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Puppy Training 101: Destructive Chewing


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So you've got your first puppy. Such a sweet little angel; slept the whole way home from the shelter. First night perhaps your puppy cried a bit, but you were able to calm them down. Your puppy even peed outside twice, and only had one accident. It's off to a great start. Until....


The destructive puppy behaviors begin. Lamp cords are chewed. Laptop cables are hunted like a prize trophy. Socks and slippers are ruthlessly annihilated. Furniture legs are attacked. Your sweet puppy has transformed into a combination of a wood chipper and a tornado.




Puppy Behavior: Treat Puppy Chewing as a Murder

Just like any murder, the destruction your puppy is wreaking is facilitated by both opportunity and motive. We simply eliminate both and we are able to eliminate the havoc.





Motive: What is Causing Your Puppy's Chewing Behavior

While there is no such thing as a bad puppy, their behavior is definitely a negative. but what is causing your new puppy to chew through your house like termites through an abandoned house? Let's break it down.


1. Exploration - Puppies, like their juvenile human equivalents, use all five of their senses to explore their world. Think about how babies and toddlers put everything in their mouth. Puppies are more mobile, and thus, have more ways to explore and figure out their surroundings.


2. Boredom - If left with nothing better to do, they of course they will find something to amuse themselves. And maybe you did indeed leave them something to play with, but they are no longer interested in what's become "normalized" playthings. There's no mystery left in them.


3. Anxiety - Ever chew your nails when you're nervous or anxious?


4. Teething - Between the ages of 3 months to 6 months, your puppy is losing their teeth. What may have began as exploration with their mouths has turned into ferocious gnawing to help work those teeth free and erupt their adult teeth. This gets especially hard core between 4.5 to 5.5 months old.




Opportunity: Your Puppy's Prize is Attainable

In dog world, there is no such thing as something that you're not supposed to be chewing on. Either someone else is claiming it (the dog currently eating their food) or they aren't (the stick that's up for grabs). The concept of a "forever" claim is rather abstract for a dog. Remember, dogs have only been living indoors with us for less than 100 years. Opportunity exists when:


1. Your puppy is not adequately attended and left with too many options; or


2. Your new puppy may have not been set up for success by having their questions answered, or as I refer to it, Piloting them. More on that in a minute.


From Puppy Behavior to Dog Behavior


Now is the time to set your puppy up for the behaviors you want them to have as an adult. You are taking natural puppy behavior and marking it with either a negative or a positive. Catching those behaviors is how you train a puppy not to chew on things, and help them understand what is appropriate to chew on.


Most of the motives behind your puppy chewing, if left unresolved, will follow them into adult dog behaviors.

Similar to kids who are never given guidance growing up into adults who are assholes, puppies are the same way.




Kids and puppies are meant to put out feelers in all directions to find out from the rest of society what is acceptable behavior.

Behavior tolerated is behavior encouraged.

And now you have a much bigger problem of a full grown dog who chews everything. So it's imperative to start training your puppy and guide your puppy towards behaviors that are positive, while gently negating negative behaviors.


How to Stop Your Puppy From Chewing


It all goes back to preventing a chewing murder spree: eliminate both the opportunity and motive and your furniture will survive. So let's break it down.


Removing the Motives for Puppy Chewing:

Back to our original list of motives for chewing, and their resolutions:


1. Exploration - Provide your puppy with new and safe adventures. It can be leashed walking through the neighborhood, or if your dog is not feeling safe enough yet, a leashed walk through the house.


During this walk, randomly hide some of their usual toys. Help them find these toys, and give tons of positives when they do. You are not only helping them learn to find appropriate toys to chew on, but are providing the framework to give your puppy mental work. Learn how you can provide your puppy even more mental exploration in this link.


2. Boredom - All of your puppies usual toys are just that: usual. Now I'm not saying that you need to go out and buy your puppy even more toys, because they will just become background noise at some point as well. So let's use the toys you have more effectively. Find out how in this link.


3. Anxiety - Anxiety is not always bad. Anxiety is merely either positive or negative (positive anxiety is hoping someone liked the birthday present you gave them, whereas negative anxiety is waiting for the dentist to start on that root canal). Either form is a basis for chewing, helping to channel that nervous energy.


Anxiety is defined as "fear of the unknown". Your puppy is of course filled with anxiety, some negative and some positive.

To work through these anxieties, Piloting your new puppy is a must. Simply put, Piloting is answering their questions, which for a full grown dog may be as varied as, "Do I need to attack that other dog?" to "Can I jump on you?" or "Can we go for a walk now?". Those questions may be answered with: No, No and Yes.


The question your puppy is asking is "Can I chew on this?". If it's their deer antler, then absolutely. If your puppy is chewing on your shoes, then the answer is "No". The more often they get a positive on specific thing, the more likely they are to actively choose what's appropriate.


So while you can't negate everything that's inappropriate, by negating what is inappropriate chewing as it occurs, and actively marking positives on appropriate chewing, your puppy will start heading towards the reliable positive items to chew on rather than something they aren't sure about.


Read more about Piloting your dog in this link, and learn how to answer their questions here.


4. Teething - Yeah...my favorite. Your puppy is hard wired to work those teeth loose. So it's necessary to allow them to do so.



Fortunately, out of all the reasons your puppy is chewing and destroying things, this is one that will eventually resolve itself. But just because they will eventually stop teething, why not help them through this ordeal?


Provide many different types of safe teething toys. From toys with squeakers (provided they don't shred them) to marrow bones and deer antlers, the more textures and tactile experiences they can have, the more likely they are able to scratch the itch they have.


Here are some of my favorite toys for teething:



Best for Hard Core Chewers: Arwen's favorite toy during her chewing period. She'll still randomly grab it and whale on it.


Best for Anxious Chewers: Although I got Ellis as an adult, he still will self-soothe in stressful situations with this toy.




Best for Sensitive Dogs: Not all chewers are power chewers. Some enjoy sensory input of plushy toys or crinkly toys. Here are two of my favorites.







Opportunity for Your Puppy to Destroy


Again, it's a murder, and opportunity and motive and both components. So let's figure out where your puppy is having opportunities to chew.


Addressing the Opportunities for Puppy Chewing


1. Puppy supervision. Having your puppy roaming free while you "keep an eye on them" is never going to work. You will lose focus and no matter how diligently you keep your eye on them, they will slip through and find something to destroy.


Either actively supervise you puppy's playtime and answer their questions as they go to investigate things such as power cords and furniture, or have them in a safe, confined area. Gated playpens are a wonderful compromise between destruction and crating your puppy nonstop. Think they're too expensive? Ask yourself which is more expensive, the playpen or your new sofa.


Here are two of my favorites:




2. Piloting Your Puppy's Behaviors. Use the Piloting techniques I outline in this link to negate or confirm your puppy's chewing choices.


Example: you are in the kitchen supervising your puppy as they explore and roam. Your puppy immediately pounces on a table leg and starts to gnaw. You need to mark the behavior as a negative.



Don't just replace the table leg with a toy, you need to let them know that the table leg is a negative.

You simply gently negate your puppy's behavior before replacing it with a positive item to chew on.


However, if your puppy is roaming the kitchen (under your watchful eye), skips over the chair legs and pounces on their Kong and starts tearing into it, you want to mark that behavior with a positive.



Make sure your puppy knows that what they just did deserves a positive. This help them build good choices in the future. In other words, your puppy chose wisely, but do they know that?

I always say to my clients, "Is your puppy doing well? Do they know that?"

Learn how to give a positive correctly here.


Eliminating the Puppy's Chewing Murder Spree By Addressing Motive and Opportunity



Redirecting your puppy's behavior alone doesn't address the issue that they still don't know chewing on the furniture is unacceptable. However, not marking your puppy's positive behaviors when they choose wisely doesn't set them up for making wise choices in the future. By addressing your puppies motivations for chewing as well as their eliminating their opportunities to pick inappropriate items, you are setting up your puppy for success as well as creating the basis for a calmer, happier dog.



Dog Training vs. Dog Life


By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.



But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.



Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.



Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.



Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?



border collie dog

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio

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