Why and What Does My Dog Need to Chew?


With rare exception, dogs need to chew like birds need to fly and kangaroos need to hop. It’s part of who they are. Accepting that will save you huge headaches, property destruction and veterinary bills.

Dogs need to chew. So we provide appropriate outlets for what is a perfectly normal doggy behavior. People who live with a creature with a set of predator-style choppers need to plan accordingly, you know?

Here is how to figure out what to give your dog:

  1. A good rule of thumb(nail): Choose items softer than your dog’s teeth. Your ability to supervise, your veterinarian, and your dog’s chew style together determine the best items, which should be soft enough to leave an indentation with your thumbnail, but not so soft pieces can be torn or chewed off.
  2. Don’t believe the packaging. The package may say “safe,” “dental,” “natural…” There are many very popular products sold in stores and online that are a very bad idea because they are harder than your dog’s teeth. Skip them, I beseech you. Exhibit A on what can happen when you fall for the claims on the package (as I once did!).
  3. Toss worn toys that get the outer surface shaved off so that bigger chunks or the ends can be eaten. The two center-most toys in the photo above are past due and should be thrown out (in fact, I fished one of them out of the trash to take the photo, which is gross, but now you know my level of passion for your dog’s chew needs).

The orange Bionic toy on the far left in the photo is one of the few things I’ve found that is softer than teeth that my large, super chewy dog can dig into and not bite chunks off of. The Squirrel Dude and Chuckle from Premier work for him, as does a stuffed Kong. The softer, nubby toy pictured on the far right is usually a good one to try (for a dog less like a T-rex).

Stay away from sticks, rocks, metal, plastic, bones, glass, horns, petrified cheese, antlers, old coffee table legs, ice cubes, corn cobs. You get the picture.

If you think your tiny puppy or new young dog has outgrown the chewing phase, read this.

And if you don’t already, consider brushing your dog’s teeth. It’s pretty easy (your vet will show you), many dogs need it only a few times a week, and it is a great way to make sure your dog’s mouth is in good shape without risking fractures from sketchy toys. Something to chew on.

Dogs on the Furniture, Oh Dear!

If you have a dog, you have probably had a furniture issue at some point. Maybe you’ve had trouble keeping your dog off the furniture when you’re using it, keeping him off it when you’re not at home to supervise, teaching him to use only a particular piece of furniture, trying to get him out from under the furniture, or keeping the furniture free of hair, not to mention free of teeth. We like our dogs, we like our furniture, and sometimes these two things together create problems.

In terms of teaching your dog rules about getting on the furniture, you have many choices. I provide a few options below, plus their effects on your furniture. Whichever way you decide to go, your dog will be neither deprived nor ruined. Just be consistent. Regular readers will recognize the recurring theme of preventing dog behavior you don’t want and rewarding behavior you do want:

Allowing your dog access to any piece of furniture, anytime

Training difficulty: Pretty easy to teach once they figure out how comfy it is up there. And no, allowing your dog on the furdogpileniture will not make him dominant, homicidal, or spoiled. But if you have a new dog or puppy, I do not recommend starting with this. That’s simply because you don’t know each other yet and you haven’t had the chance to establish any boundaries and rules. To help your dog develop into a polite family member, it is best to make sure your dog listens well, understands boundaries, and has the training and self-control skills that are important to you. Once that’s established, you’ll be able to make more places and activities available. I also recommend teaching a simple cue to get your dog off the furniture in case your Aunt Betty would like to have a seat. To teach that, say your cue word like “off,” then pat your leg to encourage your dog down. If he’s reluctant, say the cue then bowl a dog biscuit away from the couch. He’ll soon respond to the cue and hand motion that went with bowling the treat.

Keep in mind: If your dog growls or otherwise threatens people when he’s on the couch or bed, he is not a good candidate for this option. He is likely guarding the bed or anticipating being touched. Get professional help with any underlying pain or anxiety.

Furniture consequences: Hair, drool, claw marks, hair, odor, hair. Use a throw blanket that you can launder and easily remove when you have guests.

Keeping your dog off your furniture, all the time

Training difficulty: This is the second easiest option to teach, because it is one of the least confusing (“never” is pretty straight-forward!). If you have a dog with back pain or who is recovering from surgery, your veterinarian may tell you furniture is off-limits to your dog.

The idea here is to a) prevent furniture climbing and b) reward lying elsewhere (like the floor or a dog bed). It is incredibly useful to have an exercise pen handy for this. I find it speeds the transition for a new puppy or dog tremendously. Even if you don’t have an x-pen (as they are called for short), make sure your pooch has a chewy down on the floor before he is tempted to get on the couch. If he likes to lie down on a very soft surface, provideLyingbesideCouch him a cushy dog bed so the couch won’t tempt him as much. Initially you can tether him to a heavy piece of furniture within range of the dog bed (provided you’ll be present). If you do this whenever you are seated on the sofa, at the computer, or at the table, you will condition him to occupy himself quietly at those times. If you are consistent, it will become a habit for him.

To prevent him from leaping onto the sofa when you first enter the room, have him drag a lightweight line or light leash for a week or so. Be ready to step on the line to prevent him bolting for the couch, and then direct him to his bed or place near the couch he can work on his chew toy.

If you are already seated and he enters the living room, be ready; don’t wait to see what he’s going to do next. Call him to you with a treat held down near the floor. You can also teach him to nose touch—-ask him to do that before he has a chance to consider the couch. Try having your dog do a couple of sits and downs to help him get the ants out of his pants before encouraging him onto his dog bed and tethering with a chewy. You can also imagine you are a soccer goalie, and physically block the couch with your body. Slide or move left and right if your dog tries to get by you (no need to say anything, it will just distract him). Many dogs get the message after a few attempts and decide it’s less trouble just to lie beside the couch.

During the training process, which depending on the dog might be a couple of weeks or less, prevent access to the furniture when you can’t supervise. Crate your dog, close the living room door, or use baby gates to prevent access.

Furniture consequences: Your guests will hardly know you have a dog.IMG_1359

Allowing your dog one piece of furniture

Training difficulty:  This is the trickiest option to teach. Follow the guidelines for never being allowed on the furniture, but with the following exception: Teach your dog to ask for permission to get up on the allowed piece of furniture. Have him sit, and release with “Ok!” as you pat the sofa. Just to keep things clear (which always smoothes the training process) make sure he never gets on the designated couch or chair without permission at first. Self-control and manners first, then furniture time.

Furniture consequences: Most of your furniture will be hairless, except of course for the chair he’s allowed up on. Consider using metal cookie trays spread out on the off-limits pieces in your absence (store them under the cushions) until he’s in the habit of using only the chair you’ve selected.

I don’t recommend booby-trapping furniture. I know of dogs who have become wary of the entire living room as a result, or fearful of whomever was standing nearby when they were spooked, which are much bigger problems than a little dog hair. Just use a throw blanket and call it a day.

Housetraining Hint #4–last one!

It is time to wrap up the weekly series of housetraining hints. I had a few tips in mind, but it became obvious which one to share when a big issue came up several times in training appointments this past week. The trouble rears its head when you think you are a roll; house training is going well overall, yet you continue to find occasional puddles or piles your dog has left behind. If this is what you’ve been going through, then this hint is for you:

Until your dog is house trained, do not allow her to roam unsupervised indoors.wolfpeeing

That means your dog should be outdoors being praised the moment she finishes doing her business, indoors in her crate, or indoors under your direct supervision. This means you can see her every moment and you know exactly what she is doing between potty opportunities. If you get involved with your kids, your other dog, a phone call, or your computer, your dog can slip behind a piece of furniture, into the next room or find a little-used room (like a guest room or the dining room) to relieve herself.

Contrary to popular belief, she is not being sneaky, rather, she is trying to keep the areas in which you eat and socialize clean by going off to do her business. Don’t put her in that position and create housetraining problems. Make sure you can see her, so that if she gets restless and you suspect she may need to go, you can quickly get her outside to continue to build on success. In order to watch her closely enough, you may need to close doors, use baby gates or an exercise pen, or tether her near you with a chew toy to keep her busy. It’s a small, and very temporary, inconvenience for the peace of mind you’ll have knowing you’re on your way to a house trained dog.