniques will produce higher odds for quick success.

  • Abandonment – A dog’s pack, (or family) is the most important thing in his world. Your leaving may cause stress and anxiety and unfortunately, chewing is a natural vent for canine anxiety. Time can heal all wounds – especially for some shelter dogs. Once your dog builds the confidence that he is part of your family and not subject to abandonment, his fears, and consequently, his need to chew inappropriately may be alleviated.
  • Diet & Nutrition – Some dogs chew inappropriately because there is something missing from their diet. Check with your veterinarian or vet nutritionist to see if your dog is getting everything he needs by way of diet. It may be that a change in his food will eliminate his need to chew destructively.
  • Dental Problem – Sometimes dogs will chew because it feels good on sore teeth. Have your vet do a dental exam to ensure that his teeth are in good condition.
  • Exercise – Regular exercise is an excellent vent for the destructive chewer. Physical activity often reduces anxiety and boredom and may replace the need for inappropriate chewing.
  •  Training & Stimulation – Being engaged in conventional training classes or informal at-home training sessions can provide for metal stimulation which is another outlet to replace destructive chewing activities.
  •  Maturity – Most adult dogs grow out of chewing at full maturity, thus eliminating the entire issue of destructive chewing.

Recommendations:

Destructive chewing issues are most successfully corrected using a combination of techniques. They are straightforward but require that all family members are consistent in modifying their own behavior patterns. The general approach needs to be positive and supportive and the desire to make it work must be the entire family’s priority. It is similar to dealing with a child that has a learning disability. You must help your pet to find the best learning method specifically for him in order to achieve the desired result. Remember that chewing is a completely natural canine activity in wild as well as domesticated dogs. They do not perceive it as bad or unacceptable behavior.

  • Correct Chewing – One of the best techniques used to teach a dog to chew on appropriate items (and not on inappropriate ones) is to reward him whenever you see him chewing on acceptable items. Make a big happy fuss whenever he comes in contact with one of his acceptable chew toys.
  • Catch in the Act – Dogs live in the moment and our responses are associated with what is happening at that moment. Unfortunately, if you reprimand your dog for destructive chewing that was performed hours previously, you probably are having no effect whatsoever to eliminate or control this behavior. In fact, you may be exacerbating the situation by increasing stress and anxiety. His interpretation is that your behavior is unpredictable and scary and in many cases creates trust and fear issues that can have repercussions of their own.
  • If you can “set your dog up” to catch him in the act, it could prove to be the best form of communicating your wishes. If your dog traditionally chews when no one is present, stage a scenario where everyone pretends to leave the house; Secretly observe your dog and at the MOMENT he begins chewing on an inappropriate object, correct him with a firm commanding voice, “NO CHEW”, and immediately provide him with an appropriate chew toy. If he takes the offered chew toy, praise him and tell him GOOD CHEW. The more times that this exercise can be performed, the more the new behavior will become ingrained. It is also helpful to consistently put all of your dogs toys in the same place. In this manner, the dog will learn that those items are always a good choice.
  • Kong Toy – The Kong toy is a hive shaped hard rubber chew toy that is a very effective training tool. If you find the right combination of enticing treats, this can keep your dog occupied for hours AND more importantly, can provide your dog with an outlet for his natural chewing requirements. Try coating the opening and inside of the Kong toy with peanut butter and then insert a large piece of dog biscuit inside so that it is very difficult to remove. Ensure that it won’t just fall out by dropping it once or twice. It is very stimulating for many dogs to work on getting the treat out which is a positive step in eliminating many behavior problems.
  •  Kennel/Crate Training – Crate training is neither cruel nor unfair treatment. On the contrary, punishing a dog when you return home or getting rid of a dog due to destructive behavior is far more inhumane than confinement. Remember that dogs are den creatures by nature, and given the proper introduction to a crate, they will associate it as a good place for safety and rest. Without the proper introduction to crate training, a dog (especially an adolescent/adult dog) may experience extreme anxiety and may even injure himself. Crates are usually intended to be transitional training tools for most dogs (for learning house breaking, etc,), although many are happy to keep their crates for life.

• The first rule of crate training is that it can NEVER be used as a punishment. All associations with the crate must be positive.

• The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably and should contain some type of padding for added comfort.

• Be certain that your dog has had the opportunity to play, eat, and eliminate before crating.

• An ideal location for the crate is a room where the family typically spends a lot of time.

• Initially, leave the door open and throw a few treats inside, allowing the dog to freely walk in and out; Begin to associate the crate with all good things – treats, food, new toys, etc.; When you are home, feed him inside his crate with the door open. (Later, you will NOT leave food inside during times of confinement).

• Actual confinement inside of the crate should be gradual. Throw treats inside and close the door behind him for a few moments – praise him while inside and then open the door allowing him to exit; Several times a day, repeat this activity and while doing so, state the command “kennel” or “crate”. This will help your dog associate the command “kennel” with going into his kennel.

• Once you have accomplished the previous step, begin to close the door and leave the room for a few minutes and return on a random basis. DO NOT return if he begins whining or barking – try to only return during a period of silence. Once you begin actual confinement, this will also hold true for releasing him from the kennel. Wait for a period of calm and silence before you open the door and let him out. On the same note, be sure to act neutral when letting your dog out of his kennel. This will diffuse his excitement level after a time of confinement.

• Gradually increase the time the dog spends in the crate while you are at home. The dog should not associate being crated with your departures. Obviously, you leaving may be a cause for anxiety which signals the destructive chewing behavior.

• Since you are not using the crate as a house breaking training tool, you may leave a small amount of water for him and a chew toy to prevent boredom and promote stimulation. You may want to try the Kong toy with peanut butter as a very special “in-crate” treat. Whatever his favorite treat is, should become a new association with going in the crate.

• The most important thing that you can do for your pet, is consider him a family member and treat him as such. Your attitude and willingness to help him understand what is expected of him will go a very long way. With commitment and some effort on your part, most pets will overcome their issues with chewing.

Please feel free to call the shelter (208-788-4351) or email us with any additional questions or comments.