It is no secret that puppies love to chew. While puppy chewing may be cute, it also can be dangerous and even destructive – just ask the owners of Pearl, the young rat terrier puppy, about their living room rug. For this Pupdate, Pearl and her mentor Dr. Jill Sackman talk about puppy chewing, behavioral training and toys.
It is important to first gain an understanding of why puppies love to chew. Puppies use their mouths to explore the world around them and learn more about tastes and textures in their environment. As newborns, they develop an instinct for oral stimulation from suckling on their mothers and playing with their littermates. Puppies around the three- to six-month age range will also experience teething, which can boost the impulse to chew. Most puppies will have a strong oral drive up until about one year of age.
As a puppy owner, it is your responsibility to help teach your puppy which items in their environment are appropriate to chew on and which are not. Here are the main steps for puppy chewing training:
Puppy-proof your home – Puppies will chew on whatever they can find, so it is essential to keep most things out of reach for your puppy. Always pick up household items from the floor and secure them in a closet or cabinet. Pay extra close attention to anything that could cause a medical emergency, such as electric cables or small items that could be choking hazards. You can use bitter apple spray on larger items that aren’t easily moved, such as couches and tables, to deter chewing for puppies.
Always supervise – You can best prevent your puppy from chewing by keeping an eye on her as often as possible, and securing her in her crate when you are unable to supervise. Consider setting up a confined area, such as a puppy playpen, to help ensure your puppy can’t get into trouble and to make it easier for you to watch her. Any time that your puppy has the potential to chew, it is imperative to supervise – especially if she is not confined to a crate or playpen. Watching your puppy will help you track her chewing habits, gain an understanding of what items are most tempting to her and avoid medical emergencies.
Dr. Sackman expert tip: “Keep your puppy by your side by attaching her leash to a carabiner and clipping it to your belt loop. You will be hands-free and your puppy will always be within your vision.”
Pearl expert tip: “My mom and dad use gates around our home. By blocking off certain areas, they don’t have to worry about me chewing up items in certain rooms of our home.”
It’s all about replacement – Replacement is an effective training method for teaching puppies appropriate vs. inappropriate chewing. When you catch your puppy chewing on an item other than a toy, take it away from her immediately and give her an appropriate chew toy (we’ll give you some examples later on). This will help teach your puppy where to direct her chewing and train her to leave your other household items alone.
Dr. Sackman expert tip: “If you catch your puppy with something in her mouth that she shouldn’t chew on, she may try to run away from you with the item. Do NOT chase her. To her, chasing is initiating a game. Instead, toss a treat in the opposite direction to distract her then promptly remove the item from her environment.”
The “game over” technique – Puppies not only chew to learn about their environment, they also chew to learn how to interact with you. During playtime, it is common for your puppy to try to bite your hands. Pearl would even try to innocently bite her owners’ faces during play. To discourage this behavior, use the “game over” technique. When your puppy chews on your fingers, close your hands into a fist and end the play session. Your puppy will begin understanding that chewing on your hands ends playtime, and she will start avoiding that behavior.
Stimulation is key – When puppies are bored, they will find their own method of entertainment – and that method is typically chewing. Mental and physical stimulation are important for puppies’ overall training and integration to the home, and also for chewing prevention. When you play with and train your puppy, you eliminate boredom and drain some of her energy. Tired puppies are less likely to chew.
Provide appropriate chew toys – Giving your puppy chew toys prevents inappropriate chewing, satisfies her instinct to chew and keeps her occupied. Selecting the proper toys is an essential part of the chewing training process. Here are some of our suggestions:
- Nylabone-style bones – These toys are designed to be durable and long-lasting for dog chewing. They are available in a variety of flavors and textures to keep your dog interested. Be sure to look for the “puppy” versions of these synthetic bones.
- Food or Kong-style toys – Puppies love to eat, so food toys will definitely pique their interest. Consider a Kong-style toy that allows you to stuff healthy treats inside, creating a fun challenge for your puppy with food as a prize.
- Puzzle toys – Puppies are highly intelligent animals, and providing games, puzzles and challenges for them helps stimulate their brains and prevent chewing as a result of boredom. Look for toys that require your puppy to push a button, roll a ball or find a secret chamber in order to retrieve a hidden treat.
Pearl expert tip: “My parents got me a cool toy that looks like a log. When I stick my head inside, I find small squirrel toys that I can pull out and play with! Puzzle toys fascinate me and keep me entertained for hours.”
- Teething toys – During the three- to six-month age range, your puppy could benefit from teething toys to help ease the pain of losing baby teeth and growing in adult teeth. You can find teething toys at most pet stores, and they can be frozen for added relief for your puppy.
By following these tips, your puppy should be on the path to healthy, appropriate chewing and your household items should be safe from puppy teeth marks and destruction. Pearl’s owners and Dr. Sackman agree – puppy chewing training is most successful with lots of toys, confined and supervised spaces and plenty of exercise and playtime.
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Dr. Sackman is a specialty veterinarian and medical director for BluePearl’s Michigan hospitals. She practices on BluePearl’s veterinary behavior service and possesses years of experience as a behavior expert and dog trainer. She is currently a resident in the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists pursuing double board-certification. To learn more about Dr. Sackman, Pearl and her family, please visit our Introduction to Pearl’s Pupdates article.