Puppy's power: Curbing chewing

Posted: Sunday, March 07, 2004

Few things can be more disheartening than coming home after a long day at work to find your entire house in disarray as a result of a puppy with a destructive chewing habit. For those who haven't had this misfortune consider yourselves lucky.

It can be difficult for many pet owners to comprehend how their sweet little pooch seems to turn into a half-piranha chewing machine when they're away. It's amazing how fast an energetic young pup can leave a living room looking like a ransacked scene from a TV crime drama.

However, chewing is a natural beh-avior for young dogs. There's no stopping it, but you can redirect it away from shoes, stereo equipment, furniture and other personal items.

The first step in doing this is understanding why puppies chew. Although dogs make great use of their vision and sense of smell to explore the world, one of their favorite ways to take in new information is to put their mouths to work.

Puppies may chew out of curiosity, an abundance of energy, boredom or because they may be teething. They do not, no matter how much it seems like it, chew out of anger, jealousy or spite.

Even puppies that only chew things up when you're away from the home don't do it to be malicious. Many chew out of separation anxiety. They can become restless after being left alone and as a way to cope with their loneliness, frustration or anxiety, they begin chewing to relieve the stress.

Unless you catch them in the act, punishing the dog when you get home is worthless, and can even make the situation worse. Much like house breaking, a puppy doesn't remember what it did an hour before. As such, the pup won't understand being punished for it.

The first thing to do to take control of the situation is to puppy-proof the home. Remove items like shoes, books, plants, eye glasses, trash, remote controls and anything else you don't want the puppy to have.

Obviously, furniture can't be removed, so the best way to teach a puppy the house rules is to not give theme free reign when you're not at home. Confine pups in a crate, cage or puppy-proof room while you're away.

When the puppy's not in the crate, keep a close eye on it. Be sure to always know where the dog is and what it's doing. When it starts chewing on something you don't want destroyed, don't interrupt the behavior with a loud noise. Instead, take the item away, then quickly replace it with a toy, followed by praising the pup for chewing the appropriate item.

Puppies should be provided with a variety of appropriate toys to choose from. These can be Nylabone or Kong products, rawhide or durable rubber products.

Just be certain that the items are dissimilar to the items the puppy shouldn't chew. After all, it does little good to give a puppy toys that look like shoes, when trying to teach it not to chew shoes.

Exercise also is an important part of breaking the cycle of destructive chewing. Plenty of exercise can not only relieve boredom, but can burn off energy. A worn out dog is much more likely to rest while their owner is away, than to chew up or destroy furniture.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at clarion@alaska.net.

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