All dogs have an inherent need to chew that begins when they first grow teeth and continues through old age. Chewing is essential for dogs for several reasons: it relieves boredom, it satisfies an urge, and it is essential for good tooth/gum health. Your dog is going to chew, so it is always best to teach him the proper things to chew and prevent his access to things he should not have. Otherwise, he will develop negative chewing habits, and the financial and emotional costs could be great.
What will the dog chew when the need arises and he has no acceptable bone nearby? Why, whatever is handy, of course! Your shoes, furniture, clothing and personal items are high on the “valued chewables” list. Your items smell like you, so they are naturally more fun to chew when they are handy. Keep your shoes and other enticing items out of reach, and give your dog an acceptable chewing device. NOTE: your dog does not chew your things out of spite, anger, or jealousy. He misses you, and he is bored…it’s as simple as that.
Appropriate chewing devices are made of hard rubber, natural bone (also called sterilized bone), or plastic, and are sometimes impregnated with smell or taste to attract the dog’s attention. It is important to choose items that will last a long time, and will not disintegrate in large chunks that may be harmful if swallowed. The best plastic bones are made by Nylabone, and come in several sizes and textures. Most of the original Nylabone products, especially the GALILEO tm bone, are safe (dogs cannot break off or swallow large pieces), long-lasting, and help stimulate the teeth and gums. (I recommend the GALILEO tm bone above all others, as it is touted as the strongest. It should last many months, even with a lot of use.) Stay away from the edible Nylabones (these are usually fruit or peanut butter flavored with a swirly design).
Natural bones are typically bleached white bones that are hollow. They are inexpensive, and though don’t last as long as Galileo bones, are better by far than rawhide or other consumable items. The nice thing about these bones is the holes on either end allow you to stuff yummy treats inside to encourage the dog to chew the bone, thus building good habits. Like the Galileo, small pieces of this bone will come off over time, but they should pass through the dog without incident.
Rawhide, though it can be OK as an occasional treat*, is not recommended as a chewing device because it is consumed by the dog and offers less in the way of tooth and gum assistance. Large chunks can come off, and these can become choking hazards. Only give rawhide as an occasional treat, and only under supervision.
*Sometimes, even the mildest-mannered canines can begin to act weird if you try to take away rawhide from them. If your dog does not like for you to take away his rawhide, i.e., he growls, snaps or bites, then rawhide is not for him. This is unacceptable, and I have noticed it in more than a few dogs—rawhide becomes “hyper-valuable” and the dog, who was never like this before, suddenly begins guarding this “precious resource.” If this happens to you, distract the dog, locate all rawhides and throw them away (remember, all the items Fido has are owned by you…if he cannot play nicely with the toys you have lent him, those toys must disappear). If you are in the metro Atlanta area, call me! (If you are not, call another trainer soon.) Do NOT try to force the dog to give you his bone to prove a point!
The best rubber chewing device on the market is made by the Kong Company. It is shaped like a beehive (or Christmas tree), and comes in either red (original) or black (for really tough chewers). It can be used as a bouncy play toy by itself, or as a “pooch pacifier” when stuffed with food, and is great as a training tool. Do not underestimate the power of the Kong! Check out their website for recipes and ideas.
There are 4 dogs at my house, and we have an assortment of Kongs, sterilized bones, and Galileos around, just so no matter where a dog is, a chewing device is “close at paw.” I haven’t had a chewing mishap in over 10 years. (Of course, while they were learning, I stacked the deck in favor of my dogs by always putting shoes away and keeping the dogs properly confined unless supervised. Prevention is worth its weight in gold!) Now I hear you saying, “I’ve done all that stuff, and my dog isn’t interested in those boring bones. He only wants to chew my stuff or rawhides. I’ve bought countless ‘good’ bones for him, but he turns up his nose.”
Oh, my good friend, you have neglected one very important aspect: adding value. Straight-out-of-the-package bones won’t be enticing to Fido until they are given value. Here’s how:
Adding value to bones and toys is important; without it the items serve no real purpose. To add value to a chew bone, sit down with your dog before a meal (we want him to be hungry), and pet him for a few minutes. Allow him to sniff the bone, and praise him every time he does. Every attempt he makes toward mouthing, chewing, or even licking the bone must be met with IMMEDIATE praise by you, petting, and maybe a tasty treat. If the dog seems disinterested in the bone, rubbing it with a smelly meat like hot dog or salami will stimulate him to lick/bite it. When he does, praise! Do this for several minutes, then PUT THE BONE AWAY and move on to another game for a few moments before coming back to the bone and repeating the process. Do this whole thing 3 times, and then feed him his dinner. Repeat entire process prior to the next 2 meals.
After you have created interest in the bone, and praised the dog during several sessions with it, you should not need to rub it with anything anymore or take it away again. It should remain available for the dog at all times, and every time you notice him chewing it, praise him. This creates good habits for the life of the dog.
Sterilized bones and Kongs can be filled with food occasionally to keep the dog happy in a crate or on his bed. Use canned dog food, low-fat peanut butter, cream cheese, tiny pieces of meat, etc. Your dog gets rewarded for chewing the proper item, and you save your furniture and your sanity. The harder you make it for him to remove the stuffing, the longer the “passé” will last.
You can also use this method to feed the dog his regular meals if he is a finicky eater or very pushy/dominant. One woman I know who crates her two dogs during the day makes up Kongs ahead of time, freezes them, and when she goes to the freezer in the morning before heading off to work, the dogs run to get in their crates in anticipation of the treat. I’ve used this with my own dogs, and they love it—plus, they love being in their crates because “good things” happen in there. Experiment!