Chewing is a natural activity for all dogs. Even when they are not eating a meal, wild canines chew bones for nutrients, such as minerals, or for the bone marrow inside of them. They may chew sticks, bark, or even rocks at times, to keep their teeth clean and free from foreign substances. They may even chew things to pass the time. Dogs in the wild, however, don't have owners monitoring what they chew. There is no chance of anyone being upset over a wild dog chewing the television remote control or over the damage they do to the furniture.
Our dogs do have concerned owners, yet they still have the need to chew. As much as we like to think of our dogs as little people in fursuits, they are not. They have instincts. Sometimes those instincts interfere with what we perceive as civilized behavior. What we must do is accept our dogs' needs into our human reality. How can we do this?
We do it by asking these questions:
o Why is my dog chewing?
o When does my dog chew the most?
o What is my dog chewing?
o Why is my dog chewing what he is chewing?
o What is the best way to stop the behavior?
Why is my dog chewing?
We have already addressed part of the reason for your dog chewing. Your dog chews because it is natural for him to do so. Yet that is not the sole reason for chewing. Dogs chew because they have physical problems, because their teeth are causing them pain, or because they are bored. Dogs with allergies or fleas might chew themselves raw in an attempt to stop their itching.
One thing that is important to keep in mind is that dogs do not chew to spite their owners, or to get "revenge." Dogs do only what is in their best interest. They honestly don't care much about the feelings of other creatures-including their owners-so those feelings don't enter the picture when they choose their actions. Your dog doesn't think, "if I chew that afghan, Mommy will be very upset. She deserves it for leaving me alone today." Your dog probably thinks, "that afghan looks as though it will clean my teeth quite nicely as it shreds." When trying to deal with a chewing problem or any problem with your dog, it is important to step away from the anger at imagined revenge motivation. Once you understand that your dog is simply being a dog, then you can find the cause for the behavior and try to determine a way to correct it.
What is my dog chewing?
One of the most important things to determine first is "what" your dog is chewing. Is he chewing himself? Is he chewing hard substances that rub against his gums? Is he chewing on a door, the siding, a cabinet, the remote control? What is it that appeals to your dog in his moments of destruction? See if you can find a common thread in all of the objects that your dog selects to chew. If there are only one or two objects that your dog focuses on, ask yourself why he focuses on those objects.
Why is my dog chewing what he is chewing?
Your dog chewing on himself, or "self-mutilation," seems like a serious problem that needs immediate correction. In many cases, self-mutilation is actually a symptom of a more serious, underlying cause. Your dog may have a skin problem or allergy that is causing him to itch. Some dogs have serious food allergies or deficiencies that cause itchy skin. Others might have reactions to irritants in their environment, just as people do. If it seems that your dog could have one of these problems, a visit to the vet is in order to determine the best course of action. Flea allergy dermatitis is another, temporary skin problem that some dogs face. Flea treatment followed up by the application of shampoos or lotions designed to soothe raw skin is a good way to deal with this problem. Once again, your vet can best advise you on a course of treatment.
Chewing on hard objects, or other objects that massage your dog's gums, could indicate he has a gum or tooth problem. If your dog is under a year old, it may mean that he is teething. Toy breed dogs occasionally retain baby teeth for a long time, due to the size and shape of their mouths. If you have a young dog, check his teeth for any sign of a retained tooth that might be causing pain or irritation. If you have an older dog, or if you see no sign of retained teeth in a younger dog, check your dog's teeth for any sign of cracks, decay, or tartar. Also, check to see if anything is stuck between the teeth. If there is a tartar build-up, or if the line of the gums is red or white along with the teeth instead of pink, then your dog probably has some mouth problems. Once again, your vet can best advise you of what treatment your dog may require. Serious mouth problems need immediate treatment to prevent tooth loss.
What if your dog is chewing on other objects, however? The remote control or the paperback book you left on the table don't seem to fill any need that your dog might have. Neither does the cabinet door or the leg of the couch. The remote control might have another appeal. Are the buttons removed from the plastic cover? Imagine the challenge they provided when your dog took them out. And oh! The sound that paper made when it shredded! Pure ecstasy to the canine ears. That cabinet door? It's keeping your dog away from his food or treats. That couch leg, too, is in perfect reach of his head when he stretches out in the sun that comes into the living room in the afternoon. Was that pair of pantyhose taunting him as it dangled from the edge of the dresser? Obviously it wanted to play! There are many reasons our dogs choose the items they wish to chew on. It is important for us to think like dogs and find out what was so appealing to them when they first chose to mouth that object. What was it that was in your dog's best interest when he chose to chew what he did?
When does my dog chew the most?
Dogs are creatures of habit. Just like people, they tend to keep to a schedule. Your dog might chew on himself mostly at night when he is awake and you are not, or he might chew most when you are at work. Unless the chewing stems from a physical problem, chances are, he does not chew as much when you are around.
The reason for this behavior is simple: when you are around, you provide him with the stimulation he needs to keep most chewing at bay. At night, or when you are at work, your dog may be bored. If your dog is crated at night or when you are at work, this boredom might result in self-mutilation; if he is allowed to roam at these times, then boredom might result in your possessions being chewed.
If your dog has things to occupy himself when he is alone at night or when you are at work, there may be another problem at work. Your dog might have a problem with anxiety. At times, separation anxiety is over-diagnosed, but for some dogs, separation anxiety is a real problem. Some external sources of anxiety might be simple to find and correct. If your dog sees dogs outside in "his" yard, or the branches waving in front of the window, closing the shade or curtains might be in order, for example. But not all anxiety comes from external sources. If you can't determine an external source, or if you can find an external source, but can't determine how to correct the problem, it might be necessary for you to consult with a vet or an animal behaviorist to determine the best course of treatment.
What is the best way to stop it?
The best way to stop chewing depends on the problem causing the behavior. Once you have determined what is causing the inappropriate chewing behavior, you can take steps to correct it.
Treatment of physical problems, including the removal of retained baby teeth, usually removes the need to chew from the picture. Keep in mind, however, that dogs habituated to inappropriate chewing because of longstanding physical problems might continue to mutilate themselves even after those problems are gone. In that case, you will have to redirect your dog to more appropriate behavior. If you can't interest your dog in more appropriate chewing behaviors, then consultation with an animal behaviorist is in order.
Other forms of chewing need a two-front approach. First, you need to remove temptation. Do those pantyhose dangle? Put them away or hang them out of reach. Can your dog reach that paperback on the table? Put it in the bookcase or on a shelf. Doe, he chews your shoes? Put your shoes in a closet and close the door. You don't have to be a perfect housekeeper, but anything that might tempt your dog needs to go where your dog can't reach it. You've taken the time to analyze what your dog is chewing on and when he's chewing it; now you need how to keep those items out of his reach.
Once you have those things out of your dog's reach, you need to redirect his behavior. If your dog chews from boredom when left alone, provide things for him to do. Many dogs like the hard rubber toys that can be filled with food or treats. Feeding your dog his meals from these toys, instead of feeding him from a bowl, can provide the challenge that a bored dog requires. These toys are long-lasting, withstand chewing from even the most determined chewer, and come in many challenging shapes and styles.
Providing your dog with interactive toys can also prevent inappropriate chewing. Interactive toys include puzzle toys and moving toys that hide treats. Most pet superstores have a department for these toys. It is also possible to find these toys on the Internet or through catalog sales.
What if your dog has plenty of toys? It is possible that he is bored with them. Purchase a new toy for him and remove all of the others. Reintroduce the other toys on a rotating basis, so that even the old toys seem new for a time. If your dog remains bored, there might be another issue at work. Some dogs from working breeds need more stimulation that any kind of toy can create. In most cases, however, following these simple steps can lead to a happier, more harmonious household.