You love your pet pupper. He’s friendly, lovable and oh-so-adorably cute. But every once in a while, you notice those big white teeth coming out of the sides of his mouth. What gives? Why does your pup bite down on anything that moves? And why do you get so mad when he chomps on a pair of your favorite shoes?
First off, let’s talk about what dogs actually chew. They’re omnivores like wolves, which means they eat meat as well as plants. Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, and their natural instincts include eating meat and other animal products.
However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean your pooch should go around biting people with no provocation. All animals need to feel safe and secure, including your canine buddy. If you don’t take care of these needs, you could end up with an angry dog who has nothing left to lose.
Dogs will also chew because they’ve got something else going on inside that causes them to want to gnaw away at whatever happens to cross their path. For instance, some dogs are simply moody individuals. When they aren’t feeling happy or content, they tend to look for outlets for their anger by chewing on stuff. Other dogs may be bored, lonely or anxious.
They’ll turn to the nearest available object for comfort if they’re having trouble coping with life. In short, there’s really no reason to punish your dog for chewing. It’s normal behavior. That said, if you’d rather your furry friend didn’t gnaw on your favorite dresser drawer, then here are some tips to help you control his bad habits.
Why Your Dog Chews
There are lots of reasons that dogs chew. Some dogs are born with behavioral problems that cause them to bite objects. Others pick up on bad habits from other dogs or even humans. Still others are just plain old grumpy. Whatever the case, most dogs eventually learn to associate certain behaviors with reward.
For example, let’s say you train your puppy to sit using food treats. Every time he sits, you feed him a treat. Now imagine that you start giving your puppy a bone instead of a treat. Eventually, he’s going to figure out that sitting gets him the best rewards (treats). This is called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning refers to any type of reinforcement where a desired behavior is associated with a stimulus such as food or water. So, in our example, the puppy will sit whenever he gets a bone.
Now imagine that you put your puppy in another room and leave him alone for two hours. During this time, he starts whining for food. You know that he wants to play with a toy or snack, but you don’t offer him either option because you’ve trained him to expect food. By leaving him alone, you reinforce his desire to whine. This is called classical conditioning, and it works quite similarly to operant conditioning. Basically, you use a specific event as a trigger to elicit a particular response.
While all dogs have the potential to develop chewing issues, older dogs often have more difficulty controlling themselves. Senior dogs may experience dental disease, arthritis or eye disorders that make chewing painful and difficult. Also, some breeds are genetically predisposed to chewing. For instance, Pugs and Bulldogs are prone to excessive chewing due to a condition called acrodysplasia. Because of these physical limitations, senior dogs may require special dietary requirements or medications to manage pain.
With all this information, you can probably understand why your dog chewed on your favorite pair of boots. Read on to discover ways to prevent your pet from turning into a fur ball. If your pet shows signs of anxiety, depression or boredom, chewing may be the result of separation anxiety. Separation anxiety occurs when pets become distressed about being separated from their owners.
Chewing provides relief for pets suffering from this disorder. A trainer or veterinarian can prescribe medication to combat separation anxiety, but there are also many nonpharmacological techniques available to calm agitated pets. One effective method involves teaching your pet tricks to occupy himself while you’re gone.
Teach him to count backward from 100 by 7 and reward him every few numbers. Teaching your pet to focus on positive thoughts and activities can also help curb separation anxieties. Another technique is to sing a song together while you walk. Singing helps distract your pet and keeps his mind occupied. Finally, consider bringing your pet along when you travel and limit his access to areas where he likes to nibble.
What You Can Do To Stop The Chew-Chew
So now you know why your dog chews, but what can you do to solve the problem? Well, first, don’t call your dog a “fur ball.” Fur balls are usually soft, squishy creatures with long matted hair. While they do sometimes resemble real balls of fur, they rarely resemble real balls of fur. Real balls of fur are hard, wiry bundles of fur that stand upright and move independently of each other. Most fur balls are roundish or oval shaped, and they roll around when walked. Fur balls, however, only roll around when prodded or carried.
A lot depends on your own personal relationship with your pet. If you live alone and your dog is generally obedient, you won’t necessarily need professional assistance to resolve his chewing problem. On the other hand, if you live with family members and your pet is known to bark incessantly through the night, chew loudly on furniture or dig holes in the yard, you’ll definitely benefit from professional training. Professional trainers can assess your pet’s individual situation and recommend the right course of action based on your lifestyle and living conditions.
Professional trainers typically utilize three basic training approaches. These approaches are commonly referred to as negative punishment, positive reinforcement and clicker training. We’ll tackle these strategies next.
The Best Way To Train a Puppy
Positive Reinforcement Training
In general, positive reinforcement training is used to encourage desirable behavior. With puppies, this can involve rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad behavior. Positive reinforcement training usually follows a similar format. First, you establish a target behavior. Then, you determine a variety of reinforcers that reliably produce the target behavior.
Next, you choose an appropriate delivery device. For example, you could create a cue word for your dog (“sit”) and give him a biscuit when he uses the cue correctly. After he receives the correct response, you praise or provide the reinforcer immediately. Repeat this process until the target behavior becomes automatic.
Another popular approach to training is called clicker training. Clicker training relies on a simple tool called a clicker and requires the participation of both human and canine. Clicker training teaches dogs to perform tasks by linking responses to specific stimuli.
For example, when your dog makes the correct response, you would press the clicker against your palm. As soon as you hear the sound, you repeat the same command over again. Once you link a task to its corresponding reward, you can begin repeating the task.
Negative Punishment Training
Finally, negative punishment training involves punishing undesirable behavior. Like positive reinforcement training, negative punishment training includes a target behavior, reinforcer selection and delivery device. However, unlike positive reinforcement training, negative punishment training involves issuing a correction (i.e., yelling) after undesired behavior.
Negative punishment training is most common in professional training situations. Instead of providing immediate reinforcement for good behavior, negative punishment training allows dogs to earn rewards over time. For instance, if your dog barks at strangers, you could issue a verbal correction followed by a timeout period. Afterward, your dog could receive a token for barking. Over time, your dog can work toward earning tokens for performing certain behaviors.
Although negative punishment training isn’t as popular among homeowners looking to improve their dogs’ behavior, it still has value when trying to eliminate unwanted behaviors. For example, if your dog frequently urinates in the house, you could try issuing corrections after every accident.
You could also use negative punishment training to discourage destructive behaviors such as digging holes. Simply fill holes with cement, cover them with wood chips and bury the wood chips deep enough to deter further digging.