chewing wood/furniture

Posted by
Nov 20, 2007
We have a 12 month old male shih tzu. He has a terrible habit of chewing on the corners of our cabinets and chair legs - anything wood! We don't believe it's out of boredom or health. He is home alone during the days, but we play with him constantly when we're home. He is a very happy and healthy puppy. He has plenty of toys (nylabones, kongs, various rope toys) and has a good diet. We also take him for walks as often as we can. We have tried all the bitter taste products and he actually likes them! It has gotten to the point that we need to crate him when we're not home. This is not how we want our puppy to live! Any suggestions anyone?
Posted by MartyEd
Dec 13, 2007
Hi there Mnnatv,

Thank you for your post regarding your young Shih Tzu who has been destroying your wooden furniture. Firstly, I'd like to ask if your dog has access to the furniture when you leave him home during the day, or do you leave him outside during that time? If you do leave him inside and this happens primarily during the day, it is very likely your Shih Tzu has a separation anxiety problem exhibited through destructive behaviors. If this is true then you will need to undertake specific training to help your dog overcome his anxiety.

Interestingly enough most separation anxiety cases involve dogs that are either puppies or older dogs. Unfortunately the symptoms can also get worse with age unless treated. The goal that we are aiming for is to reduce your dog's anxiety through conditioning it to associate being left alone and outdoors as a good thing. Here are a few tips and techniques that you may find useful.

No.1 Arrivals and departures
Keep your arrivals and departures very low key. Try leaving your dog alone for at least 15 minutes when you come home. Just ignore it. If your dog calms down then show it some attention.

No.2 Do not respond
It is important that you do not respond to your dog when it starts acting up. This is inadvertently rewarding your dog for poor behavior and will not help. If your dog starts barking or whining then ignore it, no matter how difficult that may be. Do not even make eye contact.

No.3 Attention
Only give your dog attention when it is lying down or relaxed and not actively seeking attention (by barking for example). Do this by calling your dog over and making it sit before petting, etc.

No.4 Contrast
Your dog is probably having difficulty accepting that sometimes it is going to get all the attention and other times none (like when you are at work). You can help this problem by ignoring your dog for 6 hours a day on the weekends. You can feed your dog but that's it. The idea is that your dog will think “What's the big deal when my owners are gone, even when they are home, they still ignore me”.

No.5 Exercise
30 minutes before you leave home walk your dog for 15 minutes at a fast pace. If your dog is tired then it will have less energy to be a nuisance with.

No.6 Clothing
Try giving your dog something of yours with your scent on it. This may allay its fears when you are not with it.

No.7 Sit-stay and down-stay
Practice these exercises in particular as outlined in the SitStayFetch book. These exercises require your dog to respond to you for longer and longer periods of time, so should be good for its discipline. Once you have your dog staying for 10 minutes or so, then try moving out of its sight for a brief period of time.

No.8 The vet
You may want to consult your vet about drug therapy. I would recommend that you ask about Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) treatment. I have heard that this is extremely effective. This pheromone calms dogs nerves. DAP comes as a vaporizer that you plug into a wall socket, the vaporizer then releases small amounts of DAP into the room. You can buy DAP from a well-stocked pet store or several on-line pet stores.

No.9 Alpha dog
Review the “Secrets to becoming the alpha dog” bonus book, this is vital for you. It will help immensely with getting your dog to respond to you in a variety of situations, such as when you are walking it.

The hard part is at the beginning, but the job gets easier as you go along. Nevertheless, you must go slowly at first. How long it takes to condition your dog to being outside and alone depends on the severity of the problem. Other ideas you may want to use while your dog is home alone to stop her from whining includes leaving a stereo (radio) or television on in the background with low background noise.

Some more tips for stopping the chewing of furniture that may help are listed below.

A dog will chew for a number of reasons - out of boredom, frustration, anxiety, or in the case of puppies, if they are teething.

Chewing of your belongings is something that your dog has to learn is totally unacceptable.

Some important points in curbing chewing!
1. You will have to spend quite a lot of time doing corrective training with your dog.
2. You will need to reprimand your dog effectively when you can catch it chewing (or performing any other destructive behavior)
3. You will also have to restrict your dogs access to chewable things when you are not around to control it.

The reason for this is because chewing (and being destructive) is an entertaining pastime, and if your dog has been 'let loose' around the house to be allowed to chew on things, then inadvertently, it is being rewarded for the poor behavior.

Reprimand Technique
Spend some time every day, quietly following your dog, so that your dog believes it is alone and free to do as it pleases. The aim being that you want to catch it in the act!

Startle and reprimand your dog as soon as it starts to chew on something. The best way to do this is by shaking a can (like a soda can) of pebbles, and barge in growling menacingly. The dog will (if the startle has been performed correctly) slink away, tail between its legs, or roll onto its back submissively. Make sure the growl is a harsh guttural growl like "AAHH!" rather then "NO!" as this makes a sharper noise.

Give your dog time out in another room or an area where there is nothing for it to chew.

Do not reprimand your dog unless you have caught him in the act. He will not know why you are angry, so it would be a pointless exercise. In fact, it might heighten the problem.

Toy Box
Fill a box with Dog Toys. Do not include any personal items, such as old socks or slippers.

If you find him chewing on one of your belongings, say loudly "Don't Chew" and lead him to his toy box, and say "Chew". You may need to do this quite a few times before he gets the idea that the toys in his box are acceptable for chewing.

Aversive Substance Technique
Use an aversive substance to make the taste of the object unpleasant for your dog. The best way is to restrict your dogs access to the object (if that is possible) and only let it have access after you have used one of the following substances sprayed or applied to the object to deter your dog from playing with it. You mentioned that you have tried Bitter Apple, but one of the following substances might be more effective.

- Cayenne pepper,
- Aloe vera gel,
- A hot Tabasco sauce or similar.

Other Points to Consider
- When there are times in the day that your dog must entertain itself, tie your dog up outside or have it somewhere where it can not reach anything but its toys to chew on. Maybe give your dog a little chew treat.

- Practice obedience training your dog everyday, and make sure he gets plenty of exercise. This will help stimulate your dog mentally and physically, and thereby reduce its boredom.

- Do not physically punish your dog, as this will only cause more anxiety, and most likely increase his chewing.

- Do not play tug of war games with your dog.

- Never try to pull a toy from your dogs mouth - instead, distract him with a treat, and remove the object once he has dropped it.

- Ensure that he has plenty of toys to keep him occupied while you are out. You may want to rotate them, for added interest.

Best of luck with your Shih Tzu and please let us now how you get on.

Kind Regards,

Mark Edwards
Kingdom of Pets Team