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:
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
What can be done about adolescent chewing?
Many things can be done…
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 should be given when your dog is settling down for a quiet time, either in your presence or on his own.
Examples of chews:
Types of chews and where to get them…
Special items from pet-shops:
Above: Good items to buy for your dog
Top row from left: Deep-fried
marrowbone, smoked bone,
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:
‘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.
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.
Always reward your dog for chewing the right
Correct your dog when he chews the wrong things
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
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 )
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…
Question: My dog already has a bone and lots of toys, so why does he still chew things he shouldn’t?
Question: What could make adolescent chewing worse?
Question: When should I give my dog chews?
Question: My dog chews my things out of spite doesn’t he?
Question: Do I have to buy dozens of expensive chews?
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.
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.
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
For details of qualified behaviourists and trainers around the country, contact the APBC and APDT respectively. All members use kind, effective methods.