It is true that dogs, especially puppies, chew. A lot! But there are a couple of things to remember when it comes to chewing. Number one: it's normal. Chewing is all about toning jaw muscles. And even though dogs no longer need to split bones and grind down marrow to survive, the urge is still hardwired into them. Number two: it's not a phase. Yes, puppies chew more. But chewing isn't like teething in babies; it won't peter out and eventually stop. All dogs chew some, and some chew a lot!
So chewing is not really a behavior problem, but a normal and healthy activity that should be promoted. However, that is not to say it's not a problem when Fido has acquired an affinity for chewing the leg of your dining room table. But what to do?
The Things To Chew On.
Give your dog plenty of things that he CAN chew on, such as
Edibles: Chew bones, pigs’ ears, bully sticks, greenies, etc.
Non-Edibles: Tennis balls, nyla bones, Kongs (without food), raw hides, etc.
Dissectible Things: Plush toys, rope toys, Hide-A-Bee (Squirrel, Bird) etc.
Puzzle Toys: Stuffed Kong, stuffed marrowbone, tricky treat balls, etc.
Experiment to find out what your dog prefers. Always have a mixed selection at hand and rotate different types of chewies to keep your dog interested.
Step 1. Prevent mistakes. When you can’t supervise, put your puppy or dog in an enclosed, dog-proofed area with a sanctioned chewie.
Step 2. Teach good chewing choices. Audition a range of chewies until you find the ones that most appeal to your dog. Dogs have texture preferences, so try to match what yours like. If he is attacking the couch pillows, try giving him plush toys. If he is eyeing the table leg, try a bone. Praise liberally when your dog chews something allowed.
Step 3. Interrupt mistakes. If your dog chews the wrong thing, interrupt and trade him for something he can chew on. Praise liberally when he does.
Step 4. Repeat if needed. If mistakes happen a lot then you are giving your dog too much freedom, too soon. Revisit step 1. Go back to using an enclosed, dog-proofed area until your dog is consistently making better chewing choices.
Remember, one of the basic tenets of behavior training is behavior that is reinforced gets stronger. The more you reinforce the behavior that you WANT (chewing appropriate things), instead of focusing on the behavior you don't want, the more that desirable behavior will increase until it becomes the chosen thing to do.
Training Tip: Do not keep all toys out all the time. Put at least half away and rotate different types of chewies to keep your dog interested.
Troubleshooting: Is your dog suddenly chewing a lot? Is this a new habit? Make sure he is getting enough physical and mental exercise. Bored dogs will find something to do, and it usually isn't something you like!
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, IAABC-ADT, FFCP, CTDI