Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
Among canids, it's not unusual to see one animal grabbing another by the muzzle. Whether done gently between two dogs that know each other or more roughly during a dispute, this behavior is quite normal and has also been noted in wolves and dingoes in the wild. But what does this behavior really mean? Why do dogs do this? When is it most likely to occur? As with many other canine behaviors, it really depends on the context.
Muzzle Grabs in Puppies
You may see this behavior occur in different circumstances starting from an early age. During weaning, mother dogs may begin to resent nursing due to the emergence of their puppies' sharp teeth. You may see mothers use muzzle grabs to discourage their pups from nursing.
Sometimes, an adult dog will engage in muzzle grabbing behavior to inform a rambunctious puppy that his behavior is rude or undesired. At times, pups even seem to solicit muzzle grabbing from adults. Unlike what was previously thought, mother dogs don't pin their pups down; rather, the pups submit voluntarily. For more on this, read about "alpha rolls." Through experience, pups soon learn to use muzzle grabs in play, and this teaches them how to apply the basics of bite inhibition.
Muzzle Grabs in Adult Dogs and Wolves
When adult dogs are playing, you may see them taking turns muzzle grabbing each other. Of course, this takes place after the dogs have expressed their playful intent through meta-communication.
Among wolves, gentle, inhibited muzzle grabs may be part of a ritual greeting. This behavior is also occasionally observed during low-key challenges, like disputes over who gets access to a particular resource. More rarely, wolves engage in agonistic muzzle grabs which, according to Wolf Ethogram (Wolf Park, Indiana), consist of "grabbing the muzzle and applying enough force to make the grabbed wolf whimper."
Muzzle biting in wolves is often accompanied by other threat behaviors which may also elicit whimpering. Roger Abrantes, BA in Philosophy and PhD in Evolutionary Biology, notes that muzzle grabs are used mostly "to confirm a relationship rather than to settle a dispute."
Should Owners Hold Their Dogs' Mouths Shut?
It is tempting for dog owners to mimic behaviors they see in their pets, especially when attempting to moderate unwanted behaviors. You'll often hear people say, "if your dog barks, tell him to hush by grabbing his muzzle and firmly holding on," or "if your puppy nips, grab his muzzle and apply pressure." Those who advocate for these methods do so in an attempt to "speak the same language" as their dogs. This may make sense to many, but the results are often deleterious.
First off, we are not dogs! We certainly don't go to parties and sniff other people's butts or urinate on our host's carpet in order to send "pee-mail." We are humans, and as such, we shake hands and use Facebook or Twitter to socialize. We don't shake hands with dogs or send them e-mails to communicate. Dogs are well aware that we are not the same type of animal as them.
Secondly, when we apply muzzle grabs to dogs, we teach them that hands are bad and that biting is the best way to keep them away. This is why I often get cases of nipping dogs that don't want hands anywhere near their faces and puppies that never learn to stop biting.
When I ask owners what they did to try to stop their dog's biting, they often tell me "a trainer (or the vet) told me to grab him by the muzzle or the scruff every time he bites." Doing this actually tends to exacerbate biting behavior because it teaches dogs two things:
- Hands are unpleasant.
- I can bite hands to keep them away from my face.
This modus operandi can take a significant amount of time and effort to undo. After these behaviors are learned, it can be difficult to create positive associations with hands so that owners can do normal things like pet their dog, wipe its eyes, or put its collar on without getting nipped in the process. If you have a pup that tends to nip, learn some force-free methods to reduce biting behavior, and consult with a force-free dog trainer/behavior consultant.
Muzzle Grabs at the Wolf Park
Physiology of Muzzle Grabs
As humans, we often forget that dogs use their mouths in a similar fashion to the way we use our hands. If we are walking a toddler in a supermarket and they throw a temper tantrum because they want to go see the toy section again, we usually use our hands to guide the toddler away, explaining that we cannot go there again, but that if we hurry, we can bake some cookies later at home. Dogs lack our manual dexterity and language, so they use their mouths instead. Muzzle grabs can help them redirect other dogs' undesirable behaviors.
As horrific as a muzzle grab may seem, veterinarian, consultant, and author, Myrna Milani, notes how the shape of the dog's muzzle seems to have evolved to "enable a dog to grab and hold another dog by applying four small points of pressure, thereby protecting the other from the crushing force of the premolars and molars."
Dogs' muzzle areas are mostly composed of skin and bone. If a dog grabs another's muzzle and feels bone, he should instinctively stop applying pressure, especially if the other dog responds appropriately and freezes rather than resisting. Fortunately, most dogs get the message and display an appropriate response.
What Do the Experts Say?
There seems to be some dispute over how to classify muzzle grabbing behavior, with some experts suggesting it's social, some portraying it as agonistic, and others classifying it as pacifying. In my opinion, it doesn't fall into any specific behavioral category because its use depends on its context.
As we've learned, canines use muzzle grabs with each other frequently, and most know how to respond to them. Problems arise when humans try to use dog-specific behaviors when dealing with their own pets.
© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 15, 2020:
Well, C, we need to consider that all dogs are different. While your dog may have accepted hands on his face (albeit annoying, bless his tolerance), some others could bite and never want hands near their face again. Because of these risks, I would never suggest this method. It's like putting a hand on a person's mouth while talking, without listening what is going on. There are better ways.
C on August 08, 2020:
I used light muzzle grabbing when my dog was a puppy, my parents did with theirs, my sister did with hers...my puppy nipped for about a week and then stopped and is not afraid of anyone’s hands at all. If done right it can solve puppy nipping. Too much emotion goes into puppy training these days and we wonder why so many dogs bite and don’t listen.
RMartin on January 01, 2018:
I use muzzle grips with my dogs and they see that as affectionate....they actually look for it!!!
Rebecca Martin on October 26, 2017:
My dog actually looks for me to grab her muzzle she actually engages me to grab her muzzle Softly some said it is a sign of affection also or it can be
Camille Harris from SF Bay Area on March 19, 2014:
My puppy does this ALL the time to my new (old) dog. She does it especially when we try to pet the new guy. Glad to know what it signifies!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 17, 2014:
When my dogs are tired of playing sometimes they'll be side-by-side lying down and will play "who gets to muzzle grab the other." They have discussions as they do this with their mouths open and almost sound like "Chewbacca".
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on March 16, 2014:
Very useful lesson about muzzel grabbing. I used to wonder about that.
The Truth About Scruff Shaking Dogs for Discipline
When it comes to training dogs, there are several different types of methods and techniques, but training methods focusing on confrontational, punishment-based techniques are known to cause unnecessary stress and fear in dogs. One method that has been promulgated by television shows and books is scruff shaking, basically grabbing the puppy or dog by the scruff and shaking when he is misbehaving. The practice of scruff shaking dogs has been around for many years and has often been portrayed as species typical behavior, meaning that it’s based on what dogs do to other dogs. Turns out though that studies prove otherwise.
Which Type of Muzzle is Best For Your Dog?
This leaves the wire basket muzzle or one of the better quality plastic ones as the better choice for reactive or aggressive dogs. The air flow is best with a wire basket muzzles. The ability to give your dog a treat through the muzzle is a little easier, too. However, the wire muzzles tend to be a little heavier and dogs can still hurt others with by hitting them with the muzzle.
Cut a hole at the front of plastic muzzles to make a larger hole to give them treats through the muzzle.
“Cute” of “Funny” Muzzles
The idea is great, but sadly, they are only good for short-term situations where the dog is unlikely to pant. Like the occlusion muzzles, they may be fine for temporary use such as at the vet or grooming.
Dangers and considerations with cute/funny duckbill muzzles
- If the temperatures are warm, or a dog is likely to be anxious, they should be avoided. Do not use these muzzles for walking or any situation where a dog needs to pant.
- the cute concept may encourage kids to approach.
- Many have reported that these muzzles are too easy for the dog to pull off.
The Problem With Head Halters
Before reading this article, please understand the basic concept presented: Head halters, like ALL training equipment, need to be used carefully. Why readers are sometimes violently angry with me over this concept is beyond me - all I'm pointing to are potential problems that need to be taken into consideration. If you like head halters and they work for you, great! But like all training equipment, they are NOT appropriate for every dog. Humane trainers need to be aware of and carefully consider the ramifications of any training equipment.
Past that, here's the REAL message: NO training equipment can substitute for a strong, mutually respectful relationship. Pulling on lead is NOT respectful, and points to underlying problems in the relationship which need resolution. Halters or any other piece of equipment might be important crutches to lean on while resolving the real problem - pulling is just a symptom of that real problem. Pay attention to trainers like Turid Rugaas, and realize that it is the relationship, not the training equipment, that allows you to gain the dog's voluntary cooperation.
To answer a question many ask, "What is your preferred training equipment?" My answer is always this: A respectful, committed relationship built on trust, mutual respect, attentiveness and empathy, backed up with a buckle collar or martingale collar and a leash to keep your dog safe. Anything else is a band-aid or a crutch that may have to be used for a while as we work toward that kind of relationship.
Going against the tide of popular opinion, I have to say I am not a big fan of head halters of any design although I have used them with success, just as I have used prong collars, various no-pull harnesses, choke collars, buckle collars, martingales and even electronic collars. I consider head halters an equipment choice of last resort for several reasons: resistance, psychological impact and physical considerations. Having said that, let me state very, very clearly that head halters are like any other piece of equipment - they are an option which may or may not be used, according to the individual dog and the situation. And like any training equipment, halters must be used with care and with complete awareness of the possible effects on the dog (physically, mentally & emotionally).
My approach to dog training seeks to engage the dog as a willing partner. In my actions, words and choice of training equipment, I try to avoid anything that will create resistance in the dog. Resistance often springs from fear, discomfort, distrust and defensiveness - none of these are states of mind I want in a dog. Resistance is hardly conducive to learning, and is not supportive of the relationship between dog and human. I view resistance as communication, and in my mind, communication from the dog must be respected and listened to. Where I find resistance, I need to find another way. Head halters, in my experience, frequently do create resistance.
From a psychological point of view, even if the halter does not create much fighting and resistance (I've seen some dogs only mildly fuss before resigning themselves to it), it can have an unpleasant effect on the dog overall. At a clicker seminar a few years ago, I watched a well known trainer work with a lovely little Lab bitch. Enthusiastic and happy, she came charging into the seminar room, towing her hapless owner. The poor dog had been chosen for this demo because she pulled. (Side note: dogs only pull on lead. I have never seen a dog pulling off leash - ever! It takes two to play the pulling game, and perhaps what we need to invent are ways to correct the handler who makes pulling possible! But at no time did this trainer address the handler or her responsibility in the problem behavior - i.e., pulling.)
At any rate, the halter went on, and the change in this dog was awful. From alert, eager and happy, she became a very depressed dog who stood with tail slightly tucked, head lowered and no longer interested in engaging with the trainer. In short, there was an overall suppressive effect similar to that on dogs experiencing non-contingent punishment. This is a good thing?The trainer in question seemed to think the results were wonderful.
When I put my hands on an animal, figuratively or literally speaking, I don't want the effect to be a negative. I am not looking to diminish the animal in any way, but rather to guide them, to channel their spirit and mind. I may ask for more self control. I may ask the animal to focus. I may ask the animal to be with me. But none of this is ever done in a way that results in a dog drooping with the light in their eyes extinguished. I'm after a dog who is calm, relaxed, trusting.
The easiest test I know of whether or not the head halter is having an overall suppressive effect on the dog is this: take it off. Does the dog visibly brighten? Does his body posture change? Does the light return to his eyes? I'm not talking about the joy of simply being set free to run and play. I'm talking about the difference between the dog standing there on leash and collar but without the head halter vs. the dog wearing the head halter. If there is a difference, I think the aware trainer has to ask, "Then why am I doing this to this animal?"
There may be valid reasons for using this equipment - such as an owner who has totally lost control of a dog, and the equipment is being used on a temporary basis as remedial training takes place such as an aggressive animal where there is a serious need to control the dog's ability to bite (some head halters allow you to tighten the muzzle loop and thus close the mouth.) There may not be any good reason for using this equipment except that it's a popular fad, the quick control gained is often viewed as a suitable substitute for real training and a solid relationship. But the question needs to be asked - and answered honestly: Why am I using this head halter on this dog?
I would suggest that many handlers choose halters because it is easier on them, because they can mechanically control a dog that they otherwise could not (due to a lack of training or relationship problems or both). Any training equipment that is used to substitute for training and a solid, healthy relationship is just a crutch. And every piece of training equipment and all the rewards known to mankind can be used as a crutch, whether it's a buckle collar, a head halter, an electric collar, a frisbee or a pocket full of hot dogs. Sometimes crutches are necessary but not as a lifelong solution.
Proponents of the halter claim that it is no different from halters used on horses - a concept in use as long as man has tried to control horses. With 34 years of horsemanship under my belt, I assure the reader that this is simply not true. There is a profound difference in effect and fit. For the horse, the halter sits well down on the long, bony part of the muzzle, far away from the eyes, not just under the edge of his eyes. For many dogs, the halter nose piece comes just under the inside corners of the eyes. I'm not a dog, but I know that this is a sensitive area with many nerves and thin skin on dogs and on most animals. The construction of the canine head does not really loan itself to haltering - thus, for centuries on end, folks have used collars for dogs, reserving halters for animals better suited to it.
If I have to rely on training equipment to literally provide a sedating/inhibiting effect for a dog, then I'm probably way ahead of myself - that dog is too greatly aroused to be working at that level his arousal needs to be addressed long before I begin teaching him anything else. Much of the training equipment in existence is needed because the dog is being asked to work in situations where he does not have the skills or the ability to think clearly and behave appropriately. When we work slowly and carefully to keep the dog engaged and thinking, the need for equipment begins to fall away very quickly. If we push the dog (or have never established a solid working relationship with him), we'll need equipment.
In terms of psychological effect, there is another difference between dogs and horses. For the dog, the muzzle area is rich in psychological impact. Dams gently grab errant puppies by the muzzle (or even the entire head, depending on their age), much of the canine greeting ritual is directed at the muzzle (subordinant animals often lick at the muzzle or even gently grab the muzzle of a dominant animal), and quick disciplinary grabs are often directed at the offender's muzzle. Just taking your hand and putting it across the bridge of a dog's nose is a very meaningful communication. Would you try it with a dog you do not know too well? Why not?
There's a very good psychological reason why so many dogs wearing halters look so depressed while horses and cattle don't. Horses and cattle do not use the muzzle or the bridge of the nose in this way. You will not see a mare grab her foal by the muzzle to correct him - she has other ways of communicating with him. The halter is a physical annoyance to the horse, but I've yet to see a horse who was depressed in any way by wearing a halter. The most I've seen in horses or cattle was a reaction to the unaccustomed feel, just as a puppy finds a collar annoying but not depressing.
There are times when the overall suppressive effect created by head halters IS useful, thus the halter's popularity among many behaviorists who are trying to find solutions for difficult behavior cases where the dog/human relationship has gone badly askew. There are times when the ability to direct a dog's head and close his mouth (a feature of some head halters, if not all) is really critical to an owner's ability to safely control a dog with serious problems. In such cases, I do choose a halter for just that reason, and use it with care. Everything has a purpose sooner or later.
On a physical basis, the halter is probably the one piece of training equipment that appalls me most - the potential for injuring the dog is simply too high. I'm not talking about snapping the dog's neck or crushing his trachea - I'm talking about soft tissue damage and damage to the spine, particularly the cervicals. At numerous APDT conferences, I've had the opportunity to spend entire days watching trainers and their dogs. Many of these dogs wore head halters, not surprising since APDT attracts many trainers who are interested in humane and positive approaches to training the head halter is seen as both. What horrified me was the number of people (remember, these are professional trainers and serious dog folks!) who would simply stop at a booth, allowing the dog to drift ahead until he reached the end of the lead and then had his head brought sharply to one side. Watching this repeated over and over again, I began to feel that I was watching people casually moving boats in water - as if the leverage and force made possible by the head halter had little more impact to the object on the end of the lead than a canoe might experience!
NOTHING in the dog's physical construction or his nervous system prepares him for the force of an unexpected, externally directed, sideways and upward movement of the head while his body is still moving forward (sometimes at considerable speed!). For the horse, the leverage is similar but with key differences: the force is directed sideways and downward, and the muscles of the horse's neck are among the most powerful in his body. There is also a considerable difference in force that can be applied to a 1000 lbs. of horse vs. 25-75 lbs. of dog. Interestingly, when working with young horses, ponies and miniature horses, care must be taken in the use of the halter with allowances made for the height difference - knowledgeable handlers do not apply force upwards and sideways, but turn the animal's head in the same plane as would happen with a larger horse.
I've heard people defend the sideways snapping movement that occurs in the head and neck by pointing out that this is part of being a predator, that dogs who hit the sleeve in agitation work or try to move a sheep or take down a deer experience this same motion?but at even greater speeds and with greater force. This is true, but there's an important detail missing in this argument, details that can be found in almost any physiology book. Signals from the brain serve to prepare the body and muscles for the task at hand roughly described, such signals help the muscles "lock" in preparation for the anticipated impact/force. You've probably experienced this yourself when going up or down stairs. If you've miscalculated and there is one step more or less than you anticipate, you find yourself badly jolted by either stepping into empty space where your brain had anticipated solid floor, or by stepping down and landing hard - your brain had prepared your foot for landing further down on the next stair. This preparation by the brain serves to protect the body. It is what makes rough play and work possible. Dogs happily throwing themselves at each other only rarely hurt themselves or their playmate. Dogs who are blindsided and t-boned unexpectedly are often hurt - nothing in their brain prepared their body for the coming impact. When we see a dog rushing at us in play, our bodies prepare for the impact. When a dog surprises us, we can be hurt - our muscles were not prepared. When working with a head halter, the dog is moving along with his brain and body working on the assumption that he will be proceeding forward. Anytime the halter is used in such a way as to actually turn the dog (unless preparatory signals are given, such as fingertip pulses that in essence "ask" the dog to make the turn), there is no warning to the dog's body. The greater the force used to turn the dog and/or the greater the speed the dog is moving at, the more profound the impact.
Imagine if you were walking along with a similar contraption on your head. What might it feel like if your head was pulled sharply to the side with no warning? What if you were running? It's not hard to imagine how painful that might be. (And think what you like regarding anthropomorphizing - in this case, the anatomical responses are pretty much identical.) There's a good reason that one of football's most severe penalties is reserved for "facemasking" meaning, a player grabs the face mask of another player in motion - severe injuries and even death are possible. Not too surprisingly, in my seminars when I ask proponents of the head collars to put one on themselves and allow me to demonstrate the basic "oops" maneuver that many dogs experience when pulled by their heads, NO ONE has ever volunteered. Not once, though over the years more folks than I can count have willingly put prong collars around their necks and bare arms.
What if you received light signals that asked you to turn that way before a stronger signal came? Your brain would have to time to prepare your body to protect it. But if you were both able and willing to respond to light signals, why would you need a head halter anyhow? Why couldn't someone have taught you to respond to light, soft signals on a buckle collar? Teaching an animal to respond to soft, subtle signals is training, and it requires time, persistence and handling with awareness and skill.
Despite their popularity, head halters, in my opinion, have many drawbacks and offer much potential for pain and discomfort. (I'm not even going to address the long term effects of such insults to the soft tissue of the neck other than to say that the ultimate result of any repeated insult to soft tissue is dysfunction.) In their very application, resistance is often created which simply adds to the problems already at hand which necessitated the halter in the first place! In some situations, head halters might be a suitable choice, but should be viewed as a temporary phase, not a life long solution. Based on what I seek when working with a dog - willing partnership, a calm mind free from resistance, and only the equipment necessary to allow me to communicate?clearly and quietly with the dog - there are other choices that work much?better for me.
Many trainers find head halters truly useful training tools and feel comfortable with this as a humane choice. This article is not an attempt to condemn head halters as useful training tool. It is an attempt to get trainers and handlers to stop and truly consider the ramifications of using a head halter, be aware of the potential dangers and choose training equipment wisely.
By choosing to download this article you agree to our article usage terms
"The Problem With Head Halters" by Suzanne Clothier
It’s normal for puppies and dogs to chew on objects as they explore the world. Chewing accomplishes a number of things for a dog. For young dogs, it’s a way to relieve pain that might be caused by incoming teeth. For older dogs, it’s nature’s way of keeping jaws strong and teeth clean. Chewing also combats boredom and can relieve mild anxiety or frustration.
Rule Out Problems That Can Cause Destructive Chewing
Dogs who chew to relieve the stress of separation anxiety usually only chew when left alone or chew most intensely when left alone. They also display other signs of separation anxiety, such as whining, barking, pacing, restlessness, urination and defecation. To learn more about separation anxiety and how to treat it, please see our article, Separation Anxiety.
Some dogs lick, suck and chew at fabrics. Some experts believe that this behavior results from having been weaned too early (before seven or eight weeks of age). If a dog’s fabric-sucking behavior occurs for lengthy periods of time and it’s difficult to distract him when he attempts to engage in it, it’s possible that the behavior has become compulsive. If you think this might be the case with your dog, please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, for information about finding a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) with specialized training and experience in treating compulsive behavior.
A dog on a calorie-restricted diet might chew and destroy objects in an attempt to find additional sources of nutrition. Dogs usually direct this kind of chewing toward objects related to food or that smell like food.
How to Manage or Reduce Your Dog’s Destructive Chewing
The desire to investigate interesting objects and the discomfort of teething motivate puppies to chew. Much like human infants, puppies go through a stage when they lose their baby teeth and experience pain as their adult teeth come in. This intensified chewing phase usually ends by six months of age. Some recommend giving puppies ice cubes, special dog toys that can be frozen or frozen wet washcloths to chew, which might help numb teething pain. Although puppies do need to chew on things, gentle guidance can teach your puppy to restrict chewing to appropriate objects, like his own toys.
Normal Chewing Behavior
Chewing is a perfectly normal behavior for dogs of all ages. Both wild and domestic dogs spend hours chewing bones. This activity keeps their jaws strong and their teeth clean. Dogs love to chew on bones, sticks and just about anything else available. They chew for fun, they chew for stimulation, and they chew to relieve anxiety. While chewing behavior is normal, dogs sometimes direct their chewing behavior toward inappropriate items. Both puppies and adult dogs should have a variety of appropriate and attractive chew toys. However, just providing the right things to chew isn’t enough to prevent inappropriate chewing. Dogs need to learn what is okay to chew and what is not. They need to be taught in a gentle, humane manner.
- “Dog-proof” your house. Put valuable objects away until you’re confident that your dog’s chewing behavior is restricted to appropriate items. Keep shoes and clothing in a closed closest, dirty laundry in a hamper and books on shelves. Make it easy for your dog to succeed.
- Provide your dog with plenty of his own toys and inedible chew bones. Pay attention to the types of toys that keep him chewing for long periods of time and continue to offer those. It’s ideal to introduce something new or rotate your dog’s chew toys every couple of days so that he doesn’t get bored with the same old toys. (Use caution: Only give your dog natural bones that are sold specifically for chewing. Do not give him cooked bones, like leftover t-bones or chicken wings, as these can splinter and seriously injure your dog. Also keep in mind that some intense chewers may be able to chip small pieces off of natural bones or chip their own teeth while chewing. If you have concerns about what’s safe to give your dog, speak with his veterinarian.)
- Offer your dog some edible things to chew, like bully sticks, pig ears, rawhide bones, pig skin rolls or other natural chews. Dogs can sometimes choke on edible chews, especially if they bite off and swallow large hunks. If your dog is inclined to do this, make sure he’s separated from other dogs when he chews so he can relax. (If he has to chew in the presence of other dogs, he might feel that he has to compete with them and try to quickly gulp down edible items.) Also be sure to keep an eye on your dog whenever he’s working on an edible chew so that you can intervene if he starts to choke.
- Identify times of the day when your dog is most likely to chew and give him a puzzle toy filled with something delicious. You can include some of your dog’s daily ration of food in the toy.
- Discourage chewing inappropriate items by spraying them with chewing deterrents. When you first use a deterrent, apply a small amount to a piece of tissue or cotton wool. Gently place it directly in your dog’s mouth. Allow him to taste it and then spit it out. If your dog finds the taste unpleasant, he might shake his head, drool or retch. He won’t pick up the piece of tissue or wool again. Ideally, he will have learned the connection between the taste and the odor of the deterrent, and he’ll be more likely to avoid chewing items that smell like it. Spray the deterrent on all objects that you don’t want your dog to chew. Reapply the deterrent every day for two to four weeks. Please realize, however, that successful treatment for destructive chewing will require more than just the use of deterrents. Dogs need to learn what they can chew as well as what they can’t chew.
- Do your best to supervise your dog during all waking hours until you feel confident that his chewing behavior is under control. If you see him licking or chewing an item he shouldn’t, say “Uh-oh,” remove the item from your dog’s mouth, and insert something that he CAN chew. Then praise him happily. If you suspect that your dog might react aggressively if you remove an item from his mouth, please see our Finding Professional Behavior Help article for information about finding a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or Associate CAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) with specialized training in treating aggression for guidance.
- When you can’t supervise your dog, you must find a way to prevent him from chewing on inappropriate things in your absence. For example, if you work during the day, you can leave your dog at home in a confinement area for up to six hours. Use a crate or put your dog in a small room with the door or a baby gate closed. Be sure to remove all things that your dog shouldn’t chew from his confinement area, and give him a variety of appropriate toys and chew things to enjoy instead. Keep in mind that if you confine your dog, you’ll need to give him plenty of exercise and quality time with you when he’s not confined.
- Provide your dog with plenty of physical exercise (playtime with you and with other dogs) and mental stimulation (training, social visits, etc.). If you have to leave your dog alone for more than a short period of time, make sure he gets out for a good play session beforehand.
- To help your dog learn the difference between things he should and shouldn’t chew, it’s important to avoid confusing him by offering unwanted household items, like old shoes and discarded cushions. It isn’t fair to expect your dog to learn that some shoes are okay to chew and others aren’t.
- Some puppies and juvenile dogs like to chew dirty underwear. This problem is most easily resolved by always putting dirty underwear in a closed hamper. Likewise, some puppies and dogs like to raid the garbage and chew up discarded sanitary napkins and tampons. This can be very dangerous. If a dog eats a sanitary item, it can expand while moving through his digestive system. Discard napkins and tampons in a container that’s inaccessible to your dog. Most young dogs grow out of these behaviors as they mature.
Lack of Exercise or Mental Stimulation
Some dogs simply do not get enough physical and mental stimulation. Bored dogs tend look for ways to entertain themselves, and chewing is one option. To prevent destructive chewing, be sure to provide plenty of ways for your dog to exercise his mind and body. Great ways to accomplish this include daily walks and outings, off-leash play with other dogs, tug and fetch games, clicker training classes, dog sports (agility, freestyle, flyball, etc.), and feeding meals in food puzzle toys.
Stress and Frustration
Sometimes a dog will chew when experiencing something that causes stress, such as being crated near another animal he doesn’t get along with or getting teased by children when confined in a car. To reduce this kind of chewing, try to avoid exposing your dog to situations that make him nervous or upset.
Dogs who are prevented from engaging in exciting activities sometimes direct biting, shaking, tearing and chewing at nearby objects. Shelter dogs and puppies sometimes grab and shake blankets or bowls in their kennels whenever people walk by because they’d like attention. When they don’t get it, their frustration is expressed through destructive behavior. A dog who sees a squirrel or cat run by and wants to chase but is behind a fence might grab and chew at the gate. A dog watching another dog in a training class might become so excited by the sight of his canine classmate having fun that he grabs and chews his leash. (Agility and Flyball dogs are especially prone to this behavior because they watch other dogs racing around and having a great time, and they want to join in the action.) The best intervention for this problem is to anticipate when frustration might happen and give your dog an appropriate toy for shaking and tearing. In a class situation, carry a tug or stuffed toy for your dog to hold and chew. If your dog is frustrated by animals or objects on the other side of a fence or gate at home, tie a rope toy to something sturdy by the gate or barrier. Provide shelter dogs and puppies with toys and chew bones in their kennels. Whenever possible, teach them to approach the front of their kennels and sit quietly to solicit attention from passersby.
What NOT to Do
- Do not show your dog the damage he did and spank, scold or punish him after the fact. He cannot connect your punishment with some behavior he did hours or even minutes ago.
- Do not use duct tape to hold your dog’s mouth closed around a chewed object for any length of time. This is inhumane, will teach your dog nothing, and dogs have died from this procedure.
- Do not tie a damaged object to your dog. This is inhumane and will teach your dog nothing.
- Do not leave your dog in a crate for lengthy periods of time (more than six hours) to prevent chewing.
- Do not muzzle your dog to prevent chewing.