The urge to chew is completely normal in young puppies, though it can lead them into trouble on occasions. Puppies are naturally curious. The way they explore the world around them and interact with new things often involves putting them in their mouth.
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They also go through a second teething phase between 12 weeks and six months of age, where they lose their puppy teeth and gain their adult ones. This process can be slightly uncomfortable, and chewing can be a natural response to this.
We should never tell our dogs off for chewing, as it is a natural thing for them to do. Punishment is not an effective training method in any case. However, there are some steps we can take to try and minimise the damage done – and the risk to our puppies’ health.
The first thing to do is to try and stop your puppy from getting to items that he shouldn’t. Items like clothes, shoes, and children’s toys should all be kept out of reach. This might involve a combination of tidying, and just restricting your puppy’s access to certain parts of the house.
Toddler gates can be very useful for this, assuming your puppy isn’t small enough to fit through the gaps. Use them to restrict access to parts of the house where your puppy might get into trouble.
Crate training can also be useful if they are being left on their own for a while, but this should be done carefully. Remember, a crate should be a safe space, not a punishment.
If your puppy is stealing shoes or toys to chew, instead of just taking them away, try offering something else. You can find a range of puppy-safe toys at your local pet shop, which are a much better choice for them to play with.
Avoid toys designed for adult dogs, as they may be too hard and damage puppies’ developing teeth.
Puppies will often chew because they are bored. Keeping their minds and bodies occupied will help to reduce this kind of behaviour.
Make sure your puppy is getting regular exercise each day. If they have had all their vaccinations, then try to take them to different places each day, as this will be more interesting and should tire them out more quickly.
However, be careful not to over-exercise them, especially if you have a large-breed puppy. As a very rough rule of thumb, do five minutes of structured exercise for each month of age (so for a 4-month-old, 20 minutes), twice a day – ideally morning and evening. It’s fine for them to run around on their own between these walks!
You can also look at other ways to keep your puppy’s mind occupied. Food puzzles are a great way to hold their interest, and can be very useful to make them work a bit for their meals! Just use some of your dog’s regular portion of food (kibble tends to be best) and let it occupy them.
If your dog is prone to stealing shoes or toys, it is especially important to teach them the “give” command. This involves teaching your puppy to give you an item that they are holding, rather than running away from you or holding on to it tight.
To do this, give your dog a toy, and then offer them a treat whilst saying the command word (usually “give” or, for those with working dogs, sometimes “dead”). Once your puppy releases the toy, pick it up, and then give them the treat. Be careful not to turn this into a tug-of-war, or your puppy may see it as a game and be reluctant to stop.
In the end – Don’t Despair!
Most puppies go through a phase of enthusiastic chewing. However, most will get better as they get older. Some may stop chewing completely, whereas others may continue to do so, but less enthusiastically. Either way, it is a good idea to get routines and training in place. Get them into good habits sooner, so that you are best placed to deal with any lifelong chewing habits.