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Chewing & How to Survive It

What is adolescent chewing?

Adolescent chewing (or exploratory chewing as it is also known) commonly occurs in dogs between puppyhood and adulthood at 7-12 months of age.

This chewing stage can last for up to 6 months.

Adolescent chewing is different from puppy teething since it happens after all the needle-like puppy teeth have fallen out. Adolescent dogs often have an uncontrollable urge to chew. This could be because of discomfort in their gums as their adult teeth are settling into the jawbone.

This kind of chewing also occurs as the young dog is attempting to find out about his environment and discover new things.

Other reasons for chewing:

  • An unbalanced diet – if a dog does not have enough calcium in his diet, for example, he may try to compensate by chewing stones or plaster. Puppies and dogs of all ages should be fed a balanced diet, according to their age, weight, health status and the amount of exercise they receive. You should consult your vet for advice on the best diet to feed your dog.

  • Attention-seeking – if your dog learns that by picking something up in his mouth (such as a TV remote control) you get up and chase him round the room, he will quickly learn that this is a great way to get your attention.

  • Distress at being left alone – some dogs cannot cope with being separated from their owners and can be destructive when left.

  • Puppy teething - occurs from 3-7 months of age. During this time, puppies have an uncontrollable urge to chew things to relieve some of the discomfort in their gums. Chewing also facilitates the removal of puppy teeth, and the eruption of the adult set.

  • Boredom – Dogs that are left alone for long periods or receive inadequate mental and physical stimulation are likely to become bored. Working breeds, such as Springer Spaniels, that have naturally high activity levels become easily bored in the wrong home, which can lead to destructive behaviour when left.

Kenneled dogs:

Young dogs that have been kennelled during their adolescent months, and therefore prevented from carrying out normal chewing and exploratory behaviours, will often chew when they then go to live in a normal home environment.

This can occur with dogs that have been kept in barren quarantine, rescue, working or boarding kennels. In these dogs the adolescent chewing stage may be prolonged

Kennelled dogs need to chew: this 9 month old dog is enjoying a ‘Rask’
Kennelled dogs need to chew:
this 9 month old dog is enjoying a ‘Rask’


What can be done about adolescent chewing?

Many things can be done…

  • Supply your dog with lots of items that are safe and tough enough to survive being chewed – this means that they should not splinter or break into small or harmful pieces that can be swallowed.

  • Make sure your dog does not have access to places where there are valuable or dangerous items whenever you are not there to supervise.

  • Give your dog regular exercise - especially away from home at least once a day (i.e. don’t just exercise your dog in your garden).

  • Visit different environments when you walk your dog whenever you can (e.g. pavements, fields, woods, parks, and beaches.)

  • Teach your dog what kinds of things are acceptable and unacceptable to chew.

  • Play with your dog. Short, frequent play sessions are the best. Try to play at least 3 times a day for 5 minutes.


Toys are different from chews:

Toys and chews should not be confused.

Toys are designed to be thrown, chased, squeaked and tugged during play. Most are not designed to be chewed.

Unlike toys, chews are designed for nibbling and gnawing and are essential if you want your dog to chew acceptable items instead of your furniture.


Chews:

Chews should be given when your dog is settling down for a quiet time, either in your presence or on his own.

Examples of chews:

  • Rawhide All these items are ‘safe’ chews and can be left down for the dog to gnaw, lick and chew
  • Smoked bone
  • ‘Rask’
  • Nylabone
  • Deep-fried marrow- boneSterilised marrowbone

Types of chews and where to get them…

Pet-shops:
  • Rawhide chews (available in many shapes e.g. flat strips; twists; knotted)
  • Pressed rawhide chews (dense chew, often bone-shaped)
  • Deep-fried marrowbone
  • Smoked bones
  • ‘Nylabones’
  • Sterilised bone
Supermarkets:
  • Dental rawhide chews
  • ‘Rasks’

Special items from pet-shops:

  • Activity Ball:
    This is a hollow, dimpled ball, the size of a small football, with two holes bored into it. Place small pieces of DRY food inside (e.g. portion of dog’s daily food ration, mixer / cat treats etc.) The dog has to roll the ball around to get the food to drop out of the holes.

Good items to buy for your dog

Above: Good items to buy for your dog

Top row from left: Deep-fried marrowbone, smoked bone,
Rask, chew stick, dental rawhide, pressed hide
Bottom row: Large Kong, medium Kong, Activity Ball


Toys

Soft toys that are easily destroyed (e.g. raggas, teddies, squeakies) should always be picked up by the owner at the end of the game and put out of the dog’s reach.

This will save you money in at least two ways:
i) toys last much longer and
ii) you shouldn’t ever need to take your dog to the vet because he has a blockage caused by swallowing toys.

Examples of toys:
All these items are toys and should not be left down for your dog to chew:
  • Ragga
  • Rubber ring
  • Squeaky
  • Ball
  • Cuddly toy (e.g. teddy)

‘Kongs’ – very special toys:

All dogs like to play on their own sometimes, so it is important to leave one or two ‘safe’ toys down for them to play with at any time. An excellent toy for this purpose is a ‘Kong’ (available from pet-shops).

A Kong is firm rubber toy that is hollow on the inside and can withstand lots and lots of chewing. If you stuff biscuits inside the Kong or smear some cheese spread inside, your dog will then work to get the food out, and he will nibble, lick and chew on the toy for some time.

Kongs are also very good at stimulating play and chase behaviour, since they bounce unpredictably in different directions when they have been thrown.

Other toys which can be given (under supervision)
  • Empty plastic soft drinks bottles with a few small biscuits inside
  • Cardboard tubes (from toilet rolls / kitchen rolls)
  • Cardboard boxes (from supermarkets/ empty cereal packets)

Replace and change these items frequently. Supervise your puppy while he has them and remove any that become damaged and are likely to cause harm.


Teach right from wrong

Always reward your dog for chewing the right things
Provide your dog with one or two chews that he has not seen for a while. Leave them out on the floor whenever he is in the room. When you see him settle down to chew one, praise him gently. This will allow him to chew without interruption.

Correct your dog when he chews the wrong things
If you notice him just about to chew something that you don’t want him to (e.g. leg of table) direct a short jet of water from a small water pistol or plant sprayer to wet him on the back of the head. Your intention should be to startle him (not to hurt or frighten him in any way)

If he looks in your direction, pretend that the water spray had absolutely nothing to do with you – act innocent! After a few minutes, direct his attention onto an acceptable chew, and praise him when he begins to chew on it.

We want him to think that the correction comes from somewhere in the environment, as a result of him chewing a particular object. Your dog should not think that the correction is coming from you.

Correcting your dog in this way is much better than telling him off and will mean that he will be less likely to chew unacceptable items when he is left alone.

Getting the timing right
The correction (i.e. water spray) will be most effective if it happens just as he is about to chew the object for the first time.

If the correction occurs after he has been chewing for 2 minutes for example, it will be too late.

If you are too late, then you should distract him (e.g. by calling his name excitedly or picking up his lead.) Praise him when he comes to you and give him a titbit, then watch him carefully because he will probably go back to his new hobby, giving you a chance to correct him before he begins.


Things to do

Any valuable possessions (e.g. wallets) or potentially dangerous items (e.g.scissors) should be picked up and put out of the dog’s reach. (Your dog may chew your best shoes or your remote control if he can reach them and you are not there to tell him not to )

Other tips

Exploratory chewing can sometimes be discouraged by spraying the object (e.g. chair leg) with a taste deterrent such as ‘Bitter Apple’ (available from pet shops).

However, this method only discourages some dogs and not others. In addition, the object needs to have been sprayed recently (e.g. in the last minute) to taste unpleasant to the dog.

NB Spraying items with Bitter Apple does not cure adolescent chewing; you will still need to follow the advice on this page to improve your dog’s behaviour.


Some commonly asked questions…

Question: I always tell my dog off for chewing – but he still does it…

Answer: That’s because punishment doesn’t work.
At best, punishment just teaches the dog not to chew when you are there, because he knows you will see him and shout at him.

However, it does not teach the dog the right thing to do. It follows that when you are out, the TV wires may get chewed and the table leg gets eaten. See ‘ Teach right from wrong’ above .

Question: My dog already has a bone and lots of toys, so why does he still chew things he shouldn’t?

Answer:

  • He’s bored with the bone, because it’s on the floor all the time.
  • Toys are no fun unless the owner is playing with them and when he picks them up you don’t take any notice.
  • If he chews the table leg, he gets your attention immediately, but if he chews his bone, you ignore him.
  • You haven’t taught him properly what is right and wrong to chew.

Question: What could make adolescent chewing worse?

Answer:

  • If you take everything away from the dog, and leave him with nothing appropriate to chew, he will find something himself (e.g. doors, carpets)
  • Lack of physical and mental stimulation (i.e. inadequate exercise and play sessions)
  • Keeping your dog in one place (e.g. never taking your dog out of the house)

Question: When should I give my dog chews?

Answer: The chew or bone should be given to the dog whenever you want him to settle down and have a chew. This could be when you want to go out and leave the dog by himself for a while, or it may be when you want him to settle so that you can relax and read a book.

Question: My dog chews my things out of spite doesn’t he?

Answer:  

No, never.
Chewing is done for reasons such as discomfort in the gums, boredom due to lack of exercise or distress in the owners’ absence.
Chewing is never done out of spite or jealousy, or with any intent to destroy valuable property on purpose.

Question: Do I have to buy dozens of expensive chews?

Answer: No – not dozens.

However, ideally you should have a wide range of chews, so that you can rotate the ones you give to your dog on a daily basis.

For example, it would be good if you had the following 9 chews…

  • Deep-fried marrowbone
  • ‘Kong’
  • Pressed rawhide chew
  • ‘Nylabone’
  • ‘Rasks’
  • Dental chew
  • Rawhide twist
  • Smoked bone
  • Sterilised bone

    …because you could give them to your dog, in rotation as follows…

Monday
  • Kong with ‘Shapes’ biscuits inside
  • Rawhide twist
  • Deep-fried marrowbone
Tuesday
  • Pressed rawhide chew
  • Smoked bone
  • ‘Rask’
Wednesday
  • Dental rawhide chew
  • ‘Nylabone’
  • Sterilised bone with meat paste spread inside
Thursday
  • Kong with cheese spread inside
  • Deep-fried marrowbone
  • Smoked bone
Friday
  • Sterilised bone with cheese spread inside
  • Rawhide twist
  • Pressed rawhide chew
Saturday
  • Kong with ‘Markies’ biscuits inside
  • Smoked bone
  • Nylabone
Sunday
  • Sterilised bone with cheese spread inside
  • Pressed rawhide chew
  • Dental rawhide chew

Mistakes will happen

Until he is reliable, never leave him with the run of the house. If he chews something he should not, consider it your fault, not his, for trusting him too soon

If you find your dog has chewed when you have been out – don’t punish him when you return, because it won’t do any good. It can come as a great shock to him when he runs to greet you if you are annoyed or even aggressive.

Punishment will only make the dog think you are unpredictable and will cause him to mistrust you


Things to avoid

Smacking or shouting at your dog when he chews the wrong thing


Teach the ‘settle down’ command

If you are trying to relax, watch TV, have a meal etc. it is useful if your dog will leave you in peace to relax. If you want to train him to settle down, then you will firstly have to teach him to tolerate restraint, and learn to cope without your attention.

A good time to do this training is if you are about to sit down in a comfortable chair, and watch a TV programme for example. Ideally, it should be done after the dog has been exercised, been to the toilet then eaten his dinner.

Attach the lead to his flat collar (never use a choke chain) and tie him to a fixed point (e.g. the leg of your chair). The lead should be tied very short, so that the dog only has enough room to sit, stand and lie down and not enough room to be able to jump up or run around.

If he tugs on the lead or whines, ignore him. If he begins to chew through his lead, replace it with a chain lead for this exercise.

Make sure your dog has something comfortable to lie on, such as a piece of soft bedding.

As soon as the dog lies down, give him lots of quiet, gentle praise and say ‘settle down’.

Provide your puppy with a large hide chew, marrowbone or ‘Nylabone’. This will teach him the correct thing to do when he cannot interact with you.

If you teach your dog to settle down on a piece of bedding, it can be easily transported to new situations (e.g. the bedding can be taken with you if you go on holiday / in the car etc.)


Beyond adolescence & into adulthood

When your dog becomes a fully-grown adult, his desire to chew will be reduced, but it will not go completely.

It is important to continue to give an adult dog chews and bones throughout his life to exercise his jaws and to keep his teeth clean.


Always remember…

The adolescent chewing stage will pass more quickly if you understand your young dog’s needs.

If you provide your dog with a range of chews, plenty of play-sessions and the opportunity to explore different environments, you will be well on the way to having a contented dog that only chews things he is supposed to.


Further reading:

The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey, published by Hamlyn

Good Dog Behaviour by Gwen Bailey, published by Harper Collins

Why Does My Dog…? by John Fisher, published by Souvenir Press

Think Dog by John Fisher, published by Withergy

In Tune With Your Dog by John Rogerson, available from The Animal Behaviour Admin. Office, Ferryhill, Durham DL17 8SA UK

Ain’t Misbehavin’ by David Appleby, published by Broadcast Books

Useful addresses:

For details of qualified behaviourists and trainers around the country, contact the APBC and APDT respectively. All members use kind, effective methods.



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