Is your dog chewing everything in sight? A behaviourist explains why

Is your dog chewing everything in sight? A behaviourist explains why

Carolyn Menteith, Behaviourist and Dog Trainer at Tails.com, offers her insight into why dogs chew, and how to encourage them to stay away from your favourite shoes.

People often consider that dogs chewing things is a ‘bad habit’ or them being naughty but in reality, chewing is a natural canine behaviour that all dogs do – and indeed have to do. Some do it more than others, and there are certain developmental periods in a dog’s life where they are likely to chew more.

There are many reasons as to why dogs may chew things. They have limited ways to explore items and interact with the world. One of these is to sniff things, pick them up, taste them, feel the textures, and quite possibly, have a gnaw. If it tastes good or feels nice to chomp – or maybe makes an interesting noise – then that is rewarding for them, and so that behaviour is going to be repeated.

Chewing can also be a stress-buster for dogs. Chewing releases feel-good neurotransmitters that can help calm them and reduce stress, so they may well use it as a kind of therapy – in the same way we might bite our nails, drink too much, or eat our own bodyweight in pizza in order to feel better after a difficult day!

But, with that being said, there are ways in which you can manage your dog’s chewing while still keeping them happy and minimising damage to your precious items.

  1. Recognise it is natural canine behaviour

Recognise that a dog needs to chew and so it is important you give them the opportunity to do that appropriately. Provide them with things of their own that they can gnaw safely, and that are more rewarding and enjoyable to chew than the things you have lying around that they might otherwise get their teeth into.

Some of these toys can be filled with food, while others make exciting noises, or have great textures. Try experimenting with different toys to find out what your dog enjoys the most – and then make sure they have plenty of those so they keep away from less interesting items like shoes or remotes.

  1. Tidy up

A good way to minimise your dog chewing your things is to keep temptation out of reach. Keep your home tidy, especially while your dog is a puppy or adolescent, and don’t leave things lying around for them to get hold of. Don’t expect your dog to somehow know what is theirs and what is yours – or what is safe and what is dangerous.

Use stair gates if necessary to keep your dog out of rooms where there are precious items, potentially toxic plants or where you can’t tidy up, unless you are able to watch them. Make sure the whole family gets behind this tidiness plan!

 

  1. Give them an outlet for their natural instincts

If you own a dog from a breed or type whose original job would be to use their mouth (to retrieve, carry, pull, bite etc), you can be certain that they are going to be potentially enthusiastic chewers. The secret is to make sure that they get the chance to do that appropriately, as part of their exercise, play, games or enrichment. As for how much they need to do that? Once again, look at what they were bred to do. If they are from a breed that was bred to work all day, every day, then you have your answer!

And it’s not just chewing they may need an outlet for. Whatever they were originally developed to do, you should be giving them an appropriate outlet for. That could be digging, sniffing, or simulated hunting.

Doing the job a dog has been selectively bred to do, sometimes over hundreds of years, makes them happy and fulfils a hardwired need. If you don’t give them that outlet, then you can have every expectation that they will go self-employed. This is another reason why researching the breed and type of dog you plan to get is so important.

  1. Look at their day-to-day routine. 

Chewing – especially destructive chewing – often comes from boredom. If your dog is being left on their own for long periods, not getting the exercise they need, or not getting enough social contact, then they only have limited ways to express that boredom and deal with the frustration, stress and pent-up energy that often brings.

  1. Is your dog worried, fearful, anxious or lonely?

Chewing relieves stress in dogs, hence why pet owners often come back having left their dog ‘home alone’ to a scene of devastation. Destructive behaviour is often a symptom of separation-related behaviour issues.

As dog owners, we have to recognise the ‘dogginess’ of our dogs and be realistic in our expectations. Very often what we think of as behaviour problems are not behaviour problems at all, they are just natural dog instincts being expressed in a way that we find hard to live with unless we understand them and manage them appropriately.

This is a guest post by Carolyn Menteith. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email [email protected]

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