My puppy won’t stop chewing

The Maasai tribes of Africa have a fascinating foundation to their religion and culture: they believe that all cows on earth belong to the Maasai. For example, if they saw that another village had cattle, they assumed that an ancestor must have lost the cows, and they would plan a raid to reclaim them.

Our puppy, Otis, appears to have a similar belief system: he believes everything on earth is for him to chew.

Otis eating a stuffed carrot
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The culprit, with carrot

Well, all right, not everything. He usually fixates on a few things at a time. Right now it's socks and toilet paper. Last week it was milk bottles and envelopes. Before that it's been bags, belts, books, boots, bottles, cardboard, carpeting, couches, doors, eyeglasses, fingers, magazines, pencils, pet beds, pillows, printer paper, power cords, sheets, slippers, sneakers, sticks, sunglasses, coffee tables, tea towels, watches, wires, and yarn balls.

He's been a dictionary of destruction.

He even chewed a hole in the tile floor in the kitchen. That one took some gumption. I guess we're not getting that pet deposit back.

A hole in a tile floor, caused by a dog
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I wasn't kidding.

We call it his ‘numming’ problem, as in, after we correct him, he must be thinking, “Aww, I thought it was for numming.”

Before I continue…

I should clarify that he's not a bad dog. Otis is very sweet, has a great temperament, is quite smart, and plays well with other people, children, and dogs. It's because he's otherwise such a good dog that his constant chewing is all the more frustrating.   

No, it's not teething

When he was little, we accepted that it would happen. After all, dogs use their mouths to explore. It's natural. Especially when they're teething.

But it hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, even though he's almost a year old now.

There's no good advice

The books on dog training have been, frankly, useless. Allow me to summarize the advice from the dozens of books that we've read.

Chewing is mostly an owner-absent problem

No, we don't let him roam the house freely while we're not around; he stays in his crate. This is when he's best behaved. He's awesome in his crate.

And, no, I work from home so it's not like he's in his crate all day. NEXT!

Give them plenty of their own toys

Otis chewing a box
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Or just let them chew the box you store them in

Yes, he has plenty of toys; bones, balls, ropes, squeakers, you name it. He even plays with them sometimes! NEXT!

Make sure none of their toys resemble your things

The idea here is that you shouldn't give your puppy an old shoe and then act surprised that they think it's OK to chew shoes.

I'm pretty sure his toys don't look like USB thumb drives or remote controls. NEXT!

They'll chew less if you exercise them

Every book and my-dog-is-a-problem TV show on the planet says this. I walk Otis twice a day. It seems to only energize him for more chewing. NEXT!

Put your things away

This worked until the puppy figured out how to open doors and drawers. Sometimes I'm convinced we adopted a velociraptor. NEXT!

Most dogs would dare not chew anything in front of their master

Hah! Right. Otis is not most dogs; in fact, he's rather fearless. As I'm typing this he got into the laundry and high-stepped over to me to show me the nice pair of panties he found. (Note: I can't believe I have to clarify this: not my panties.)

It's best to never take your eyes off of him. NEXT!

Teach them “leave it” so they learn that not everything is for chewing

The theory here is that if the pup has something he shouldn't, it's better to instruct them to "leave it" instead of just saying "NO!"

"Leave it" is the most-spoken phrase in our household, beating out old standards like "I love you" and "Let's watch Mad Men."

Baby steps

To be honest, after we started teaching leave it, Otis has gotten slightly better at it. What do I mean by "better"?

Well.

Like a novice poker player, Otis has developed a tell: if he's chewing one of his toys and we catch him, he carries on. But if he's chewing something he shouldn't be, he darts away.

It goes like this every fifteen minutes or so.

Master
Hears chewing.
Whatcha got there, Otis?
Otis
Looks up. Bolts off, leaving a puppy-shaped dust cloud.
Master
Hey! LEAVE IT!
Gives chase.
Otis
Runs into the living room. Jumps on the couch. Waits.
Master
Catches up to dog.
Leave it!
Otis
Drops the precious thing. Looks sad. He thought it was for numming.
Master
The precious thing is destroyed
This is why we can't have nice things!

I say that's better because instead of jumping on the couch, he used to shimmy under the bed.

So, yeah, the advice from most books has been pretty lackluster. 10 months in and none of it seems to be having much of an effect.

Things keep getting stranger

Otis chewing a massive bone
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His (clearly not earned) Christmas present

The latest last straw came while I was at my parent's house for my brother's wedding last month. Otis went on a numming rampage that ended with him destroying one of Dad's belts.

This prompted Kristin and I to pay a visit to Barnes and Noble and go through every dog book they had on hand, looking for any new ideas.

The only new advice we found was from, of all things, Dog Training for Dummies, which blessedly acknowledged that dog chewing is something that happens.

To deal with it, it had one new, albeit strange, suggestion: "Be upset with the thing that the dog is chewing."

Wha?

Here's the idea: you treat the dog how you might treat a child that's reaching for a hot stove. They don't know any better, but you have to impart to them that a hot burner is a very bad thing. So you tell them, "No! The stove is dangerous! Stay away!"

So for a dog, you take away the precious forbidden object, and then yell at the object. "Bad sock! Very bad sock!" While you get mad at the sock, you don't yell at the dog. They eventually pick up that the sock is dangerous and you're just trying to keep them safe.

Strange? Yep. Would it work? Shrug. But, hey, it was a new idea.

”Bad comforter!“

I'll say this: our lives are infinitely weirder since we started giving this a try.

"Bad pencil!"

"Bad dryer sheet!"

"Bad iPod charging cable!"

It's become something of a legend in our families.

Screen capture from Facebook
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Good one, Mom.

While walking the dog, I find that I constantly have to explain to strangers why I'm yelling at a stick.

"Bad stick!"

Perhaps now I'm the neighborhood kook.

I'll let you know how it works out

Otis chewing his bone on the couch
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This is his bone. This is OK.

So, progress is slow. Maybe he's a little better. If this works, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, has anyone else dealt with a chewing problem?

Update

2011 Jan 25: I forgot about covering things with bitter spray!

Am I doing it wrong?

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