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But wait – it’s not your Manolos, plural, that are just inside the door. It is one Manolo, singular. The other is in pieces, all over the house.
“Elvis!” you scream. And there he is, big old Elvis, your beloved Labrador Retriever, with a four-inch heel hanging out of his mouth. You add up the money. Then you think about maybe just having one of your legs amputated, so you can get by with just one of those very expensive shoes.
Okay, you think I’m going to tell you that what you have to do next is go after your significant other. The guy who says “I’m sorry, honey, it was my day off, and I was watching the football game, and I just thought he was playing with his squeaky toy.”
Nope. You and I both know that expensive shoes do not squeak when chewed, but you’re going to get nowhere with this. You have to deal with Elvis.
Because he’s a dog, and that’s what dogs do. They chew. It’s one of the ways that they process information. Yes, Elvis has a very powerful nose. And his hearing is good, too. But one of the ways dogs find most satisfying when it comes to exploring the world around them is to pick things up in their mouths, and then get to work.
It’s not that he hates you. Or your shoes. It’s just how he relates to things.
Okay, you have to re-direct the chewing toward more appropriate things. Keep in mind, first off, that your dog is not chewing your belongings out of spite. He doesn’t know how much those shoes cost, and he’s not gnawing them up just to be hateful. He’s probably doing it because he’s bored, or he misses you and your shoes smell like you.
The first thing you’re going to have to do is be the adult in this scenario. In other words, look after your stuff. If you don’t want shoes, books, eyeglasses, clothing, remote controls and so on in your dog’s mouth, put them out of reach. That’s the first step.
Now, give your dog appropriate toys – toys that are very different from your belongings. What that means is, don’t give him old shoes to chew on and then expect him to know the difference between shoes that can be chewed and shoes that ought not to be chewed. Don’t give him an old sock and then expect that he’s going to understand that THIS sock is okay, but not the ones you just bought! Toys should be easily identifiable as toys, not as items of clothing that you would prefer to keep.
Now, supervise him. Make sure that he knows the rules. This might mean that you have to keep him on leash for a while, even when he is in the house. Don’t let him out of your sight. Don’t give him the opportunity to take something that you don’t want him to chew.
Also, make sure that he has plenty of exercise, and a lot of time with you. If he is active and bored, that’s a recipe for chewing. Now, if you catch him chewing on something that he shouldn’t have, stop the behavior. This doesn’t mean that you have to punish him, it just means that you take away the object that he is not supposed to have, replace it with something that is “legal” and praise him when he uses the toy that he is entitled to.
I know you’re angry – after all, those were really expensive shoes. But you need to be a bit realistic here – it makes no sense to get mad at your dog. It is almost inevitable that at some point, a dog or a puppy will chew something that you don’t want to have chewed. He’s just being a dog; he doesn’t know any better. And you should also never, ever punish after the fact. If your dog chews up your shoes and you don’t find out about it until hours later, he has no idea why you’re mad at him. You’re not going to do anything at all to correct the problematic behavior, and in fact, you will be betraying the level of trust that your dog has in you by punishing him for a reason that he is simply not going to understand.
In fact, if you punish even seconds after you have discovered the bad behavior, your dog will not connect cause and effect. So just get to work on correcting the behavior, with more appropriate toys. Don’t make the issue about you and your anger.
Puppies chew – you know that. Sometimes adult dogs chew too, but they’re not doing it to annoy you. They have lots of reasons for chewing, none of which make a whole lot of sense to humans. So don’t try to make sense of it. Instead, work on fixing it. Most of the time, if you replace something that you don’t want your dog to chew with something that he will enjoy chewing, the problem will be solved.