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Simple Training Steps for Teaching Dogs to Chew Appropriate Items

November 11, 2008

Chewing is one of those normal doggy behaviors that tend to irritate some humans. One of my great Inquisitive Canine manners students writes:

Joan, I am having a few issues with Scout being mouthy to me and others. What suggestions do you have? ~Thanks, Steve C, Santa Paula California

Dear Steve,

Ugh! I’m sure it’s frustrating to be treated like a giant chew or tug toy. I’ll go through the “flowchart” paths of behavior, just like I do in my dog training clasess.

  1. Is it “normal” doggy behavior? Yep, sure is. Exploring the world with their mouth, using it as a “tool”, using it to initiate fun games with others – dogs and humans.
  2. Is it a behavior Scout wants to do more of, or is it something you want him to do or like? Hmm, I’d say he wants more of it :-) So that means it’s based upon the “Consequence” path of learning. It’s Scouts behavior that will earn him more or less of it happening again in the future.
  3. Have you taught him what you want, in a way that he understands? Have you been consistent in educating him? Rewarding an undesired behavior, even once in a blue moon, will most likely reward it just enough to keep him trying again and again. (Think “Vegas”). Or, only “punishing” him once in awhile can send mixed messages too.
So, where do you start? Simple:
  1. FIRST: REWARD WHAT YOU WANT! Remember, positive reinforcement will make the desired behaviors happen more frequently. Whenever you or others are around him, and he is behaving in the exact manner you like, acknowledge it! Meaning, whenever Scout is choosing his own chew toys, reward him! Bump it up and reward with food and play!
  2. Provide “legal outlets” for chewing and playing. Keep large tug toys around for Scout to put his mouth on. Whenever he makes the right choice, again reward what you like! Reward with both a game of tug, and yummy treats! “Yea, Scout made the right choice!”
  3. For games such as tug, first decide what the rules are going to be, especially what type of “punishment” you’re going to use. The best punishment I can think of is the absolute “game over!!!” response from you (or others that are playing). Meaning, all play, all interaction, all attention stops completely! Only for about 20 seconds, then re-engage allowing Scout to make the better choice.
  4. Once you re-engage, keep up the same rules. I use the 3-strikes for something like this.

I think the most important points: rewarding what you want and consistency in the two choices you’re giving Scout. The better choice, and the other one :-)

Hope this helps Steve! Keep me posted on the outcome…


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