Author: Nicole McCray
Inappropriate chewing can be a problem at any age, but it’s especially common in puppies and young dogs. It usually starts as a way to self-comfort during teething, as well as a way to explore the world around them.
A puppy’s teeth begin to come through the gums when he’s less than eight weeks old. They’re replaced with adult teeth around six months of age. Just like babies, the teething process can be painful for puppies. Chewing helps relieve their pain and discomfort.
This type of chewing is perfectly normal, but if the puppy isn’t taught the difference between appropriate and inappropriate chewing, the behavior can carry on into adulthood. If the behavior continues without correction, it can lead to destructive chewing on objects and furniture.
Here are some steps you can take to correct your puppy’s inappropriate chewing before it becomes a problem that carries over into adulthood.
Rule Out Any Medical Issues
One of the first things you should do is schedule a visit with your vet to rule out any medical issues. It’s not common, but intestinal parasites can lead to nutritional deficiencies and cause puppies to develop a condition called pica.
Chewing can also be a means of self-comfort for gastrointestinal issues like nausea. A quick visit to your puppy’s vet can rule out any underlying conditions that may be contributing to inappropriate chewing.
Puppy Proof Your Home
Puppy proofing is key for correcting inappropriate chewing. Look around your home for anything that might be tempting for your puppy to chew on. Toxic substances like cleaning supplies, medications, and other chemicals should be shut away in a cabinet or up on a high shelf.
Many houseplants can be poisonous to pets, so make sure they’re out of reach as well. Electrical cords and small electronics like remote controls can be extremely dangerous if your puppy chews on them, so make sure they’re covered or out of reach.
Don’t forget to put personal items like shoes, socks, and your children’s toys out of reach, too. Get down on your puppy’s level and look for any other hazards you might have missed. Be sure to block off rooms that can’t be puppy-proofed and consider crate training for times when you’re not on hand to supervise.
Discourage Inappropriate Chewing
By puppy-proofing your home, you’ve already taken a huge step in discouraging inappropriate chewing. If you do find your puppy chewing on something he shouldn’t, take the item away and redirect his attention to an appropriate chew toy instead.
Provide positive reinforcement, such as petting and praise, when he begins chewing on the appropriate toy. Over time, your puppy will learn which objects are ok to chew on and which ones aren’t.
Chew deterrents, like bitter apple, can be very helpful if your puppy is chewing on things that can’t easily be removed from his environment, such as furniture.
Provide Appropriate Chew Toys
Encouraging appropriate chewing is important for teaching your puppy what’s ok to chew on and what isn’t. Provide your puppy with a variety of appropriate chew toys to see which type he likes best.
Avoid rawhides, bones, or any toy your dog can potentially chew off small pieces of and swallow. Those pieces could cause a blockage in the esophagus or intestine which can be life-threatening and require surgery to remove.
Appropriate chew toys for puppies include Kongs, Nylabones, and dental chews that encourage chewing but are completely digestible. Rubber balls and rope toys can also be good options, as long as you choose a size that’s appropriate for your puppy.
Any toy you provide should be too big to swallow but small enough for your puppy to carry it around in his mouth. Make sure the toy doesn’t have a hole big enough for your dog to get his jaw stuck in and that it doesn’t have any small parts he can chew off.
And finally, never give your puppy old shoes or toys that resemble items you wouldn’t want him to chew on. You can’t expect him to know the difference between an old tennis shoe and your brand new, very expensive running shoes.
Provide Exercise and Mental Stimulation
A bored, under-exercised dog is much more likely to get into trouble than one who’s tired out after playtime. Throw an unchewable dog harness on your pup and get him outside for a long walk every day. Get him out in the backyard for a vigorous game of fetch before work so that he naps while you’re gone.
Spending time with your puppy not only strengthens your bond but also burns off some of that excess energy that might be contributing to his inappropriate chewing in the first place. Practicing obedience skills, learning new tricks, and playing with puzzle toys are all great ways to provide mental stimulation, too.
Create a Safe Place for Your Puppy
Every puppy needs a safe place where he can hang out, play, and nap when no one is on hand to supervise what he’s up to. A cozy corner with a puppy playpen, a puppy-proofed room with a gate, or a comfy crate with his bed and favorite toy are all good options. He may fuss about it at first, but over time, most dogs grow to love having their own personal space.
One Last Piece of Advice
While there’s no doubt that it’s frustrating when your puppy chews on something he shouldn’t, don’t be tempted to scold, yell, or spank your puppy in an effort to correct his behavior.
Negative punishments simply don’t work, and they could create anxiety, which will only make matters worse. Chances are that your puppy won’t understand what you’re punishing him for anyway.
Redirecting his attention to an appropriate toy and providing positive reinforcement for good behavior is much more effective. With repetition, your puppy will learn what he can and can’t chew on to satisfy his natural urge to chew.