Dog Training – Chewing

< Updated 9APR16>

Click here to listen to a podcast on chewing broadcast on The Woof Meow Show on 12JAN113

OBJECTIVE: To learn how to manage your dog’s chewing behavior.

Tikken Chewing Nylabone
Tikken Chewing Nylabone

While a puppy may chew more during the teething stage, chewing is a very normal behavior for dogs of all ages. They do it out of pleasure; they do it to pass the time; they do it to relieve stress, and they do it to exercise their jaws and teeth. We need to allow our puppies and dogs to have an outlet for natural behaviors such as chewing. It is our responsibility to provide them with things that they can chew on and to help them learn that they are only to chew on their specified chew toys.

When they first come into our homes, dogs and puppies have no way of knowing the difference between a chew toy and a cell phone. They do not understand that a pair of shoes represents a $150 chew toy; they just know the shoes are available and are a pretty good chew. Consider all the items in your home that your dog is NOT allowed to chew in contrast to the number of things he is allowed to chew. Is it any wonder our dogs guess wrong some of the time?

Given the way a puppy works, we need to start training him early on as to what items he can chew. The first step is to restrict your puppy’s access to anything but his chew toys unless he is actively supervised. This keeps your belongings and your puppy safe. Sometimes dogs chew things that result in serious injury or illness.

Active supervision means that if you are not monitoring the puppy, you need toTikken with a stuffed Kong keep him in his crate or a puppy-proof room when he cannot be supervised. Adequate supervision means a responsible adult is devoting all of their attention to supervising the puppy.

The three key steps to chew training are:

  1. Get your dog some suitable chew toys and teach him how wonderful they are. There are five broad types of chew toys; natural chews like rawhide, bully sticks, antlers and other animal parts, man-made hard chews made to simulate a bone, man-made soft chews like rope toys and toys made of softer rubbers and plastics, toys that dispense treats and in doing so provide your dog with some mental stimulation, and super durable toys that are almost indestructible.

Natural Chews

Our favorite in this category is the Bully Stick. It is an all-natural chewing alternative made from a tendon from a steer. Unlike rawhide, your dog is unlikely to swallow too large a piece of the Bully Stick, and with most dogs they last a substantial amount of time. We occasionally use rawhide but are always very particular about the rawhide we choose. Rawhide is not naturally white/beige. It is normally brown and only becomes lighter colored after a great deal of chemical processing. For this reason, we prefer to only use rawhide that is manufactured in the USA. We always supervise the dogs when they are given any natural chew to make sure that they do not try to swallow more than they should. These types of chews are edible, but intake should be limited.

Man-made hard chews

These are probably the most common chew toys for dogs and often the most durable. Our favorite in this category are the NylaboneÒ products. They come in various sizes, flavors and degrees of hardness for the puppy and adult dog that is a voracious chewer. Many NylaboneÒ products also help keep your dog’s teeth and gums clean and healthy. If your dog lacks enthusiasm toward his NylaboneÒ, try sanding the surface gently with some fine sandpaper. This will help release the flavor. Another alternative is to drill some holes in the bone that you fill with peanut butter.

Man-made soft chews

Some of the NylaboneÒ products fall in this category as do rope toys and many of other products. Basically, these are any soft toys the dog can chew with supervision. Remember, because they are soft, your dog will be able to destroy them with less effort. They may not be appropriate for voracious chewers, even when supervised.

Treat dispensing chew toys

The toys in this category not only give your dog something to chew, but they can also keep him very busy. The granddad in this category is The KongÒ. Made of a hard, natural rubber and available in different sizes, their unique shape makes them bounce in an unpredictable manner, and their hollow center allows them to be stuffed with goodies. A KongÒ stuffed with various size pieces of dog biscuit, kibble, or carrot can keep your dog busy and out of trouble.

Super Durable Chews

GoughNuts come in sizes for small dogs to big dogs and in a variety of shapes (donut, stick, ball and cannoli). They are floatable, cleanable, roll-able, chewable, recyclable, fun-able, and available at Green Acres! Designed and manufactured in the US, each GoughNut contains an internal, red indicator material. If you can see the red material the toy has been compromised and should be considered “unsafe” and disposed of or returned to GoughNuts for a replacement. GoughNuts is so confident that this will so seldom occur that their guarantee states “If your dog chews through the outside wear layer, Green or Black, to expose the indication layer, Red, GoughNuts will replace your toy.” You do need to pay for shipping, but that is a pretty impressive guarantee for a chew toy.

No matter what toy or toys you choose, show your dog you are interested in them. Play with them and he too will start to show an interest.

  1. Prevent your dog from learning it is acceptable to chew things other than his toys
  • Make sure your dog is confined in his crate or a puppy-proof room unless you can keep him under 100% supervision.
  • When he starts to chew something he is not supposed to, redirect him to one of his chew toys. Praise him when he chews his toy. Do not bring more attention to the dog by scolding him for chewing an inappropriate item. Also, reflect on how your dog got access to the item he was not supposed to have and what you can do to prevent future access.
  • If your puppy chews things such as cords, try spraying them with a product such as BitterÒ Apple or Bitter YUCK!™. These products have a very bitter taste which 99% of dogs find objectionable. Once the dog chews on a treated item, it will stop chewing because it tastes so bad. We do sell two brands because some dogs amazingly like the taste of this stuff.
  1. Once your dog is doing well, start to give him more access to your home while continuing to keep him under close supervision. If he starts chewing something he is not supposed to chew, trade him for a chew toy. Now that he has been trained to know what he can chew it will be easier to redirect his attention.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)

Especially for New Puppy Parents

©2016, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Training – Biting and Bite Thresholds

< Updated 28JUN18 >

If you are having problems with your puppy or dog biting, we strongly encourage you to contact us ( 207-945-6841 ) so that you can make an appointment to see us for a Help Now! session. If you are not in our service area, we suggest you visit the Pet Professional Guild Trainer Search page ( https://www.petprofessionalguild.com/Zip-Code-Search ) to locate a force-free trainer near you.

OBJECTIVE: To teach your dog to have a gentle bite that does not hurt, if he ever makes mouth contact with you or any other person.

No matter how much training you do and how gentle your dog is, under certain circumstances any dog can be provoked to bite. Biting is an act of defense for a dog; it is often an instinctual response to specific situations. There are a variety of reasons that a dog may bite and contrary to popular belief, few bites are committed by “aggressive” dogs.

All dogs have what is referred to as a bite threshold. A bite threshold can be either low, high or anywhere in between and is individual for every dog and will be variable depending on what else is happening in the dog’s environment at that particular time. The best way to think of this threshold is to equate it to the “snapping point” in people. Some individuals are more tense and quicker to react in a situation than others. Virtually everything going on in the world around them will contribute to where a dog is at that given moment in time in relation to their bite threshold.

Hypothetically, a dog with a very high threshold (less reactive) who is well socialized, well fed, well rested and just kicking back around the house playing a bit and being petted will typically be unlikely to bite the mailman, unless the simple presence of the mailman puts this dog over threshold. The same dog, that is hungry, tired from all of the company that has been visiting, sore from the extra exercise and whose routine has been completely thrown out of whack would be more likely to bite that same mailman. All of these factors play into where the individual dog is at on the continuum. As humans, this should be pretty easy to understand; if we have had a bad day and have a headache, we tend to be grumpier than usual. With this in mind, we believe that it is important to first help a dog learn to inhibit their bites before we work on teaching them to not bite at all. The ultimate goal is that if your dog is ever put in a situation where he/she feels a need to defend itself, it will inflict only a minimal amount of damage.

Bite Inhibition

We strongly discourage the use of traditional methods to teach puppies to not bite. These include, but are not limited to scruff shakes, cuffing the puppy under the chin, pinching their lips against their teeth and even the infamous “alpha wolf rollover” where you hold the dog down on their back. Often people find that when using these methods the puppy bites harder, becomes fearful of hands around its mouth and head and damages the trust the puppy has in its guardian. Aggression on our part results in more aggression from the puppy.

The 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines published by the American Animal Hospital Association states:

This Task Force opposes training methods that use aversive techniques. Aversive training has been associated with detrimental effects on the human–animal bond, problem solving ability, and the physical and behavioral health of the patient. It causes problem behaviors in normal animals and hastens progression of behavioral disorders in distressed animals. Aversive techniques are especially injurious to fearful and aggressive patients and often suppress signals of impending aggression, rendering any aggressive dog more dangerous.

Aversive techniques include prong (pinch) or choke collars, cattle prods, alpha rolls, dominance downs, electronic shock collars, lunge whips, starving or withholding food, entrapment, and beating. None of those tools and methods should be used to either teach or alter behavior.” [ emphasis added ]

The method we describe below works very differently. With this method you can minimize biting and any damage if your dog should ever be placed in a situation where it feels it has no choice but to bite.

Your puppy, even at its young age, has strong jaws and sharp teeth. As your puppy matures, its jaws will only become more powerful. An adult dog has jaws and teeth that are fully capable of ripping apart a carcass and cracking bones. Dogs developed such well-built apparatus because they needed them to survive in the wild.

Dogs are very social animals and because their jaws are such an incredible and potentially dangerous weapon, they have created a ritualized form of aggression to prevent serious injury to one another during altercations. Every puppy is born knowing how to bite; yet they do not automatically know how to bite softly. They can however learn to bite softly through their interactions with other puppies, dogs and us. However, learning how to control their bite with other dogs helps them with other dogs. If you want them to learn how to control their bite with people, you need to teach them.

When we see a litter of puppies playing, we see them exploring one another with their paws and their mouths. This play is fun for the puppies, but it is also an important part of learning. Much of their play involves biting one another. This play is part of how they acquire the skills necessary for ritualized aggression.

While puppies are playing with one another, they are also learning bite inhibition – how to control the strength of their bite. When two puppies are wrestling and one bites the other too hard, the puppy that has been bitten will yelp or snark and stop playing. The puppy that did the biting has just learned that if he bites too hard, his littermate stops playing with him. Eventually the one that was bitten too hard will return to play and the biting puppy will have learned to have a softer mouth. When we take a puppy away from its litter, we also are removing it from a school where it learns much about bite inhibition. If taken into a home without other dogs, and if its new people do not allow play biting, the puppy will no longer have opportunities to learn how to inhibit its bite. This is a huge issue for puppies that are taken from mom and the litter prior to reaching eight weeks of age.

Unfortunately, many outdated dog-training books actively discourage play biting. They infer that if the dog is allowed to play bite it will think of you as a littermate and will try to dominate you. In reality, play biting is an important part of your puppy’s development and something that should be worked with, not against, if you want your puppy to develop a soft mouth. Our goal is to teach the puppy to inhibit this natural canine behavior before they are adults and can cause serious injury.

It is also important to understand that “play biting” is a very different behavior than “chewing” While you dog uses their teeth as part of both behaviors one involves mouthing a living, breathing playmate that will react and interact while the other involves gnawing on an inanimate object that does not interact. This is why giving the dog a toy when they are play biting does not typically stop the play biting behavior.

Teaching Bite Inhibition

It is important to setup opportunities to teach your puppy bite inhibition instead of just trying to teach them when a bite happens. Pick times when the puppy is not all wound up but is more relaxed. If the puppy is in the midst of “the puppy zoomies*” when you try to teach this they are likely to bite harder and are less likely to learn.

*Puppy Zoomies – those times during the day, usually early morning and early evening, when your puppy runs around with great gusto and enthusiasm, almost as if they are possessed.

When teaching bite inhibition, you want to initially target the hard bites. Setup a play area for yourself and the puppy. Make sure that there is absolutely NOTHING in this area that the puppy can play with other than you. No other people, dogs, toys or anything they can mouth. Play with your puppy allowing him to mouth your hands while monitoring the pressure of his bites.

  1. When the puppy bites too hard, say “ouch” as if he really hurt you. This word will become the conditioned stimulus which the puppy learns to mean “playtime ends.” Note: you want to use the same word every time, as does everyone else in the family. Some puppies may be overly stimulated by a “yelp” so you may need to tone down the volume.
  2. Immediately stop play and get up and leave the area for 30 seconds. You must completely ignore the puppy. Do NOT look at, touch or speak to the puppy, just walk away. Make sure the puppy has no toys or other people they can interact with. We are teaching the puppy that when they bite too hard their friends leave and ALL of the fun in the universe comes to a screeching halt.
  3. After 30 seconds return and resume play. When the puppy eventually bites too hard again (and he most likely will), repeat steps 2 and 3.

The above cycle will need to be repeated several times for the puppy to learn. Every day or so you will reduce the amount of pressure you tolerate so that in time your puppy learns that you have very soft skin and he can only mouth you very gently. Think of this like the 1 to 10 pain scale used by doctors. On day one you yelp at 10, day two at 9, and so on. Be careful of moving to a soft pressure too quickly. If your criteria are too high, you are setting your puppy up to fail.

If you try teaching bite inhibition and it turns into the “puppy zoomies,” quietly and with much positive energy, pop your puppy in their crate for a brief timeout.

Some puppies will follow you and nip at your heels and clothes when you stop play. If this is the case, the bite inhibition exercises should be done with the puppy on a leash that is tethered to something like a table so the puppy cannot follow you.

The amount of time it takes your dog to learn how much pressure is okay will vary from dog to dog. The retrieving breeds generally pick this up quite quickly as they have been bred to have very soft mouths. Who wants to have their duck brought back all full of holesJ. On the flip side, it may take a bit more time to help your terrier become soft-mouthed.

Children should not participate in the bite inhibition training. While children and dogs often become the best of friends, young children frequently send dogs all the wrong signals. They scream, flail their limbs, run and fall down. All of these behaviors trigger your dogs hard-wired prey drive as they are essentially the same thing wounded prey would do. If the puppy gets too revved up, a timeout is necessary for both the puppy and the kids.

NOTE: If bite inhibition training was not started when your dog was a puppy (between 8 and 12 weeks), it may not work as well as you would like. If this is the case, please talk with one of the instructors for other ideas on handling biting issues.

Related Podcasts

Available as a podcast at: http://traffic.libsyn.com/woofmeowshow/WoofMeowShow-2013-01-12-TYDM_Playbiting_Chewing.mp3

 

©2018, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

In Memory of Gus (1991 – 2004)

Gus as a puppy with his first Kong
Gus as a puppy with his first Kong

It was 18 years ago yesterday, the Saturday before Easter, when Paula and I walked into a pet shop at the East Towne Mall in Madison, WI and met Gus for the first time. We had a new home and decided that it was time that we add a dog to our lives. We had been advised against getting a dog from a pet store; however, when we walked in we told ourselves we were “just looking.” Paula’s boss at the time, Dr. Warner, had recommended we consider getting a Cairn Terrier. Since neither of us had seen many Cairn’s we wanted to at least see if the store had one that we could look at.

At 12 weeks of age Gus was already extremely cute, with lots of personality. Food was a major focus even then. Out of all the caged puppies, Gus was the only one with his muzzle buried in his dish eating, while every other puppy was trying to get the attention of the people in the store. We played with Gus in the introduction room and he was very alert and very interactive with us. It was at that point that I started calling him Gus. He just looked and acted like a Gus to me. Gus had helped us reach the conclusion that a Cairn Terrier was the breed for us, but we left him in the store because we did not want to get a pet store puppy.

During the next week we visited two local Cairn breeders and were not impressed with the dogs they had available. One was clearly a puppy mill and the other breeder only had a 5 month old, who was a bit too high strung for our tastes. While she was going to have a litter in June or July, we were impatient and wanted a puppy sooner rather than later.

Gus as a puppy - first bath
Gus as a puppy – first bath

The following weekend we went to the Humane Society looking for a dog, butjust could not find that special dog for us. We decided to stop by the pet store to see if they had anything new. As we walked back to the puppy cages, we saw him. Gus, was still there, as cute as ever, and on sale! After another visit with him in the introduction room, we were hooked. Gus went home with us on April 6th, 1991.

We wanted to raise Gus properly, so we went home with a crate, the appropriate chew toys, and copies of those “bad” books we no longer recommend. Gus adapted quite well as Paula and I read all we could about how to have a great puppy. He was not terribly brave about new things, he barked at trees and the packages that UPS left on the deck, but did wonderfully with the neighbor children. He loved sitting on our laps and playing with his pink, squeaky, hedgehog. We would roll on the floor laughing when he would really get it squeaking and then stop and sing to it.

Gus’ was an AKC registered puppy, even though he did come from a puppy mill. As such, he we had the option of registering his official AKC name. We came up with Laird Gustav MacMoose, an appropriate sounding name for a dog of Scottish descent.

We recognized the importance of training and enrolled Gus in a puppy kindergarten class with the local kennel club. It was at our very first class that the instructor told me to “alpha roll” Gus because he was trying to be dominant, and that was why he was not paying attention to me. Not knowing any better I followed the instructor’s advice and instantly had a terrified puppy on his back, thrashing about, growling and showing his teeth. It was at that point the instructor told me I must now grab his muzzle firmly and hold that mouth shut. Stupidly following her advice I tried to do precisely that when Gus taught me his first lesson. As I reached to grab his muzzle, Gus quickly and firmly sunk his teeth in the palm of my hand, causing me to immediately let go as I dripped blood all over the floor.

Playing Tennis Ball with Gus
Playing Tennis Ball with Gus

Sadly, our first night in puppy class setback the relationship between Gus and me for some time. We both had to learn to trust one another again and one way we did that was with rousing games of fetch up and down the hallway. Gus loved retrieving tennis balls, and when Paula or I would get home from work he was ready to play. I had a friend who was a member of a tennis club, and they gave us a bag full of tennis balls which we presented to Gus out on the front lawn one afternoon. We dumped all of those balls out on the lawn and he became enraptured with all of the fun spread out before him.

Early on Gus also discovered the joy in stealing. It started with socks and other things from the laundry basket. He would snatch something and then parade up and down in front of us, tail held high, just hoping we would play his game and chase him. When we got smart and started ignoring this behavior, and keeping stuff off the floor, Gus started stealing from unsuspecting visitors. More than once we had a repair person in the house and Gus would come parading past us with a screwdriver, a box of matches or something else he had snagged out of their tool box.

I can still remember Gus’ first thunderstorm. He must have been between 16 and 18 weeks old and was trembling, and acting very afraid. Since I didn’t know better, I sat with him on the kitchen floor, holding him, petting him, and talking to him in soothing tones. We made it through the first storm and after that he was still reactive but no longer trembling. We had one of the few dogs who rather than trying to hide from the storm, wanted to kill it. He would run from one end of the house to the other, barking, trying to find whatever it was that was causing all the ruckus. Gus would do the same if here were outside except he would always be looking at the sky trying to find his quarry. Nothing seemed to resolve his desire to kill the storm, so our move to Maine, where storms are much less frequent, was a blessing. Gus continued to react to thunderstorms until he was treated with acupuncture for his epilepsy when the reactions just stopped. Whether there was a connection or not, we will never know.

Gus checks out a beer in the laundry basket
Gus checks out a beer in the laundry basket

Gus never missed a meal or the opportunity to snag something that looked remotely edible. As a puppy he would cache some of his kibble. We lived in a bi-level house, and he would put a piece of kibble in the corner of each stair. He also did the same with rawhides, trying the hide them in the cracks around the cushions in the chairs.

We brought Shed home in the fall of 1991, as a friend for Gus and as help in keeping the little monster in line. The two of them became fast friends and every evening after dinner Paula and I would sit in the living room and watch Gus and Shed romp and chase each other around the sofa. This became to be known as the “Puppy Races.”

Gus and Paula having a snooze
Gus and Paula having a snooze

We also spent many hours out in our sunroom in McFarland, Shed and Gus by our feet, Gus snagging a cranberry muffin right from my hands. Lap time was also good and Gus liked nothing better than “head nuggies.” What I know about dogs and dog behavior suggests that a dog should hate head nuggies, but Gus couldn’t get enough of them.

The following year we enrolled both Gus and Shed in training classes with Patricia McConnell in Middleton, The classes emphasized training through positive reinforcement and we were all having fun. Paula would work with Shed and I’d work with Gus. We took basic and advanced classes and both dogs did very well. The only exercise where Gus followed his natural instincts rather than my recall cue was when I had to call him through a patch of biscuits scattered all over the floor. He eventually came but not before scarfing up every biscuit.

In the fall of 1995 we moved to Maine, with Gus, Shed, Queenie, Paula’s mom and my mom and dad. Gus seemed to settle in quite well. I enrolled him in many of the Green Acres classes that were being taught by Kate with assistance from me. He eventually became a certified TDI therapy dog.

Gus and Don recognized in the Bangor Daily News for bring clicker training to Green Acres
Gus and Don recognized in the Bangor Daily News for bring clicker training to Green Acres

Gus and I learned another great training lesson in 1996 thanks to our friend Kate. Gus and I were in an Intermediate class which was being taught outside. I was learning to be a trainer and was desperate that he do well. I put him on a stay at one end of our training field, walked to the other end and asked him to come to me. Gus came but he didn’t run enthusiastically, he walked as slowly as he could. After the class Kate took me aside and suggested that I needed to “lighten up.” She suggested I stop the training with Gus and just have some fun with him. That was the last formal training class Gus was in and we spent more time just playing fetch. I did teach him some “silly” tricks later with the clicker and he had a blast. Thanks to Kate and thanks to Gus I started on my path of learning to accept dogs for their unique personalities.

Gus still loved retrieving tennis balls, although due to my mistake in early training he was always a “two ball” dog. You had to show him you were going to throw the ball in your hand before he would give the ball in his mouth. He would have retrieved balls down in the field to the point of exhaustion and actually did so in great pain one day. He just kept going and we had no idea the little guy had broken his toe until a few days later.

On December 23rd, 1997 Gus had his first Grand Mal seizure and we begin our journey learning about epilepsy and how to treat it. If Gus were a human he would have been into extreme sports. He never did anything half way. When he had his bladder stone, it was huge, his epileptic seizures were all to the extreme. They were extreme in duration and grew to be extreme in frequency. At first, each one was frightening to Paula and me, but as we began to understand the disease we also became somewhat desensitized and learned to cope.

Dr. Mark Hanks giving Gus an acupuncture treatment
Dr. Mark Hanks giving Gus an acupuncture treatment

When conventional allopathic medicine did not bring Gus the relief we were looking for we began to explore alternatives. Paula went to a veterinary homeopathy seminar and we took Gus to Dr. Tobin for a consult. We continued to explore homeopathy at more seminars, treatments with Dr. Loops, and then treatments with Dr. Herman. We’d see some improvement for awhile, but never to the point where the seizures would stop. We tried acupuncture with Dr. Hanks and actually went about 6 weeks without a seizure. All of us were so optimistic we had Mark install gold beads at the acupuncture points to provide continuous stimulation, but a few weeks later the seizures returned to their quite regular, ten day frequency.

The last year of Gus’ life we also started to see some cognitive dysfunction. He would get confused and wasn’t as playful. He dearly loved to snuggle with Paula and would wake her up sometimes as early as 4AM to go out. She’d let him out and then they’d snuggle on the couch until the rest of us got up.

Gus lived with epilepsy for six years but during his last month his seizures started to get worse. He started to have cluster seizures and need Valium to get them to stop. His cognitive dysfunction was getting worse and more and more he seemed physically exhausted. Sadly I was away on July 10th, when it was clear the time had come. Our vet and friend Dr. Hanks helped Gus over the Rainbow Bridge in our family room, with Paula at his side.

In Memory of Gus
In Memory of Gus

Gus inspired me to start to learn about dog training and his behavioral quirks caused me to delve deeply into the idiosyncrasies of canine behavior. His unusual and frequent health problems were the reasons that Paula and I both started to explore complementary and alternative healthcare, to the benefit of Gus, ourselves and many others. Gus, you played with us, teased us, frustrated us, and loved us. You made us laugh and you made us cry, and taught us countless lessons about dogs, health and life. You enriched and influenced our lives in countless ways. You were “one of a kind” and will be sorely missed and always remembered lovingly. We patiently wait for the day we can all be reunited and once more we can give you the head “nuggies” you so loved. Like Toto to Dorothy, Gus was our companion on the road to our own personal and very wonderful Oz, Green Acres Kennel Shop. Thank you!

 

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>