Ways to Redirect Problem Chewing by Your Dog

Excerpt from The Big Book of Simple Solutions

If you catch your dog chewing on something forbidden, distract her by tossing a shake can or other noisemaker in her direction. The sound should startle the puppy into dropping or leaving the unacceptable item. Then give her a toy, and click, treat, and praise when she chews on or plays with the toy.

Correction is especially important when your pup is trying to chew something dangerous, such as an electrical cord. You can’t afford to let her learn a shocking lesson on her own, so you need to correct the behavior instantly, making it so unpleasant that the dog won’t even want to try chewing cords again.

To put a stop to this type of inappropriate chewing, give the dog an immediate verbal warning that what she’s doing is wrong. Call out, "Aaaack!” or "No!” Within two to five seconds—the sooner the better—follow the verbal warning with a physical correction, such as squirting the dog with water from a spray bottle or tossing a throw pillow in her direction (don’t hit her with it). Once she’s distracted from bad chewing, give her a toy or tell her to go get a toy, then praise her for chewing the toy. Then try to find a way to make the dangerous item inaccessible or unpleasant.

For dogs who are trash hounds, try booby-trapping the garbage. Place pot lids or empty aluminum cans on top of the garbage can. When your dog tries to get into the trash, the lids or cans will clatter down, startling her with their noise.

If you come home and find something chewed up, there’s no point in yelling at your dog about it. She won’t understand what she did wrong. Correct her only when you catch her in the act of chewing the wrong thing. Just as important, if not more so, praise her when you catch her chewing the right thing. Remember, as well, that too much punishment and not enough training and praise will simply teach your dog to do her destructive chewing in secret.

You can also prevent destructive chewing by confining the dog when you can’t be there to supervise. Crating her or putting her in a dog-proofed room protects your belongings and protects your dog from a scolding that she won’t understand. Be sure you give her a safe chew toy that is stuffed with goodies, so she’ll have something to occupy her while you’re gone. This is especially important for dogs younger than two years of age. Even though they look full grown, they’re still puppies emotionally and physically and should not be given free run of the house until they’ve proven themselves trustworthy.

One of the best ways to avert destructive chewing is to give your dog plenty of exercise. To paraphrase an old saying, idle paws are the devil’s workshop. Just like children, dogs need a lot of play to keep them physically and mentally fit. Highly active dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers or Jack Russell terriers, need as much as one to two hours of exercise daily. When they don’t get enough activity, they turn their clever canine minds to finding their own entertainment, and their choice of entertainment frequently involves chewing.

Take your dog for a half-hour walk in the morning before you leave for work. The exercise will help her relax, making her less likely to chew destructively. Include some training practice, such as sitting or heeling, while you walk to give her some mental stimulation. On a rainy day or when you’re running short of time, play fetch in the house for fifteen or twenty minutes. Toss a ball down the hall or stairs for your dog to retrieve. Another walk or play session in the evening will help your dog settle down for bedtime.

If your dog is chewing excessively or destructively and hasn’t responded to training and redirection, take her to the veterinarian to rule out an underlying medical cause, such as a nutritional deficiency. Your veterinarian can also help you figure out if the chewing is related to a phobia or to separation anxiety, or the doctor may refer you to a behaviorist who can help.


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