Megan Brooks CDT, CGC Evaluator
Dogs are animals and often times that is just what they act like, animals. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do to eliminate a dog’s normal behavior. Dogs chew, bite, dig, run away, bark and chase things just to name a few things that our dogs do that we wish they didn’t. Since we cannot eliminate normal dog behavior it is our responsibility to teach our dogs to only do these things at appropriate times and in appropriate places.
It is very important that you understand that dogs absolutely do not chew out of spite, jealousy or anger. Dogs do not think like we do and they live in the moment. Never, ever punish your dog for anything that you do not catch him doing. Reinforcement, both positive and negative must be delivered within one second of the behavior in order to be effective! Maybe you came home from work to find that your dog has chewed your favorite and most expensive pair of shoes. If you scold or otherwise punish him for shoes that were chewed two hours ago (even five minutes ago) you will be punishing him, not for the chewing, but for whatever he was doing the second you scolded him. If he was greeting you as you got home that is what he will associate the punishment with. It is unfortunately all too common for dogs to develop anxiety because they associate their owner coming home with punishment. When you lose your cool with your dog and yell at him or spank him, you are not being a stable leader. This in itself can cause anxiety and behavior issues because dogs need a stable leader to follow and if you are not fulfilling the role, your dog will.
Why do dogs chew?
Dogs chew for a number of reasons, the main one being that it feels good. When dogs chew endorphins are released in the brain, which has a calming effect. Dogs chew to relieve boredom, stress, loneliness, frustration and anxiety. Dogs with excessive energy will often chew to try to release it. If you understand why your dog chews it will be easier to come up with a solution for the problem.
Puppies need to chew primarily because they are teething but chewing also serves to comfort them and to relieve boredom. All puppies chew and at this age the problem can only be managed and not solved. It is up to us to teach them what is acceptable to chew and what is not. Puppies do not automatically know what we expect from them, they must be taught and that takes a great deal of patience and some time. Young puppies cannot be expected to exercise the self-control it takes to act obedient. Puppies are babies just learning about this strange human world and how to live in it. Like human babies, puppies get into things that they shouldn’t and even things that may harm them. As the owner it is up to you to patiently raise your puppy and teach him what you expect from him as well as look out for his safety. Puppies NEED constant supervision! This is for their own safety but is also important for training because if you are watching your puppy you are available to praise him anytime he is doing what you want him to do and doing that alone is foundation for a well trained, well adjusted adult dog. On the other hand, if you are supervising your puppy you will also be able to correct any unwanted behavior. Remember how much easier it is to train your puppy right in the first place rather than having to try to change a behavior once it is a habit. When you cannot supervise your puppy he should be confined to a crate or other area. The area should be free of anything that the dog can hurt himself with or destroy.
Adult dogs that chew excessively when left alone are most likely suffering some degree of separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a very difficult issue to resolve and takes a great deal of patience and consistency on your part.
In dogs with separation anxiety, confinement may only make the problem worse. Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety are highly distressed when their owners leave them alone. Dogs are social animals and it is not natural for them to be left behind alone when the entire pack leaves and to some dogs this is terrifying. When you kennel a dog who suffers from separation anxiety you are only managing the problem, not solving it and the well-being of your dog is very much at risk. With SA dogs it is crucial to treat the source of the problem often by working with a professional who can show you how to condition your dog using positive reinforcement methods. Never ever use harsh methods, bullying, intimidation tactics, or physical punishment to try to solve SA issues, it will make it worse!
Last Updated: Monday, February 08, 2010