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|Adult (and Adolescent) Chewing|
So you have a dog who is a destructive chewer. You are not alone! Here's a typical scenario of a dog called Scooter:
The final straw was two toothbrushes and the bathroom vanity. Scooter's owners were on the verge of giving Scooter away. They love the dog, but not his destruction of home and possessions.
Scooter is a 10 month-old Labrador retriever mix. His owners, the Smiths, both work so Scooter is alone all day. Despite having lots of toys, he destroyed a sofa, carpet, and several books and magazines. Confined in the bedroom, Scooter tore up a bedspread and ate a pair of shoes. Left in the bathroom, he ate the toothbrushes, chewed the cabinets and destroyed the door jam. Scooter's chewing has cost several thousand dollars, but more importantly, his destruction has created damaging tension between the Smiths.
The Smiths have tried yelling, angrily bringing him over and showing him the day's destruction, ignoring him, giving him a time-out in the crate and even, reluctantly and guiltily, hitting him with their hands, with a rolled newspaper, and with the chewed object. They've tried praising him effusively when, on rare occasions, he hadn't chewed anything. Nothing worked. He wasn't getting better, and in fact, his chewing escalated.
They're right. Such punishment strategies not only don't get the point across to stop chewing, they do make it worse. We're not fans of punishment, but even if we were, the way the Smiths were using it wouldn't work, no matter what. To be effective, any punishment must be directly connected to a behavior. Directly connected means immediate. Scolding for a behavior that occurred two hours, or even two minutes ago is not immediate. Punishment after the fact does not eliminate the behavior, but it does affect the dog. It builds stress, anxiety and tension - which the dog then expresses . . . through chewing!
But why did Scooter start chewing in the first place? Scooter was only doing what comes naturally. Adolescent chewing is predictable and is related to teething (see Puppy Chewing for more on this). Adult teeth erupt at around five or six months. Once these permanent teeth are in, most dog owners mistakenly believe teething is over. Au contraire - the worst chewing is yet to come.
The serious teething period begins around seven months and can last until 10 months or older. At this age, the adult teeth are permanently setting in the jaw and the adolescent dog not only wants to chew, he must chew. It is a physiological necessity. If you isolate a dog in an empty room, he'll chew walls or chew himself. Not because he is bad, vindictive or spiteful, but because he is teething. He will chew.
A dog will chew whatever he has access to - which is his own toys, and anything else. A dog doesn't know the difference when no one is there to tell him what is his and what is off limits. No one was there to stop Scooter from chewing the sofa or the cabinets for hours on end. Chewing felt good. Getting his teeth into the cabinet was very satisfying.
So preventing a chewing problem in an adolescent is much the same as with a puppy - supervision when you can and safe confinement - that is, in a crate - when supervision isn't possible.
Since punishment after the fact cannot eradicate the pleasure a dog gets from chewing, how do you eliminate destructive chewing?
Eliminating Destructive Chewing
Here are some guidelines to prevent or eliminate destructive chewing.
If this approach doesn't work for you or you're having problems with your dog's chewing, talk with a professional trainer - preferably a clicker trainer or positive trainer in your area, or click here for information on our in-person, email and telephone consultations.
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