If you’ve ever come home to find that your brand new Uggs have a hole in the toe that you’re 99.9 percent sure they didn’t have when you left the store, you know the pain of a dog who likes to chew things that he shouldn’t. The behavior can certainly be perplexing to us, especially if we have taken great care to provide a plethora of toys for Fido to chew on. While your dog chewing on a pair of your socks or even your shoes isn’t the end of the world, you don’t feel quite the same way when you discover Fido making mincemeat out of your oak dining room set. If your dog is set on chewing your wooden furniture, is there anything that you can do?
Why do Dogs Chew on Wood?
Discouraging inappropriate chewing behavior is important, and care must be taken to never allow your dog to chew something that he shouldn’t. After all, your dog cannot distinguish between an old holey pair of socks and the brand new ones you spent $30 for at a luxury spa last weekend, and it’s not fair to allow Fido to chew on one and scold him for chewing on the other. To do so will only confuse him. Consistency, as with all training, is key. If chewing on socks is not allowed, it’s important to make certain that it is never rewarded, and that access is limited during the learning stages.
But when it comes to furniture, trying to understand the appeal of chewing on a piece of wood is difficult indeed. Sometimes it is helpful to try to view things through the eyes of your dog to better comprehend why they do what they do.
For many dogs, wood is reminiscent of a bone. The shape and size is often similar, and it fits perfectly into their mouths for easy chewing! But more than that, wood is a soft, porous material which is extremely gratifying for a dog to sink their chompers into.
Bones don’t fall from the sky, and it’s rare for a dog to unearth them in their backyard or when out on a walk. But sticks are everywhere! Your dog can find a whole host of them right in his own backyard.
“But, my furniture doesn’t look like a stick!”, you say. And you’re right, it doesn’t. But dogs don’t generalize well which is why consistency is key when training your dog what they should and should not be chewing on. To your dog, the stick they chew on in the backyard is no different than the “sticks” that make up your furniture. Allowing him to chew on one can inadvertently let him think he has carte blanche to chew on the other.
What you can do to stop the chewing
Beside the fact that you do not like your furniture bearing teeth marks from Fido’s latest chew fest, there are potential health hazards for dogs who chew wood or wood products. Because wood is a soft material, it is prone to splintering. Splinters can become lodged between your dog’s teeth or even in his gums, a condition that is painful and can even lead to infection.
But also, some dogs do not just chew wood; they also like to eat it! If your dog attempts to swallow a piece of wood that is too large or jagged, it can lead to tears in the esophagus or intestines and may require surgery for removal. There is no doubt; chewing wood should be discouraged.
So, if Fido likes to have an afternoon snack comprised of the wooden legs on your antique sofa, what can you do?
It’s a good question. There are many things that homeowners can do to discourage the chewing of wood products by their pets. They include:
Determining the motivation behind the chewing
As with most troublesome behavior, it is very helpful for owners to understand the why’s behind it. Once you have a better grasp of precisely what is compelling the action, it is much easier to formulate a strategy to address it.
Is Fido bored? Is he suffering from separation anxiety? Canine behavior is always rooted in logic. If Fido is chewing, there is a reason why. Determining what that reason is can go a long way to helping you solve the problem.
Providing suitable toys
A lot of the behavior we see in our dogs that we don’t like can be attributed to boredom. Dogs are opportunists. If you don’t provide toys and/or other activities to keep them entertained, they will make their own fun. Unfortunately, their definition of fun often differs greatly from ours and sets us at odds with each other.
When it comes to your dog, variety is the spice of life. No dog wants to look at the same ball day in and day out, and even a super tasty bone loses its appeal when it’s all you’re ever offered. To head off chewing of your wooden furniture, take an offensive approach by grabbing Fido’s leash, loading him up in your car, and taking a trip to your local pet store. Fido can be a great help in assisting you with selecting toys that will keep his brain and his body stimulated.
The key is to purchase a few different things but not to allow Fido access to all of them at once. By rotating toys and continually adding to his “collection”, you can keep Fido happily engaged on things other than your priceless wooden furniture.
Make use of Bitter Apple
For more immediate results while you work on training an alternate behavior, consider purchasing Bitter Apple. Bitter Apple is a product sold at most veterinary clinics and pet stores. It has a particularly unpleasant taste that causes pets to recoil after a lick or two. To keep Fido’s teeth away from your wooden furniture, spray it liberally with Bitter Apple. He may give it a cursory lick or two, but most dogs find it so repulsive that they will give up the quest immediately. Since dogs associate past experiences with the items that produced them, it will not take long before the Bitter Apple is no longer needed, and Fido will not attempt to make your coffee table his chew toy again.
Teach the “Leave It” command
A solid “Leave It” command is a very useful tool. Teaching your dog that he must release or cease moving towards an object when you say “Leave It” is helpful in many situations including potential destruction of household items, bones that could prove a choking hazard, or even aggression issues.
To teach the “Leave It” command, begin by placing a super yummy treat in one hand. Allow Fido to examine it then close your hand over the treat. Fido can sniff it, but he cannot be allowed to gain access to it. If Fido is persistent in trying to get to the treat, you tell him firmly “Leave It”. When Fido loses interest and transfers his attention to your other hand which is offered to him with your open palm facing up, click your clicker, then treat him, and offer praise right away. This exercise must be repeated daily for a few minutes each day, but Fido will quickly learn that “leaving” the item he desperately wants is the desired behavior and will lead to a greater reward.
Ensure regular physical exercise
A dog that receives regular daily exercise is far less likely to get into trouble with destructive chewing habits. Ensure that Fido gets a daily walk or hike or has access to a fenced in yard where he can run and play to help him work out any pent up energy.
Lastly, if all else fails, restrict Fido’s access to rooms that contain things you don’t want him to chew on. Making use of baby gates or closed doors can force Fido to consider a different activity.
Yes, Fido chewing on wooden furniture is a real problem. Follow these simple tips to help keep your furniture looking good as new and Fido mentally stimulated!