There are as many different ways to train your dog not to chew on things as there are trainers. However, I picked one way and stuck with it, and I think that consistency just might have been the special sauce. I successfully turned my little velociraptor into a well-mannered little beast who won't chew on anything unless it's specifically given to him. I hope this works for you, too!!
Let's Get Started!
First of all, I need to know how bad you want Bowser to stop chewing on your stuff. Really bad? OK, cool. Because the success of this method relies on you following through on two very important commitments:
- Always be directly supervising Bowser.
- If you can't directly supervise, you must manage Bowser's circumstances so that he literally DOES NOT HAVE THE OPTION to chew on your stuff. (Our trainer calls this "setting him up for success.")
If you want it bad enough, these two commitments are TOTALLY POSSIBLE. Trust me--if I did it, you can too. If it's really not that big of a deal that Bowser gnaws on the Apple TV remote, then leave him alone in the living room, I don't care! But if that's not ok...Bowser cannot be left alone in the living room until he really truly doesn't chew on stuff that isn't his anymore.
So, what do I mean by managing circumstances? Whatever it takes to make sure that when you leave Bowser unsupervised, he cannot make the bad decision to chew on something that isn't his. For me, that means I leave Chance barricaded in the kitchen when I leave the house. I give him a toy he's allowed to chew on, his bed, and a bowl of water, and I set up a baby-gate across the doorway. There's just nothing else available for him to ruin.
If you need to be gone for the whole work-day, you may need to take Bowser to doggy daycare until he can be trusted to be home alone. The other great solution is crate-training. If you don't know what that is or exactly what "crate-training" means, check out this article first. I'll wait.
Got it? So when your dog is crate-trained, you've got a place for them to go and chill out. If you've done a great job introducing the crate, they can stay in a crate while you're gone--Pets WebMD says up to five hours at a time, and the ASPCA says up to six.
After you've promised Bowser never to leave him unsupervised unless he literally can't cause damage, let's teach him not to chew on your stuff!
Teaching the Difference Between "Mine" and "Yours"
1. Catch him in the act
When you catch Bowser settling down to chew on your shoe, let fly with a loud "EH EH EH!" while staring angrily at him. Now look, I'm not talking about some "alpha dog" stare-down. He just needs to be very clear that this is directed at him and the action he is doing, you're not on the phone or something.
"Eh eh eh" is the noise I use instead of "no." Cesar Millan famously suggests his "tsch" noise but I can't do that effectively (without also producing a ton of spittle). The "EH EH EH" must be loud, firm, and sound different from any other vocalization you ever make. Mine, according to friends and neighbors, sounds really annoying and grating. This is good, because there will never be any confusion with Bowser about what that sound means. You'll never use it, for example, to scream at the TV when you're watching football. It is just for Bowser, and SPECIFICALLY it is just for when Bowser is doing something he needs to STOP DOING RIGHT NOW.
2. CLAIM THE OBJECT
There was never one moment when that loud noise didn't stop Chance in his tracks, so hopefully Bowser is the same. The next step is to move to the abandoned object and quite clearly pick it up and pull it close to you, while looking at Bowser.
Again, the point of this is not to "stare into your dog's eyes to assert dominance." But I always felt like if I looked at the shoe instead of Chance, he might think I just really wanted that shoe. I wanted him to be crystal clear that my problem was with his behavior--not that I just had a hankering for shoe. Holding the object, standing your ground, and looking clearly at Bowser should communicate "THIS. IS. MINE. What were you thinking touching it?"
3. GIVE BOWSER "HIS" OBJECT
Once the "claiming" moment is done, immediately grab the nearest dog toy and give it to him. Hopefully you've got a bunch strewn around so you don't have to go too far to grab one. If you DO have to go into the next room or something, make it a game! Lots of "OK come on Bowser! Let's find a toy!" Then go dashing off to find a chew toy. Once you've got it, deliver it to him with lots of enthusiasm.
Your demeanor at this point has to be night-and-day different from a moment ago. No more angry AT ALL. Instead of thinking, "dammit Bowser THIS is your freaking toy, chew on THAT not my shoe," think, "Bowser this toy is JUST FOR YOU and I will be SO PROUD if you chew on this!" You really want to encourage him to get right back to what he was just doing a second ago (chewing) but on an appropriate toy.
4. PRAISE THE HELL OUT OF BOWSER
If Bowser is anything like Chance, he'll happily settle right down and chew on the toy because you have made it abundantly clear that nothing would make you happier than seeing him chew on that Nylabone dinosaur. Lots of praise and ear-scratches. Then leave him to his business.
Once you've got this sequence down, you can set up "teachable moments." If you see Bowser eyeing up a particular item he's not supposed to have, don't stop him from going after it--wait until the very moment he touches it, then start in with your "EH EH EH!"
This works because punishment (which is technically the "EH EH EH") is ONLY effective at the very moment your dog BEGINS TO DO SOMETHING WRONG. As Dr. Stanley Coren puts it on Psychology Today, studies have shown that "if you can catch a dog just as he is beginning to initiate an unwanted act, then that immediate punishment may prevent the dog from performing that behavior in the future."
The flip-side is that, once the moment has passed, you cannot do any teaching!! Dr. Coren, take it away: "However, if you punish a dog after he has already performed the unwanted behavior, or even while he is already committed much of his misbehavior and is in the middle of the act, it simply won't work."
Hold up. Let that sink in.
Punishment administered to your dog AFTER HE HAS DONE SOMETHING WRONG is completely ineffective. He literally "cannot connect punishment to any act he committed more than three minutes ago," according to certified animal behaviorist Mary Huntsberry. You should really check out that blog post if you're skeptical.
I really, really want this to be 100% clear because it's something a lot of people get wrong. This is why you're not supposed to drag your dog into the living room to "show" him the poop he left there, then either hit him or rub his nose in it. He may think he's being hit for following you to the living room the way you asked him to, or he just might think you're completely unpredictable and there's no telling when you'll haul off and whack him. And he may think you're trying to get him to eat his poop, which is how some dogs pick up this disgusting habit.
You cannot punish your dog for something he did when you weren't there.
And, for the record, I personally really don't think there's ever a good reason to hit your dog. In my (admittedly limited) experience, you can achieve whatever you think you're gonna achieve by hitting your dog with just an "EH EH EH."
Got it? Excellent. Moving right along...
Don't Confuse Your Dog
It will be a lot easier to make sure your dog understands the difference between "yours" and "mine" if you don't give him your stuff to chew on. So if you've got a pair of shoes you're ready to throw away, FOR THE LOVE OF DOG DO NOT GIVE THEM TO BOWSER TO CHEW ON. He can't tell the difference between a pair of worn-through Toms and your brand-new Louboutins.
This goes for jeans, pillows, old towels, literally anything. ONLY give your dog toys made for dogs.
1. I must be eh-eh-eh'ing wrong, because my dog is absolutely unfazed by me. How can I get him to stop chewing other than "EH EH EH"??
If you've given it your all but you just can't muster up a scary-sounding "EH EH EH," you might want to try using a can of Pet Corrector spray. I suggest this ONLY as a last resort, as I have found the Pet Corrector to be a really useful tool with Chance BUT you only want to use it for ONE THING. So if you think you might want to use it for something else, like barking out the window or lunging at other dogs, don't use it for chewing. But if chewing is your #1 problem with Bowser, it will probably have the desired effect.
2. My dog growls at me when I try to take my shoe away...
Get a professional trainer, immediately. (If you're in Los Angeles, I recommend Matt Beisner at THE ZEN DOG.)
3. My dog is not at all interested in dog toys.
I did not have this problem with Chance at all, so I can't answer from personal experience. I have, however, heard that if you give your dog toys to play with while he's crated for a period of time, he may well learn to love them since he has nothing better to do (or chew).
4. This doesn't sound like the positive-reinforcement training I want to do with my dog.
I'm not a trained trainer, so you're probably right. From what I can tell, using the "EH EH EH" is technically an "aversive" (punishment), and therefore does not fall under the rubric of positive-only training. Judging from this article, I think this method falls more under the "balanced training" style. But before I even learned that there was such a thing as "positive-only" training, I tried this method, and it worked for us. Personally, I've found the "EH EH EH" to be a life-saver in more than one situation, especially since Chance is not the most food-motivated dog I've ever met (AND YES I HAVE TRIED LUSCIOUS BLOODY MEAT).
To sum it all up:
- Always be supervising your dog so you can catch any mistakes.
- If you can't supervise, manage your dog's circumstances so he literally cannot make a mistake.
- When you catch your dog starting to chew your stuff: "EH EH EH," reclaim the object, present an acceptable chew toy, and praise a ton.
- Use teachable moments to catch your dog at the moment of making a mistake.
- If you miss the moment and you find something your dog has chewed up, you have to just let it go--dogs do not connect punishment to an act committed in the past.
- Just don't hit your dog. You don't need to, and it's hurting, not helping.
- Don't confuse your dog by giving him stuff to chew on that you otherwise don't want him chewing on, i.e. old shoes, old pairs of jeans, etc.
If you've found this helpful, subscribe to the email list for a free guide I made called "5 Routines to Make Life with Your Dog Easier"--you may find it similarly useful!