Chewers Gonna Chew: Dog Beds (and more) for the Problem Chewer

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Your canine companion sees her dog bed as a big, plush chew toy (you stopped counting after the third replacement). Sure, it’s comfy for napping. But it’s also deliciously satisfying and a joy to shred.

I’ll see your dog bed and raise you a car: I once left my sweet adult Siberian Husky girl in the back of a brand new SUV to run into the market for ten minutes. I returned to find her swimming in a sea of blue foam chunks that had been the car’s back seat only moments earlier, a tongue-lolling grin on her face and tail all a-wag.

My dog ate my car. In ten minutes.

To say nothing of what she and her three Husky accomplices mangled over a period of about fifteen years, including thousands of dollars’ worth of books and book bindings, several pieces of furniture and furniture parts, a few human shoes, various small objects, the top section of an entire door, and many, many dog beds all told. That’s no small amount of destruction, and I mainly have my own ignorance and inexperience to thank for it.

Would that I had known then what I know now. My life with dogs has taken comedic and tragic plot twists spanning more than three decades during which time I’ve observed two absolutes: first, dogs chew—it’s what they do, and you can’t change that about them. Second, all chewing is not normal chewing. It’s on you to observe your dog’s habits and figure out what’s going on; she might need professional help. And a chew-proof dog bed and appropriate toys are no-brainers: they’ll save you grief and money in the long run, to say nothing of potentially keeping your dog safe from harm.

Sink Your Teeth into This: Recognizing Normal Dog Chewing Habits
Experts say that chewing in curiosity-seeking puppies and young dogs is normal; exploration and learning happens through the mouth and the nose. Like human babies, puppies also chew during teething, maybe to facilitate the eruption of adult teeth, maybe for pain relief. And juvvies use playful, active chewing to displace energy—in some dogs, Labs and other sporting breeds for example, this kind of chewing actually escalates over a couple of years into adulthood before it finally resolves.

Chewing has other benefits. It keeps the jaws strong and the teeth clean in adult dogs. It combats boredom and relieves mild anxiety. Wild and domesticated dogs have spent hours chewing bones and sticks for thousands of years. In short, canines are made to chew. But when and how does normal chewing devolve into dysfunctional chewing? And how can you fix it? You should not have to replace her bed and your stuff again and again.

Houston, we have a problem: the dog ate her bed. And a whole lot more.
While destructive chewing in adult dogs is attributable to varied pathologies, experts agree that its overarching cause is stress. Dogs experience it as do we, for so many reasons: separation anxiety, teasing, confinement under duress, calorie-restricted hunger, thunderstorms or fireworks, and sometimes just plain boredom and excess energy. Our canine companions can’t tell us in words how they feel. But they can and will whine, bark, pace, and pee and poop where they shouldn’t. And some will respond to stress by chewing like crazy.

Some dogs also engage in fabric sucking, where they obsessively lick, suck, or chew at textiles. (The dog bed is a perfect vehicle for this behavior.) Nobody really understands its cause, although some experts believe it results from premature weaning in puppies. A chew-resistant dog bed is a good start. But without intervention fabric sucking and chewing can become compulsive, and the only remedy is professional help from a reputable dog behaviorist.

Will Work For Kibble: Solutions for Your Chewing Chum
It’s bad enough when your adult dog destroys your stuff, but maddening when he also tears up things you’ve gifted him. Like his squeaky plush toys. And his snazzy new dog bed. Why can’t he be reasonable and use these loving gifts of comfort as they were intended? Putting human emotions and expectations on your dog will fail because he is, well, a dog. Consider some wisdom from veterinarians and dog behaviorists:

• Start with a chew-proof dog bed: your problem chewer will not get positive feedback when he can’t shred it. Also consider using a bitter spray deterrent for upholstery and other desirables; the market is flush with these products. Spray a small amount onto a cotton ball and place it in your dog’s mouth; he will explore it with his tongue before spitting it out, and may even gag or retch. He will negatively associate the taste and smell of the spray with this first experience, hopefully deterring him from mouthing other objects you’ve treated with it.

• Make him earn his keep. Stave off boredom with puzzle toys or food-for-work toys, where kibble can be hidden inside. You can include his daily ration as part of this mentally stimulating and satisfying play.

• Exercise him. A lot. While dogs do require more sleep than humans, they may also need more exercise; a quick walk is not enough—take him for a run with you, if it’s in your own daily practice. And vigorous, off-leash play and socializing with other dogs is ideal: a tired dog is a good dog. You could even consider an agility training course—he’ll be tested both physically and mentally, and both of you will have a blast.

• Give him toys, but observe his habits to determine the best kind for him, and rotate them often. My German Shepherd routinely eviscerated any kind of plush toy I handed him within about fifteen minutes. I stopped buying them and instead gave him antlers and tough rubber toys and marrow bones where I could hide peanut butter. These provided hours of satisfying chewing at no risk to him. (Keep in mind that when any kind of chew toy is damaged or reduced to a size that can cause choking, it’s time to pitch it.)

• Crate training is a must from the get-go, but use this excellent tool properly: the crate should feel safe and secure for your dog, not punitive. And six hours is the maximum a dog should be crated if you must be away. Alternately, confine your dog to a safe, easy-to-clean room in the house with a barrier gate—the mudroom or kitchen is ideal.

Experts agree: avoid handing your dog an old shoe or shoes to chew. She can’t tell the difference between your worn out kicks and your Prada flats, and each of them possesses your reassuring smell. And if she does destroy your Pradas (or the back seat of your car), resist punishing her, tempting though it is; unless you were standing right over her when it happened or caught her in the act, she won’t understand your anger. Instead, take away the verboten object with a firm “Uh-Oh!” replace it with something sanctioned, and then praise her liberally for chewing the correct thing. Spanking or muzzling your adult dog for destructive chewing is ineffective and cruel.

Learn more about the differences between normal and problem chewing and what to do about them from your vet or dog behaviorist. Always seek obedience training for a new puppy, and consult a specialist if your dog’s problem chewing escalates beyond what you can reasonably do to help her.

Remember: chewers gonna chew—you might say it’s the nature of the beast.

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