Essentially the simple answer to this question, is yes, dogs are pre-programmed to chew. It’s ingrained as one of their natural behaviour patterns and they are “hard-wired” to perform it. Even with natural instinct and an innate basis underpinning this behaviour, the learnt behaviour and habits associated with chewing, developed in a young dog, will also go an enormous way to ensuring that they chew only on appropriate substances during their life. An owner’s role, particularly in the early months of a dog’s life, is pivotal to encourage “good” chewing, rather than a destructive form.
It is understood that the action of chewing helps stimulate a dog’s brain. Undoubtedly also, for young dogs, chewing is a means by which a dog may explore its surroundings and environment, learning as he goes. This is a very similar developmental phase as is shown by young babies and toddlers. Where they “explore” their worlds with mouths and the sense of texture and taste.
Chewing can also alleviate boredom and frustration and can help to combat anxiety. It is a useful way for a dog to pass some time. And, as such, should be encouraged to be actively incorporated into a daily routine. It can help while away hours of the day, many of which with our modern lifestyles, may be spent inside the home. This may certainly contribute to the alleviation of monotony. Equally, chewing can serve to distract a dog away from a less appropriate (or more destructive!) behaviour. And provide a form of entertainment for your dog.
In the first few months of a puppy’s life, chewing can help relieve the pain and discomfort associated with teething and the eruption of the permanent adult teeth.
For older dogs, chewing serves to keep a dog’s jaws strong. If the correct substrate is used, may also help contribute (to a degree), towards keeping teeth clean and healthy.
Conversely, against all these positive benefits associated with chewing, sometimes chewing can become an undesirable behaviour. If a dog is bored, anxious, hungry or in pain, then they may seek to find some element of “comfort” by turning their attention to chewing an inappropriate material or surface. Some dogs that exhibit separation anxiety when away from their owners will also chew as a means of coping with their worry. It therefore follows that any dog chewing inappropriately would be well advised to see a vet for a consultation and examination. This is to determine whether an underlying medical or behavioural cause exists.
So, what are the best recommended chews that you can give your dog? With a vast array of products on the market, the choice can be somewhat overwhelming.
Various considerations should be taken into account. These include the age and breed (and therefore size) of your dog (and their jaws!) and their prior experience of any particular chews. Ideally, the perfect chew would be long lasting, edible and unlikely to either splinter during use. Or pose a subsequent causing an intestinal obstruction (should it be partially or wholly ingested). Some chews on the market are thus derived from animals (and edible). Whilst others are derived from man-made substances which are not (rubber/fibres/plastics).
A rule of thumb is that you should be able to push your thumbnail into the chew and make some sort of indentation. If you cannot do this, the material is likely to be too hard. Therefore be at higher risk of causing dental damage and fracturing the teeth.
Advice would always be to supervise your dog whilst they use a chew. Additionally, to throw away any damaged chew that could be dangerous for your dog or, if a non-edible chew, before it becomes small enough to be swallowed.
For puppies, ice cubes and “Kongs” frozen with food within them are both suitable. The latter option is often used in my clinic should we have a puppy hospitalised receiving veterinary care. Durable rope style toys also represent another option. For older dogs, buffalo/pigs’ ears and cows’ hooves are all available. Some owners prefer deer antlers. However, these are very strong so, if not used previously by your dog, they could be more likely to cause dental injuries. Commercially available chews are many and varied and are probably a better choice for many or most dogs.
In summary, chewing is part of a dog’s natural behaviour pattern. It should be encouraged in your dog by offering differing chews (that are rotated to provide continued interest), and with regular inspection (to ensure there is no damage or risk from the chew). Additional ideas for canine enrichment activities to provide mental stimulation to your pooch include puzzle toys, scattering food around the house or garden and obstacle courses. Many further creative and inventive ideas can be found online.