Downeast Dog News
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Dogs and the Stuff They Put In Their Mouths

By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | Jul 01, 2020
Photo by: Debra Bell

One of the first things a new puppy parent learns is that dogs, no matter what their age, like to put things in their mouth. They approve when their puppy chews on their chew toy and get frustrated when the pup gnaws on their new shoes, the TV remote, their mobile phone, or their kid’s toys. Occasionally panic occurs when the dog not only chews something but ingests it resulting in a potential health crisis and emergency veterinary bill.

As much as you may want to think otherwise, your dog exploring its world with its mouth is a very normal behavior. A dog not only uses its mouth to ingest food, but it also chews on things as puppies when it is teething. Throughout a dog’s life, it chews to maintain its jaws and teeth. My dog Tikken chewed on her nylon bone or Kong toy almost every day of her 16-year long life.

Dogs will also chew to get our attention. Long before I knew anything about canine behavior, our Cairn Terrier taught my wife and me that the quickest way he could get all of our energy focused on him was to chew and then run off with a sock. We stopped that by not leaving socks around where he could find them.

Lastly, some dogs chew as a self-soothing behavior when they are anxious or bored. Often they will and seek something that smells like us because they find our scent comforting. This is why dogs are often drawn to things that touch our feet, such as footwear and socks. We have more scent glands on our feet than any other part of our body. It may be hard for us to believe that dogs enjoy the stench of our stinky feet, but let’s not forget, they also enjoy rolling in animal poop.

So how do we let our dog express its natural and healthy chewing behavior while preventing it from swallowing something dangerous and keeping our stuff safe from being destroyed?

Provide your dog with appropriate items to chew – Dog’s need to chew, so providing them with suitable and desirable chew toys from day one is essential. My favorites are Benebone (a durable nylon chew), a Kong (or other toys we can fill with food), and Bully Sticks or NoHides (edible chews). Muppy has more toys than I can count, but she only has access to three at any one time, making it easy for her to understand what she is allowed to chew.

Pick up after ourselves – If we leave our stuff out where dogs can get to it, they may chew on it. When we bring a new dog home, we need to be tidy; possibly for the dog’s entire life. Alternatively, we need to actively supervise the dog at all times.

Don’t add flavoring – When we or others in our home handle objects when our hands contain food residue (touching the remote while eating buttered popcorn, kids playing with their toys with sticky fingers), we are flavoring those objects. Dogs have incredible noses, and we have just made those items even more tempting.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing my dog would never put that in his mouth – When teaching my puppy headstart students about dogs and why they chew, I share a list of things that dogs have ingested. Some are food, but many items are not food and are extremely dangerous. A partial list can be found in the sidebar.

Accept the fact that your dog needs to and will always chew. Following the steps I’ve noted above will provide your dog with what you both want and need.

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( greenacreskennel.com ) in Bangor, ME, where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC), and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at http://www.wzonam.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts, the Apple Podcast app, and at Don’s blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.