If you have a puppy, you probably already have a couple chewed-up pairs of shoes, or a part of your rug missing. It's no secret that puppies like to use their teeth to tear things apart! Rest assured, there are some ways to minimize the damage your puppy does during their early puppyhood.
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Why all the chewing?!
It definitely helps to have some empathy and understanding during this stage of your puppy's development. Just like babies, puppies go through a painful teething process. When your puppy is 3-4 months of age, their baby teeth start falling out to make room for their adult teeth, which finish coming in around 6 months old. That means you get 3 whole months of teething puppy!
You know your puppy is teething if they're excessively drooling, chewing on hard and cold objects, bleeding on their toys or chews, and generally being more "bitey" and cranky. During this phase, it's important to take your deep breaths, recognize that your puppy is in pain, and follow these steps.
Management: give your dog a "bedroom"!
Ensure your puppy is set up for success with their very own "bedroom"! We don't recommend an actual bedroom (as dogs are social animals and like to be included in the family fun), but rather a safe space like a playpen, or crate. Having this space will prevent your puppy from chewing on your favorite rug, your expensive couch, or your sentimental decorations. A puppy with unsupervised free rein of the house could get seriously hurt chewing on toxic plants, electrical cords, or even sharp objects.
Everything in your puppy's bedroom should be safe for them to chew. They're only brought out of their bedroom when you can directly interact with and supervise them. Ensure your living room or house is cleaned up as much as possible. No enticing contraband (like the remote control) should be left at puppy's reach. This is the easiest way to prevent troublesome destructive behavior.
Enrichment: satisfy the need to chew!
Providing ample dog toys and bones will sooth your puppies sore gums and teach them what's appropriate to chew! We recommend keeping an eye on what types of items your puppy tends to target.
If they're chewing on the cold, steel leg of your dining room chair, then they want something really hard and cold to sooth their gums. To satisfy this need, you can freeze Kongs or chew toys and add them to the playpen.
If they're after shoes then they might want a a softer toy or bone that gives a little bit. In this case, rubber Kongs and Toppls work well or bones like bully sticks and no-hide chews.
Also, be sure to provide plenty of mental stimulation in their playpens by putting their meals in puzzle toys! We love using snufflemats, Kong Wobblers, and slow feeders to feed puppies their meals. It's important that our puppies love their bedrooms since they'll be spending so much time there!
Training: be on the lookout for good choices!
While this is a normal phase of development, chewing on inappropriate items can become a learned habit that lasts a lifetime. This happens because dogs realize that chewing shoes and remote controls is so much fun and it gets the whole family chasing them! Meanwhile, chewing their own toys gets them ignored for the most part.
So what can we do about that? Switch it up! Anytime your puppy is chewing the right thing (their toy, their puzzle, their bone) be sure to praise heavily! Get down on the floor, play tug-of-war, chase them, have a blast! You can even throw treats at them if you're not in the mood to play. Do whatever you can to reinforce that good choice from your learning puppy!
If your puppy is chewing an inappropriate object (because they were out of their bedroom and you stopped watching them for just a second!) be sure to take a deep breath first. If possible, ignore the behavior, walk away, grab one of their toys and just start playing by yourself until they get interested enough to join you.
If the item is dangerous for them to chew or very valuable to you, then grab a handful of treats and start counting them out on the floor out loud (one, two, three...) to however many it takes for your puppy to come over to you and eat the treats while you take the contraband away. The Counting Game was coined by Chirag Patel and is a great way to begin teaching "drop it" or "leave it". Whatever you do, don't chase them for the item or wrestle it out of their mouth! You'll either be reinforcing stealing items with a great game of chase or you could create resource guarding.
Remember, if you focus your efforts on management, enrichment, and reinforcing what you like, then you'll very rarely have to do treat trades!