There Are No Bad Dogs Part 2: Chewing
As with any other undesirable behavior in dogs chewing is perfectly natural and dogs engage in the behavior for very practical reasons. Dogs don't have hands and use their mouths to grab. If a dog was never taught to have a soft mouth then they can grab things too hard. Have you ever given one dog a treat and they take it gently out of your hand but another dog snatches it and half your hand? The first dog has a soft mouth and it's an important skill to teach a dog early. This is done when they are a puppy and will chew on anything you give them. Give them your hand. Let them chew on it until it hurts and then make an exaggerated cry of pain. This will teach the puppy the acceptably level of pressure to apply when grabbing versus biting and will be useful when handing treats in the future.
Dogs need to chew. Chewing is good for them but without direction and instruction from their human friends they could very easily chew on the wrong objects. Leather shoes are one of a dog's favorite targets and this is because leather is, after all, animal skin and with help to strengthen a dog's teeth and jaws just like any other hard chew toy. Dogs will also destroy furniture or plush toys. This is another perfectly natural use of their jaws and is known as dissection. Think of a dog with a fresh kill in the wild and how there is little difference between the soft fabric of most furniture and plush toys and a freshly captured squirrel. Just as the dog would tear open the squirrel to get to its organs it is going to tear open the plush toy to rip the squeaker out. Your dog isn't chewing because they are mad at you and taking out aggression on your couch. They are doing it because they are curious about what's inside.
Of course we can't have a dog living in polite society and devouring our furniture and shoes so how do we correct this behavior. first correct is the exact wrong word. It is important to understand that dogs need to chew and they aren't going to understand the difference between your grandmother's wooden table and a stick they find outside unless they are taught what is acceptable to chew on and what isn't.
The best way to get a dog to stop chewing on the objects they aren't supposed to is to catch them in
the act and to gently correct them. This can be done with a noise or just telling them no and then giving them an object you want them to chew on. Dogs may not automatically take to a chew toy and they may need it to be covered with something smelly. Dogs love smelly things. Especially things that smell like stinky food like hot dogs or liver. Chicken livers aren't particularly expensive and can easily be turned into a paste in a blender or food processor and then rubbed on the outside of bone toy or put inside of a kong. Tug and rope toys are excellent ways to redirect chewing behavior as well and it is also a fun way to interact with your pup. Tug of war mimics the interaction of dogs ancestral roots where they would play fight over a kill. There are also puzzle toys but we will discuss those more in a later installment on prey drive.
The important notes on chewing are that is a perfectly natural behavior and you want your dog to chew but you want them to chew on the right thing. If your dog is chewing on the wrong thing it is because they don't know it is the wrong thing. Dog's can't talk but they are very good at communicating and they will understand a firm but gentle correction and the replacement of the not allowed chew object with an acceptable one. This can be turned into a fun and interactive game like tug or it can be a challenge for the dog like getting all the liver or peanut butter out of a kong. Always remember there are no bad dogs only dogs exhibiting natural behavior that is either misdirected or misunderstood.