Of course you do, we all do. There are two things that nobody likes about puppies: lack of bodily function control and lack of self-restraint when it comes to chewing. I don’t claim to be some kind of dog magician, but I’m proud to say that Wally was, overall, a very non-destructive puppy.
Here’s my advice to new puppy owners (or folks bringing home an adult dog) who would like to keep their Jimmy Choos unchewed.
Understand why dogs chew
My friend Emma made an excellent point that I didn’t address in the initial publication of this article: dogs love to chew! It’s a natural source of pleasure for the majority of dogs, so all dog owners should consider chewing to be a natural behavior that requires simple management to prevent it from becoming a problem behavior. Also know that chewing is good for canine dental health; it’s how a dog “brushes” his teeth.
There are three other reasons why a puppy will chew: boredom, teething discomfort, and stress. Knowing this will help you create an environment that addresses or prevents those things, thereby setting you and your puppy up for success.
Puppy-proof your house
Everybody tells you to do this before puppy comes home and for good reason. Puppies will chew on everything that fits in their mouth, including (but not limited to) electrical cords, furniture legs, DVD cases, books, toothpicks, coins, clothing, and dental retainers (Wally’s major sin). They will get into everything they can reach and most likely destroy it.
Start out with one or two rooms in the house (no puppy should get full run of the house); your puppy shouldn’t be anywhere unsupervised anyway so pick the rooms where you spend the most time. Pick up everything, cover cords, and get down on all fours to make sure you didn’t miss anything. You may want to tape down rug corners or completely block off sections of the room, such as the entertainment center. Set up a puppy safe-zone, such as an x-pen or crate with a cozy bed and goodies to chew on.
If the puppy does chew on something that’s your fault, so be the responsible adult and keep an eye on the baby of the house. Dogs aren’t born knowing house rules so you must (gently) train them in the ways of human order. The best way to do this is to prevent mistakes in the first place! Get into the habit of visually checking the puppy every 5min or so and always keep him in the same room as you. You can try the umbilical leash method, which many people use with success (I’ve never tried it). If you can’t keep a visual or have him in the room then he should be in a crate or x-pen with some chewies. This watchfulness is also a key to housebreaking.
There are lots of behaviors that can make your life easier when you have a puppy, but these were my own favorites: leave it/Doggie Zen (why Wally is the only BT on Earth who doesn’t steal food), watch, down, wait, go to your mat/place. All of these teach focus and self-control. Another crucial lesson is bite inhibition, which is not only essential for human interaction but will also make your puppy more self-aware regarding his mouth.
If your puppy does chew on something inappropriate you should gently remove the object and replace it with something tasty like a bully stick. Remember that even past one year of age dogs are still puppies mentally and are still learning an entirely foreign cultural standard. You would expect some kindness and instruction on cultural expectations if you moved to China; it’s the same with your puppy learning how to live in People Land. Imagine how anxious you would get if Chinese people never told you the rules and just smacked you every time you unknowingly did something wrong! You might even forget a few times, even after you know the rules, lapsing into the habits of your original culture.
Provide chew toys
This is a no brainer! There should be so many wonderful or delicious things for your puppy to play with and chew on that a real leather Italian loafer is ho-hum. From day one Wally had endless hooves to chew on (literally, I bought them in bulk) and I attribute this to the low number of destruction incidents. He also loves the Buster Cube because it’s both mentally stimulating and has a tangible reward of food. Try lots of different toys to see which ones your puppy likes and which ones are safe for him; a dog that loves to chew will need tough toys and greater supervision to prevent swallowing of parts. Also avoid toys that resemble or smell like things you do NOT want your dog to chew on, such as items that smell strongly of you, are made of leather, or stuffed toys that look like your kids’ favorite fluffy.
Chew toys: hooves, bully sticks, jerky
Food toys: Buster Cube, Go Cat Go Play’N’Treat (great for small dogs), various puzzle toys (require supervision as they’re very chewable), Kong
Play toys: rubber rings, ropes (with fuzzy ends cut off), stuffed animals, etc
Wear out the mind and body
They say a tired puppy makes a happy household, which is dead-on true. A tired puppy sleeps instead of playing chase with your new compression socks or eating a box of crayons. Puppies under the age of one require careful exercise, however, since their growing bodies can be easily damaged or injured, so never force your puppy to exercise. Play instructional games like “puppy chase me,” which will one day turn into “come.” You can also work on balance by having him walk a 2×6 board raised about 1” off the ground or even using Happy Legs (which would also teach stacking). Short walks are fine, just keep an eye out for signs of fatigue, and puppy play dates are always a good idea.
Mental workouts are just as exhausting for a puppy as a physical one, another reason to begin training on day one! With a clicker you can easily teach a puppy a huge number of behaviors, just remember to keep sessions to 5min or less and always very positive. While group obedience classes should wait until 12-16 weeks of age, you can always start private lessons right away.
One day this too shall pass. One day you’ll be able to leave your dog loose in the house when you run to the grocery store. One day you’ll be free to leave your dirty underwear on the floor without worrying about the dog chewing out the crotch. The process could take months, even years! Some dogs may never be truly trustworthy, and that’s OK. Just practice good management and everybody will be happy.