For a dog that needs to chew, it's hard to tell the difference between objects that are fair game and objects that are off-limits. You'll need to control this behavior as soon as possible, and really spell it out for your dog what is and is not appropriate for him to chew.
The alternative is decidedly undesirable: a dog that runs riot through the house, causing a lot of mess, expense, and possibly trauma: a worst-case scenario (depending on your priorities) might be that your dog destroys an item of great monetary or personal value (wedding dress, anyone?) or chews through some live wires and receives a fatal dose of electricity while doing so. Sadly, incidents like this are all too common among dogs who haven't been taught good chewing etiquette - but fortunately, if you act now, they're all completely preventable by you.
Luckily, there are a variety of simple and effective chewing solutions. Today there are plenty of chew-deterrent sprays and salves available from pet stores and supermarkets - designed specifically to prevent a dog from chewing the surface they're applied to, the substances are non-toxic but taste terrible to dogs, and they really do work. These include Bitter Apple, Aloe Vera gel, and even Tabasco Sauce (although if you don't want to stain surfaces, Bitter Apple is recommended above the other alternatives - it comes as a cream or a spray, and wipes off easily afterwards). Simply apply it to objects that you don't want your dog to chew on, and watch: if they're not put off straight away by the smell (which is undetectable to humans), he'll back off in a hurry after the first taste. Anti-chewing sprays are great for when you're trying to 'unlearn' old habits in your dog, but they're usually unnecessary for dogs that have yet to discover the joys of household chewing.
'Controlling' Doesn't Mean 'Stopping'
Controlling your dog's chewing habit doesn't mean that you should try to get him to stop. Put simply, you can't get your dog to stop chewing completely; it's a basic component of canine genetic makeup. They have a mouthful of sharp teeth for a reason - it's not fair to deprive them of this harmless pleasure. The trick is to redirect your dog towards chewing appropriate items like dog-toys.
When you find your dog chewing something inappropriate, it's OK to shout ('NO!') as long as you've caught him in the act. Quickly remove the inappropriate item, and substitute with an appropriate toy or chew. As soon as his jaws close on the appropriate chew, praise him effusively and give him a good petting.
Remember: if you can't catch him in the act, there's no good reprimanding him. You'll simply confuse and upset your dog for no reason - dogs don't have any concept of time, so to make headway you need to be vigilant and supervise your dog often, so that you can catch him while he's at it.
Things to Bear in Mind
Remember that your dog doesn't actually want to chew your stuff. He just wants something to chew on - anything, really, as long as it has the required texture (a good taste never goes amiss, either). You can prevent a lot of frustration by shopping for some chew-alternatives for your dog.
- Provide a wide variety of chewing objects for him. Different tastes and textures are effective at keeping him interested: rawhide chews, soft toys, real meat bones (cheap from the butcher in bulk), 'dental floss' ropes and balls are all tantalizing and effective. Having a variety to choose from means your dog is far less likely to get bored and head for a convenient shoe.
- Alternate different toys on different days. You should aim to have a 'toy wardrobe' of about twelve to fourteen toys. This means that you can give him a selection each day, and he never needs to have the same toy on consecutive days - again, keeping him interested.
- Be patient and understanding during teething. Your dog's gums are sore and aching, and soft, squishy substances are very soothing for him. This is why most puppies are really 'mouthy' on their owner's hands and soft furniture during this time: the soft nature of flesh and plush upholstery makes his teeth hurt less. Be prepared for this and supply him with some soft, giving rubber and plush toys around four months (you can pick up big selection-bags of stuffed toys from the Salvation Army and second-hand stores for about $2).
Stimulate the Brain AND Jaws!
Another good alternative to chewing is to choose some of the puzzle toys available which are designed to keep your dog's brain and jaws busy without the need for supervision from you. Kong make some good ones - they're generally just about indestructible, and the most effective type comes with a cavity inside that you fill with some temptingly desirable foodstuff (soft cheese, peanut butter, meat paste, etc) which the dog will spend hours trying to extract. Another good choice is the Canac activity ball (there are lots of variations on this one) which works with your dog's age-old foraging instincts and gets him to work for treats. This will provide enough mental stimulation to keep your dog busy - all the while sparing your valuable items from destruction!
Correct Ongoing Chewing
If your dog continues to chew, you'll have to employ corrective techniques (ie, reprimanding him while he's in the act). Quietly follow your dog around for a few minutes, encouraging him to believe that he is free to do as he pleases. Remember, in order for this to work, you have to catch him red-handed. An effective method is to use the startle technique: armed with a can of pebbles (for example, a soda can), and an item that you want him to chew instead (an appropriate toy), wait til your dog starts to chew on something that he's not meant to, and give your can a hard shake. It should make a loud rattling noise and should really startle your dog. At the same time, barge in on him, growling "Ah-ah-aaaahhhh!" menacingly. If the startle has been performed correctly, your dog should drop whatever he's been chewing on in surprise, and either cower apologetically on the floor or roll onto his back. At any rate, as long as he's stopped chewing whatever it was, the goal of the enterprise has been achieved. Now for the really important part: AS SOON AS HE'S DROPPED WHATEVER IT WAS, QUICKLY GIVE HIM THE APPROPRIATE TOY AND PRAISE HIM HUGELY. This will start to create the association in your dog's head between chewing on certain items, and getting praise from you - a correlation that you want to encourage!
The key is to catch him in the act, and immediately reprimand him. NEVER reprimand a dog for what he has done in the past. This will only confuse and frustrate him, making him wonder what he could have done wrong. If anything, this will make the problem worse.
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