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Help! I Have a chewing problem with my puppy!

Hi Lisa:

I need to get some suggestions on what to do to get Benny's chewing under control. He's 6 months old now and started it a couple of months ago. The first time it happened was when I put him in my room when I went to work. I didn't use the crate because he didn't like going in there and he had never chewed anything in my room, at first.


He is never alone at my house for more than 3 hours at a time and it is usually not even that long. The first time he chewed a hole in my mattress and that is when I started putting him in the crate. He still didn't like going in there but I made sure he had toys to play with and toys for him to chew on.

But then I made the mistake of not putting him in the crate and that is when he put another hole in my mattress.


My sister usually picks him up almost every day so that our dogs can play together and Benny chewed up a pillow and comforter while I was house sitting for them. I had left the house for about 1 hour. Then, while my sisters' kids were home, he chewed the cord off of her vacuum cleaner. Her dog was there at the time so I wonder why he would chew on things while someone was in the house and he had another dog to play with.


Any advice would be great. Thanks for your help.

Benny's Mom


Hello Benny's Mom,


I'll start by saying that this is completely normal behavior but it's a very common problem for many people, particularly those with pups and young dogs. 


I think it's best to start with helping you to understand how reinforcement works. It's important because reinforcement is the reason that dogs choose to repeat behaviors-- Benny's chewing on the 'wrong' stuff included. 


Reinforcement for the behavior of chewing on objects happens naturally, during the act itself (it's enjoyable for him...feels good, and it's fun!). So anything he takes into his mouth and chews on... is a chew toy to him and he's immediately rewarded for chewing it!  Since he (like all dogs) will always repeat reinforced behavior - and the reinforcement for this behavior occurs during the very act itself - it's easy to see how a dog chewing on the 'wrong' things can turn into a big problem, fast.  Young dogs are very curious and will explore objects with their mouths. That coupled with the very normal need and desire to chew, is what's led to his learning, through reinforcement (and opportunity!), to continue to chew on things that you'd prefer he not chew on.


 The following will help you formulate a plan of action to get the behavior under control, and start training Benny to chew on things you want him to chew on.  While this is specific to the problem of chewing on inappropriate things, this problem-solving formula applies to any undesired behavior/s.


Step 1. Create a "Benny Don't" list and a "Benny Do" list

*The "don'ts" would be a behavior/s you consider undesirable, and want to change. The "do's" are behavior/s you like, and prefer he do instead


Step 2. Realistically define the "Don't" and turn it into a "Do"


Step 3. Prevent the "Benny Don't" and reinforce the "Benny Do" (which in the case of chewing on things occurs naturally through the act itself) 


Let's take a closer look at how to apply this to Benny's chewing problem:  


"Benny Don't" Chew. 


This "Benny Don't" needs to be defined more realistically first. Of course, Benny needs to chew, so defining the problem this broadly won't do.  A better example of a "Benny Don't" for the chewing problem must be specific, like this: 


"Benny Don't" Chew on anything that is not one of your chew toys.


Now, counter the "Benny Don't" -- chew on anything that is not one of your chew toys -- with a well-defined and specific "Benny Do" 


"Benny Do" Chew on your toys


From here it's simple - prevent the Benny Don't, and reinforce the Benny Do His chewing on stuff you don't want him to chew on will diminish through prevention/lack of reinforcement, and the "Benny Do" behavior (chewing on his toys) will grow through reinforcement!


The prevention aspect of behavior is the most important part of the solution, which can't be overstated. Since this behavior is naturally reinforced through the act, and reinforcement strengthens behavior - if you're not preventing the behavior, you're essentially training him to do it!  Prevention of the unwanted behavior through the use of crating, puppy proofing the environment so it's impossible for him to have the opportunity to chew on stuff you don't want him to chew, and otherwise actively supervising him during times that he's free in the house, are all good ways to prevent him from continuing to chew the wrong stuff!  

Now, in order to train the "Benny Do" you'll first need to make good selections in chew toys.  The 3 criteria when selecting chew toys are:


SAFE - Great choices are stuffed frozen Kong'sTM, Hollow Bones (you'll stuff these yourself) - and rope toys (cut the frayed ends off if you want), then soak in sodium free boullion or broth, and freeze. Safety warning: Do not give digestibles like rawhides, pig ears, etc., when he is going to be alone! These should only be given when you are home and supervising him. 


INTERESTING - The above mentioned toys may not be interesting to Benny on their own, so you'll need to make them interesting!  Stuff Kongs and hollow bones with peanut butter, canned dog food, squeeze cheese, etc.  The soaked frozen rope toy suggestion provides an interesting texture that becomes even more interesting as it thaws - particularly good for teething pups! 


REWARDING -  The goal here is to create and provide chew toys for Benny that he wants to chew on! Naturally, if he's not interested in chewing on the toys you provide, reinforcement for chewing the right things won't happen. You must identify and provide him with toys he wants to chew on.


While the behavior of chewing is reinforced through the act itself, giving *bonus* rewards for chewing on his toy/s is a good idea too.  Provide additional reinforcement for this desirable behavior, by giving him a food treat while he's in the act! 


It should be easier to see now why in each instance you've provided, the real problem was that Benny was left to his own devices unsupervised, with plenty of opportunity to chew on the wrong stuff.   This was the case even while the kids were home. Kids are just that...they're kids.  Active (adult) supervision = prevention, and without it, he will continue to make what you consider to be the "wrong" choices in chew toys. 


I think it would be a good idea to actively train him to enjoy his crate more, too. Teach him to enter the crate and reinforce that behavior immediately with food rewards! Feed him meals inside of it from now on, and when you do put him inside to leave, stuff and freeze a Kong and/or a hollow bone with canned dog food, peanut butter, squeeze cheese (or even a parfait with all 3!!!) and give it to him inside the crate, before you leave.  Preventing problem behaviors using a crate ensures that you'll always come home to a good dog! Visit and see the Training Tips and Behavior link for more crate training help. 


Lastly, to answer your question as to why he was chewing on stuff even when there was another dog to play with? Because at that time, Benny found chewing more enjoyable than playing with the other dog.  


I hope this is helpful to you and Benny!


Take Care,

Lisa Patrona, Dip. CBST, CPDT-KA, ACDBC

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