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How to Solve Dog Behavior Problems

Stopping a Dog from Chewing

A dog's mouth is the canine equivalent of our hands; it's what dogs use to pick up and examine things, evaluate their potential use, and transport them from one place to another. Chewing lets a dog know what something feels like, how it tastes, and whether it's good to eat. It's a natural part of dog behavior: You can no more train a dog to stop chewing completely than you can train him to stop breathing. Chewing is also an important part of the pup's development. Just like babies, puppies chew in part to soothe sore gums during teething. It can take up to a year for a pup's adult teeth to come in, so this is another instance where you'll need lots of patience to teach your dog what he can chew and what he can't.

Naturally, your dog will be attracted to anything with your scent on it, so be sure to put away shoes, socks, and other items you've handled that you don't want destroyed. In fact, getting a puppy is terrific incentive to get everyone in your household to pick up clothes, shoes, and toys -- if you don't, the odds are they'll be gnawed into oblivion. It won't take too many instances of a favorite item getting shredded before even the most careless family member is putting things away. Never give a dog old shoes or clothing to chew on. Shoes especially will retain your scent. In fact, never give your dog anything as a chew toy that is the same as something you don't want him to chew; he won't be able to tell the difference between the old boot you gave him to gnaw and your new hiking boots.

Make those toys you want your dog to chew (and he should have a number of them) as appealing as possible. If he seems to be going exclusively for things with your scent on them, put chew toys in the laundry hamper for a day or two before giving them to your dog. Rubbing something tasty on the outside of rubber balls or other toys or stuffing treats inside of hollow toys can encourage the dog to select those items to chew on his own. In general, be sure you're giving him the message clearly from the beginning. Give him the appropriate toys to chew, and praise him for chewing them. Always keep a chew toy within reach (even carry one with you). If you see your dog working on something you don't want him to chew, quickly remove the item and replace it with a toy, then immediately praise him for chewing the correct item. There a million things in your home you don't want him to chew; it's much easier to teach him to recognize the handful of items he can chew.

If you want to give your dog bones to chew on, stick to large knucklebones or thigh bones. Before you hand them out, sterilize bones by boiling them for half an hour. Never give small bones or bones that could splinter easily, such as chicken or turkey bones.

Some dogs remain very active chewers all their lives. Destructive chewing is especially common in dogs who spend a lot of time alone, since it's a way of working off boredom or anxiety. "Home alone" dogs need to have lots of different toys, which should be rotated to keep things interesting. When you're home with the dog, be sure he gets lots of exercise and quality time with you.

When to Call the Vet

As with any behavior problem, have your vet take a look at your dog before you start any corrections. On occasion, a destructive chewer is signaling his teeth or gums are bothering him. If there's a physical cause for the behavior, no amount of training or correction will change it.

Now let's consider how to stop a dog from eating stool. It's in the next section.

How to Prevent Chewing
Of course, the most important part of prevention for chewing is common sense: Keep everything you don't want chewed out of your dog's reach, or keep your dog out of areas where nonchewable things can be easily found. Dogs who chew only when left alone can be put into their kennels or crates. (Never use the crate as punishment. The crate should be thought of as your dog's den -- a safe and happy place.)

Since you can't put things like the sofa or dining room table on a high shelf, you'll have to resort to other methods. Some trainers recommend applying a mixture of cayenne pepper in petroleum jelly or some other unpleasant-tasting substance to furniture legs and other potential chewing zones. (Test the substance on an inconspicuous spot first to make sure it won't damage the finish.) Upholstery can be protected by putting double-sided tape (or a flattened loop of masking tape, sticky side out) on items such as furniture skirting, curtains, and bedspread hems. If the tacky feel doesn't dissuade your dog from chewing, you can try dusting the outside with a nontoxic, unpleasant-tasting substance such as cayenne pepper.

Corrections for chewing inappropriate items should only be made when you catch your dog in the act. Never reprimand a dog after the fact. No matter how much you think he looks like he knows he's been bad, he's really only reacting to you and your anger. Instead, when you catch him chewing something you don't want him to, quickly take away the incorrect item (you can also interrupt the unwanted chewing with a shaker can or other distraction for emphasis), immediately substitute it with a chew toy, and then praise him lavishly.