Behavior Problem Solving Made Simple: Problem Chewing
By Steve Appelbaum
Pet professionals, like boarding and daycare staff and owners, sometimes find themselves in a similar quandary as veterinarians. You are not experts in behavior, but some of your customers will look to you for advice and may wind up re–homing their dogs if they are unable to solve behavioral challenges. This has the potential to negatively impact your business.
Helping and serving as a resource to your customers is an opportunity to stand out from the competition. Pet boarding and daycare, like most businesses, is competitive. Sharing helpful information with your customers not only makes a difference to them and their pets, but also creates good will.
Customer loyalty is gold in a service business. Loyalty is not just based on having reasonable prices. It isn’t completely based on doing great work either—although quality service and work is a big component. Loyalty is fostered by the feeling a customer has when they think about you and your business. If you are actually able to assist someone in addressing a challenge that was causing them real frustration, you are likely to have a customer for a very long time.
Let’s talk about a common behavior problem—Problem Chewing. The fact is that many dogs, especially puppies, chew. Puppies are teething from about 12 to 18 weeks and are intelligent, inquisitive beings that don’t have hands. Some puppies outgrow the behavior. Some don’t and learn to like chewing, especially when bored, stressed or nutritionally deprived of something. Usually, the keys to addressing this problem are quite simple:
Key 1: Strong Fixation on the “Correct” Objects
This means chew toys that are not confused with household items. This is an important point. Many owners take household items and turn them into “toys” for the dog. Popular items include old rags, socks, discarded children’s toys, etc. Some owners purchase fabric toys from pet stores not realizing that many dogs like to tear up fabric and, saying to the dog, “here chew this fabric but not this one” is confusing at best. Examples of proper toys include KONGS®, Nylabones®, and other similar products on the market. But it is not enough to simply give the dog a Nylabone and hope for the best. Some dogs will chew it while others won’t. Instead, take it and soak it in beef or chicken broth for about an hour a day. Then make these toys the source of focus when you play with the dog. When you greet the dog, give her the bone and do so when you leave, too. KONGS can be stuffed with peanut butter or any number of interesting things. This will give the dog many hours of play time as she tries to get the scent and taste from the KONG. The bottom line is, if you get the dog to chew her toys 80 percent more than she does right now, you will have a dog that is far less likely to chew on the wrong things.
Key 2: Teething
Puppies in the teething phase can be given ice cubes to chew on. This helps numb their sore gums. You can also use slightly softer chew products including bully sticks or other all natural, dried animal products. Although, these are not meant to be consumed in large quantities. A small bone that takes a puppy a week or so to chew down is probably fine, but swallowing one in 10 minutes – not so much. If a puppy is a voracious chewer, consider one of the harder products like Nylabone or KONG.
Key 3: Management
Would you leave a two–year–old child unsupervised in your home for hours at a time? Assuming you answered no, and I sincerely hope that EVERYONE answered no, why would you do the same with a puppy under the age of a year? Puppies that spend time in the house should be in exercise pens and/or crates when the owner is not able to directly supervise them. This pen can become a haven for the dog and special care should be taken to make sure the dog feels safe and secure in it. Special chew toys should be placed there, which means she is more likely to fixate on them.
This isn’t suggesting that people leave their dogs in crates or pens for a year. The dogs should be taken out and given supervised time in the house. Their special toys should be readily available to them during this time as well. As the dog learns to behave, she can get longer and longer times out of the crate. Also, the crate should never be used for punishment.
Key 4: Redirection and Patience
When the dog is given supervised time in the house, make sure she has her special toys within reach. If she errs and starts to chew on the wrong things, a simple “Ugh Ugh” or “No” coupled with giving her the correct item will teach her over time which items are and are not acceptable for her to chew. Also, make it a point to pick up as many items as you can before allowing the dog freedom to roam in the house. This doesn’t mean moving the furniture, but you might consider picking up kids’ toys, shoes, etc.
Key 5: Exercise and Nutrition
Dogs that get exercise and proper nutrition are less likely to be problem chewers. Make sure the dog is being fed a good quality food and receives adequate exercise every day. Walks are a great way to give the dog exercise. A two to three mile walk, five days a week should do wonders. While exercise is good, please remember not to over do it.
These are only some of the many tips you can share with clients, and this is just a guide. It also helps to have a reputable trainer to refer clients to when the behavior issues are out of your wheelhouse of knowledge
Steven Appelbaum is a professional dog trainer and founder of Animal Behavior College (ABC), a vocational school specializing in certified animal career training programs including dog training, pet grooming and veterinary assistance. To date, ABC has certified more than 11,300 dog trainers, making it the largest school for professional dog trainers in the U.S. In addition, the college has certified more than 1,330 pet groomers and 4,200 veterinary assistants and offers a variety of continuing education programs on subjects including, cat management and training, pet nutrition, pet massage, pet sitting and training shelter dogs. For more information about the college, visit the website at www.animalbehaviorcollege.com/info