When your pup tears into your Jimmy Choos, what do you do?
Puppies and young dogs are cute, but they can also be terribly destructive. They bounce about, full of the joys of life, and knock things over. They show their affection, so they cover you with doggy drool, fur and paw marks. And if you’re not watching them 24/7, they may reduce your rug to ribbons, your shoes to shreds, and spread one loo-roll all over the house in flakes so fine that your vacuum cleaner can’t pick them all up.
What can you do? The answer to that lies in understanding why dogs chew.
Issue #1: For pups aged below eight months, the problem is probably rooted in physical changes. Your baby pet is suffering from sore gums as their adult teeth grow in. Human babies are given chew rings and accessories to help them through this period – and it’s helpful if you take the same road with your fur baby. Invest in some good chew bones and encourage your pet to reduce those to shreds instead of your shoes.
Issue #2: Anxiety and boredom are the next most common reasons for chewing. Dogs are highly social creatures and they see you as their “pack”. If you go to work all day, your dog may be afraid of being abandoned – or bored. You could give up the day job, work from home, or switch to a job where your pet can come with you – but those changes are out of scope for most people. This is why so many people decide that two dogs are better than one. Two dogs keep each other company.
Issue #3: Chewing is a natural way to explore. If you look at human babies, you’ll see they look, touch and then bite. As we grow up, we learn to look and touch only. Dogs don’t have our dexterous hands so, for them, exploration is something that’s done by looking, sniffing and then chewing. As they grow older, dogs will learn to look and sniff but not chew things – but this takes a lot of time and patience.
Issue #4: Kennel syndrome is another very common but not as often discussed reason for dogs chewing. By caging a dog, you prevent it from developing naturally. A puppy runs around with its mum and the pack, starts off by chewing everything in sight and gradually learns when and where chewing is acceptable. A caged animal doesn’t get to go through those stages. So, if you adopt a pet who’s been caged in a shelter or buy one from a pet shop where it’s been sitting in one of those glass display cages, you’re looking at a dog that needs to go through all the puppy stages. Yes, even if that dog is a year old!
Issue #5: Poor diet is a possibility but if you’re feeding your pet a proper diet, it’s probably last on the list. For a pet you’ve picked up that’s been maltreated, you may see some plaster chewing as your new friend tries to get some vital calcium. It’s never a bad idea to consult a vet, so if you have a pet whose chewing habits are odd, or who has bad teeth, make an appointment and go have a chat.
To sum up: Chewing is a natural doggy behaviour. As you might expect, trying to change nature is a difficult thing but, with lots of patience and love, it can be done.
Remedial tip #1: It’s frustrating to have someone ruin your book or rug but don’t yell and hit your pet when he or she does it. He or she is acting naturally and not out of malice. When you lose your temper, all you do is frighten your dog – and that’s just not helpful.
Safety tip: When your pet is chewing, do be careful with toys. Pet toys are not tested the way children’s toys are, so you may be handing over a squeaky toy that disintegrates when chewed and may cause choking. One toy that’s always reliable, though, is a Kong. Available from pet shops, these are properly tested and come in exciting varieties.
Remedial tip #2: Buy a bag of chewable “bones”. Apart from selecting the right size for your pet, there are a few key words to look out for. Healthy Chews are low calorie. Bone Hard Chews are designed to mimic bones and provide quality chewing for big dogs; Rawhide Bones are the traditional type that disintegrate; and Natural Bones are real bones that have been treated so they’re totally safe – and often with faux meat stuffed inside.
Remedial tip #3: Hide the Jimmy Choos. And the antique rug. Just like you move smashable things up a level when baby starts to walk, getting a new dog means chew-proofing the house for a while. When your pup learns adult social behaviour, it can all come back.
Remedial tip #4: Be there. People learn to be social, and dogs need the same sort of input. So spend lots of time with your pet, and remember that show is better than tell. If your pup puts teeth to the sofa cushion, remove it gently and offer the chew bone.
Remedial tip #5: Exercise is key! Walking in the park or playing fetch helps run off excess energy and is seen as the No.1 social activity by your pet. So go for a long walk, chuck that stick a couple of times and afterwards see your pet lie down for a nice non-chewing nap.
Finally, try not to get uptight or worried about this. When you’re looking at your laundry basket and you see three raggedly chewed Tees, tell yourself that a few months of learning to be social together will be followed by at least a decade of mutual love and companionship.
Canine love: It’s worth it!