Dogs love to chew! It is a simple fact. From puppies, to adults, to senior dogs, all can benefit in so many ways from a good chew. When dogs lived in the wild, they would spend a good deal of time chewing on the bones of prey. This was their way of extracting nutrients, as they might not eat again for a little while. Chewing is part of their makeup; they are born to do it.
Domestic dogs do not of course need to chew on their kill, as they have a plentiful food supply. Dogs have not however lost their ‘hard-wiring’ for the need to chew. Unfortunately, our companion dogs often choose to chew things that are important to us as owners. This can lead to upset, frustration, anger and a great deal of expense. Chewing can bring dogs into conflict with us, but by swallowing non-nutritious objects, such as wood and plastic, dogs also expose themselves to illness, choking risk and even potential death.
Sadly, many dog owners only see chewing as a negative behaviour, a nuisance, or a means of their dog expressing anxiety and distress when left alone. Yet chewing is in fact hugely positive for dogs. By appreciating and understanding a dog’s need to chew, owners can help dogs to improve their health and well-being, emotional strength and even behaviour.
Why do dogs chew?
Dogs chew mainly because they enjoy it and it is a very natural behaviour for them. Interpreting chewing as a mischievous or naughty behaviour is entirely wrong. From the start of life, puppies will put objects into their mouths to explore and just to see what happens. The fact that the owners dash up to take it away, only makes the object much more interesting. Reprimanding a puppy / dog is only likely to make matters worse. Punishment can cause additional stress and worry and guess what……that can lead them to chew even more! The type of chewing puppies practice, may actually continue up until approximately 2 years of age. Many dogs love to chew long into adulthood. So, it is very worthwhile for owners to explore ways to channel this essential behaviour appropriately.
As they start to develop, dogs will continue to chew for a variety of reasons including –
- Dental care and maintenance
- Attention seeking
- To reduce anxiety
- To amuse themselves and relax
It is recommended that a dog’s teeth are regularly cleaned, but this can be a challenge for some owners. The process of chewing also helps to keep the teeth and gums strong and reduces the buildup of tartar. Chewing increases the flow of saliva in the dog’s mouth and this has anti-bacterial properties.
Dogs can suffer from painful teeth and gums, just like people. This may lead to dogs losing their appetite, as it is painful to eat. In addition, it is a possibility that vital organs may be damaged by bacteria from the diseased areas passing into the bloodstream. It is also very common for older dogs to start to smell unpleasantly. Owners are often tempted to start bathing their dog frequently, when unfortunately, it is bad breath from decaying teeth that is causing the issue. Studies have shown, that along with good daily dental hygiene, (brushing the teeth with a canine toothpaste regularly) chewing is an excellent way to contribute to dental health. Care does of course have to be taken to supervise dogs when chewing, as more rigorous chewers can also break their teeth!
Comfort / contentment
Chewing is an activity that helps dogs to feel relaxed and keeps them amused. It also helps to reduce anxiety. If puppies are taught to chew on more appropriate items from an early age, it can help them to focus on contentedly chewing on a nutritious treat, which they will enjoy and repeat. In the long term, this can help dogs to grow up and avoid developing separation distress and anxiety.
It is important to make sure you chose the right chew for your dog. Many dogs are able to cope chewing on a raw bone. They learn to work slowly and methodically, avoiding damage to teeth or swallowing splinters of bone. Others just won’t slow down. This means they may swallow large pieces that break off and this poses a risk. In the latter cases, it is essential to provide such dogs with safer alternatives as an outlet for chewing. This is also the case for older dogs, or those who already have dental disease and may risk breaking a tooth on a hard chew. It is also important to consider the size of your dog and the type of chewer e.g. does your dog aggressively like to chew? In simple terms, if your dog is trying a new type of chew, or you have any concerns, always be sure to supervise carefully.
There are some plastic-type chews available that are flavoured to make them appealing and small pieces break off and work their way through a dog’s digestive system. The chews are designed to be consumed in this way, but allowing dogs to swallow plastic pieces could reinforce the very type of behaviour you wish to stop. How can a dog possibly tell which types of plastic are suitable to chew and / or swallow?
These chews are one of the few that are also suitable for very young dogs, including pups over 16 weeks of age. They are produced from skimmed Himalayan Yak milk and have a little lime juice added, before being compressed into blocks and smoke dried. This gives the chews their tasty flavour that appeals to so many dogs. They are preservative and gluten free, rich in calcium and vegetarian. They also help to fight plaque and tartar. The even better news is that they are very low in fat at just 5.2%. As dogs chew and gnaw at the Yaker chew, the body of the chew breaks down safely and slowly, effectively dissolving. They also come in different sizes – small, standard and extra-large, so they suit all different sizes and type of dog. In the Himalayas, humans nibble on them too as they taste so good!
Antlers have become very popular with dogs and owners alike over recent times. They are made up of phosphorus, calcium and water and usually come from the deer family. The antlers start to develop as layers of cartilage and as they grow, become a more bone-like substance (hence their appeal to dogs). They even have a tasty marrow bone-like centre, which many dogs find irresistible.
As natural products, antler pieces come in all different sizes that can be purchased to suit different dogs. They are particularly good for young dogs that love to chew and have full adult teeth and no dental issues. These are long lasting and very hard. You can also help to maintain your dog’s interest in the antler by smearing with a little chicken or salmon paste, or even soaking in a little diluted stock.
The Antos antlers, available at the Pointy Ears Dog Shop, have been selected as they are 100% natural, with no chemical coatings. Sharp points have been removed to keep them safe and they are full of minerals and calcium and come from a sustainable natural resource.
Like all chews, supervision is recommended when giving your dog antlers as pieces may break off.
These chews are ideal for strong chewers of medium to large breed size. They are more cost effective than antlers and again provide a very long-lasting chew. The structure of the horn also allows them to act as a natural interactive toy, as they can be stuffed with food and / or treats. Buffalo horns can also help to massage the teeth and control tartar.
Rawhide chews are a popular and inexpensive chew given to many dogs, but they are not given without risk. They are usually formed from the inner layer of cow or horse hide. During processing, the hide is cleaned, cut, baked and pressed. This is not a natural chew and does not offer any nutritional benefit to dogs. Some of the risks associated with rawhide chews are –
Choking – after chewing, rawhide become malleable and soft and can break off in rather large pieces presenting a choking risk for dogs. If large pieces are swallowed, they can also cause blockages in the intestines and surgery may be necessary to prevent very serious illness or even death.
Allergies – Some dogs are sensitive to rawhide and may suffer from stomach upsets
Some rawhide chews have been known to contain toxic chemicals and / or bacteria.
Due to the higher choking risk and use of chemicals in processing, rawhide chews are not stocked in the Pointy Ears Dog Shop.
Chewing is a positive behaviour!
Dogs that chew feel compelled to do so. Spraying items with unpleasant tasting products is not going to change the desire of your dog to chew and this can make them feel unwell or anxious. It is far more effective to divert the need to chew onto more suitable items. In the long term, this brings about a more happy and harmonious relationship with the owner and a dog that feels satisfied and content.
Please visit the ‘Chewing’ section at the Pointy Ears Dog Shop to support the care and welfare of your dog https://pointyearsdogshop.co.uk/product-category/chewing/
Article produced by Joanne Owen BA Hons. ADip CBM
Registered Accredited Animal Behaviourist (Animal Behaviour & Training Council)
Registered Animal Training Instructor (Animal Behaviour & Training Council)
Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (01216)
This article remains © Joanne Owen 2019