Q: How do I prevent my dog from chewing everything? (ex: furniture, etc.)
The most effective and humane way to address destructive chewing behavior requires several measures be taken – all at the same time
1. Diagnose and treat the origin of the behavior 2. Prevent the continuation of the behavior 3. When it occurs, immediately and consistently punish or divert the unacceptable behavior 4. Prompt and reward an acceptable replacement behavior.
Undesirable chewing is most commonly caused by:
- Not understanding what is an appropriate/inappropriate chew item
- A desire for self-rewarding oral stimulation
- A desire to relieve discomfort common during the teething stage
- Attention seeking
- General under-stimulation
- Barrier frustration
- Separation anxiety
- General anxiety or stress
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior.
The best way to modify your dog’s chewing behavior is to consider the above list of causes as the primary behavioral problem – while the inappropriate chewing is really a secondary symptom.
Most of the above listed causes are complex and cannot be completely addressed in a single, short article. Therefore, in the coming months we will discuss these in more detail within their own separate articles. Alternatively, you may find more details on my website, www.cpt-training.com. Nevertheless, if the behavior’s origin is not effectively addressed, then it’s less likely you will be able to modify the behavior.
Whatever the source of the inappropriate chewing behavior, you must prevent the continuation of his bad habits so that you can eventually introduce of an acceptable replacement behavior. This can be done by using methods to observe or confine your dog, limiting his ability to perform inappropriate chewing. When you are home with your dog, closely supervise him so that there is no way he can commit a chewing infraction without you catching him in the act. Alternatively, to either prevent the behavior or catch him in the act, you may choose to tether him to you with a 6-foot nylon leash. In addition, when you are unable to supervise or tether him, or you need to leave the house, place him in a crate or in a baby-gated or closed room where he will act responsibly. Only when his behavior is responsible and non-destructive should you allow him unconfined freedom throughout the house.
You also need to implement a system of punishment for when you catch your dog chewing inappropriately. When you are supervising your dog and you observe him chewing an inappropriate object you may punish with a harsh verbal “No” followed by praise when he ceases the chewing activity. When you verbally reprimand him, do not use his name and do not call him to you. Alternatively to growling a verbal reprimand, you may use a semi-active punisher, such as a shake can, air horn, clanging pots, or a squirt gun that creates a fear-startle response that effectively diverts or disrupts the behavior. We prefer semi-active punishment if your dog ignores verbal reprimands, you have relationship issues with your dog, or your dog is overly frightened by verbal admonishment. Also, do not reprimand him or semi-actively punish him if you do not catch him in the act. Punishment must occur while the infraction occurs and stop immediately after the infraction stops.
Since there may be occasions when you cannot supervise properly and you miss catching your dog in the act, even if your dog is tethered, we also recommend establishing a system of passive punishment. Passive punishment is especially effective when a dog repeatedly returns to chew the same inappropriate object. Passive punishers include bitter lime gel, bitter apple spray, hot paste, dog repellent, and electronic mats. Simply apply the passive punisher on or around the area or object where the dog commits the infraction. When your dog returns to the site, instead of experiencing a pleasant outcome, your dog will experience an unpleasant one, which should deter your dog from repeating the behavior. It will also prompt him to seek an alternative chewing behavior, which enables you to guide him to a desirable replacement behavior – a chew toy, for example.
Punishment is more effective at permanently modifying chewing behavior when it is combined with encouragement for a desirable replacement behavior. Therefore, either prior to punishment or after an infraction stops, offer your dog an appropriate chew or play item from his toy box. Then, praise him for interacting with the appropriate object.
If all goes according to plan, by addressing the cause of your dog’s chewing behavior, preventing the continuation of undesirable behavior through supervision and passive confinement, punishing or diverting inappropriate behavior, and encouraging him to chew appropriate items, he should permanently replace undesirable chewing behavior with desirable chewing activities when satisfying his needs for oral stimulation.