© 2004 Ian Dunbar
Chewing is essential for maintaining the health of your dog's teeth,
jaws, and gums. Puppies especially have a strong need to chew to
relieve the irritation and inflammation of teething. Dogs chew to
relieve anxiety and boredom, as well as for entertainment. Your
dog’s jaws are his tools for carrying objects and for investigating
its surroundings. Essentially, a dog’s approach to all items
in his environment is “Can I chew it?”
Chewing is Normal, Natural, and
Dogs generally sleep at night and in the middle of the day. However,
chewing is your dog’s primary form of entertainment during
his morning and late afternoon activity peaks. After all, there
are only so many things your dog can do when left at home alone.
He can hardly read a novel, telephone friends, or watch the soaps!
Indeed, most chewing sprees stem from your dog's relentless quest
for some form of occupational therapy to pass the time of day when
left at home alone.
Chewing is a perfectly normal, natural, and necessary canine behavior.
Prevention and treatment of destructive chewing focus on management
and education — to prevent your dog from chewing inappropriate
items and to redirect your dog's natural chewing-urge to appropriate,
acceptable, and resilient chewtoys.
Prevent Destructive Chewing
When leaving home, confine your puppydog to a long-term confinement
area, such as a single room—your puppydog’s playroom—with
a comfortable bed, a bowl of water, a doggy toilet (if not yet housetrained),
and nothing to chew but half a dozen freshly-stuffed chewtoys. Housetrained
adult dogs may be confined (with their chewtoys) to a dog crate.
When you return, instruct your dog to fetch his chewtoys so you
can extricate the freeze-dried liver pieces and give them to your
dog. Your dog will happily settle down and entertain himself with
his chewtoys as soon as you leave in the morning, and he will be
more inclined to search for chewtoys when he wakes up in anticipation
of your afternoon return. This is important since most chewing activity
occurs right after you leave home and right before you return.
When you are home, confine your puppy to his doggy den (crate)
with nothing but a freshly-stuffed chewtoy for entertainment. Every
hour on the hour (or at longer intervals with housetrained adult
dogs), take your puppydog to her doggy toilet (see Housetraining
blueprint), and if she goes, praise her and play some chewtoy games
with her before putting her back in her crate with a freshly stuffed
The purpose of confinement is to prevent your dog from chewing
inappropriate items around the house and to maximize the likelihood
your dog will develop a chewtoy habit.
Redirect Chewing to Chewtoys
The confinement schedule described above optimizes self-training;
your dog will train herself to chew chewtoys. In fact your dog will
soon become a chewtoyaholic. With a good chewtoy habit, your puppy
will no longer want to destroy carpets, curtains, couches, clothes,
chair legs, computer disks, children's toys, or electrical cords.
Your dog will be less likely to develop into a recreational barker.
And also, your dog will happily settle down calmly and quietly and
will no longer be bored or anxious when left alone.
You must also actively train your dog to want to chew chewtoys.
Offer praise and maybe a freeze-dried liver treat every time you
notice your dog chewing chewtoys. Do not take chewtoy chewing for
granted. Let your dog know that you strongly approve of her newly
acquired, appropriate, and acceptable hobby. Play chewtoy games
with your dog, such as fetch, search, and tug-of-war.
Chewtoys should be indestructible and nonconsumable. Consumption
of non-food items is decidedly dangerous for your dog's health.
Also, destruction of chewtoys necessitates their regular replacement,
which can be expensive. However, compared with the cost of reupholstering
just one couch, $70 worth of chewtoys seems a pretty wise investment.
Kongs, Biscuit Balls, Big Kahuna footballs, and sterilized long-bones
are by far the best chewtoys. They are made of natural products,
are hollow, and may be stuffed with food to entice your dog to chew
To prevent your dog from porking out, ensure that you only stuff
chewtoys with part of your dog's daily diet (kibble or raw food).
Firmly squish a piece of freeze-dried liver in the small hole in
the Kong, fill the rest of the cavity with moistened kibble, and
then put the Kongs in the freezer. Voila, Kongsicles! As the kibble
thaws, some falls out easily to reinforce your dog as soon as she
shows interest. Other bits of kibble come out only after your dog
has worried at the Kong for several minutes, thus reinforcing your
dog's chewing over time. The liver is the best part. Your dog may
smell the liver, see the liver, (and maybe even talk to the liver),
but she cannot get it out. And so your dog will continue to gnaw
contentedly at the Kong until she falls asleep.
Until your dog is fully chewtoy-trained, do not feed it from a
bowl. Instead, feed all kibble, canned food, and raw diets from
chewtoys, or handfeed meals as rewards when you notice your dog
is chewing a chewtoy.
If you would like better insight into your dog’s chewing
psyche, read chapter 3, "It’s All Chew Toys to Them,"
in The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. If you require a more detailed
description of chewtoy training, read our Chewing booklet and BEFORE
You Get Your Puppy, and watch the Training The Companion Dog Video
II: Behavior Problems & Household Etiquette. To chewtoy train
your dog, you need a dog crate, a number of hollow chewtoys, and
some freeze-dried liver treats.