From teething puppies to feisty seniors, dogs love to chew. It’s the most natural thing in the world to them—chewing feels great on their strong jaws, it relieves stress and it is (from their perspective) a fun and exciting way to spend an afternoon. It becomes even more exciting when we throw a game of chase into the mix: I come home, find Fido making mincemeat of my new leather loafers, and suddenly I’m a flurry of high pitched sounds and waving arms, running circles around the house until one of us collapses.
A better way to spend quality time with your dog would be to teach simple object exchange and “Drop It.” But before that, we need management. Dogs left alone with free range of the house will find ways to occupy their time. Crating or creating a dog-proof space are the only ways to insure the dog does not get into things that are off limits. When you are home, make sure that children’s toys, shoes, and items that are not normally on the floor are picked up and put away. Leaving that gym bag next to the door might not be the best idea.
Since we are human after all, meaning we occasionally leave things around and the dog will find things to chew, the next step is to train “Drop it” with object exchange. First, show your dog that when you say “Drop it”, great things happen. When your dog isn’t paying attention to you (or chewing on the remote control), grab a handful of food and tell him “Drop it”, then spill the food on the ground for him to enjoy. The dog won’t have anything to drop, but he doesn’t know what “drop it” means, so don’t worry! Repeat this a couple of times a day for a few days in a row. Then, do this same game when he has something in his mouth that he is allowed to chew, like one of his toys. When he drops the object to get the food off the ground, praise him heavily and give him his toy back when he is done with the food. Once he is dropping the toy when you say it before the food spill, try giving him a neutral object, like an old shoe or a stick. Practice getting the dog to “Drop it” in exchange for either food rewards or for a better toy or chew that he will really love.
While training, try not to turn illegal chew sessions into games of chase. This will increase chances that he will do this more often because it is so much fun. Stay calm, remember that shoes and pillows can be replaced, and keep dog treats and toys in easy to reach hiding spots around the house to use in case of emergency object exchanges. In time your dog will be able to learn what he can and cannot chew around the house.