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Kicking bad habits

by Shauna Farnell

Dumb Friends League suggestions for chewing problems:

– If a dog is caught chewing something it’s not supposed to, interrupt it with a loud noise and replace the object with something appropriate and praise it lavishly once it begins to chew the new object.

– Do not scold the dog after finding the chewed-up object, because it won’t associate the bad behavior with the item after the fact.

– Don’t designate chew items such as old shoes or clothes that resemble items that shouldn’t be chewed.

– Put tidbits of food inside appropriate chew toys to encourage the dog to take a liking to it.

– If a puppy is teething, freeze a wet washcloth for it to chew on.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Whether it’s a teething puppy or an adult dog acting out separation anxiety or an oral fixation, chewing can be a life necessity.

“There are lots of reasons for chewing,” said Paul Veralli DVM, of Animal Hospital of the High Country. “Put aside puppies and adolescent behaviors, most chewing problems come out of separation anxiety situations. Most animals chew when they are left alone.”

Because many chewers also are swallowers, Veralli said he has extracted everything from stuffed animals to snowboard gloves from a dogs’ stomachs.

“Dogs eat tons of foreign bodies,” he said. “I’ve taken out those hard rubber balls they’re not supposed to swallow, hosiery, underwear, lots of coins, screws, nuts and bolts. One time I found about seven rocks in a dog’s stomach, each about three or four inches (in diameter). Sometimes, the dog goes after an owner’s shoes, sometimes it’s the way out – the door jam or the window frame.”

When it comes to prized possessions, no one can be sure if the dog is acting out of vindictiveness when he is left home alone and chews up his owner’s favorite purse or pair of shoes.

“Are they being vindictive? Nobody knows,” Veralli said. “We can’t get into their heads. In my experience, I think there are dogs that are vindictive toward their owners. They’re angry at being left alone or neglected.”

Veralli mentioned a new drug called Clomipramine for separation anxiety. He said it works in a similar way to anti-anxiety medication for humans; it causes the dog to become less stressed without sedating the animal or causing it to be listless.

Chewing doesn’t always stem from separation anxiety, however. As Veralli pointed out, the habit simply is an enjoyable pastime for many dogs.

“There is a lot of chewing going on with dogs that basically, just like to chew,” he said. “Some breeds are more oral than others – Labs would be one. They chew because it’s fun. Some dogs also just bond with the smell of shoes because it smells like their owner. They might be thinking, “I love my owner, so I’m going to chew their shoe.’ Or maybe, they think they’re doing something impressive – “Look what what I did, I found your shoe and chewed it up.’ The best thing to do is, always have something around for your dog to chew.”

Veterinarians and dog behaviorists recommend chew items that don’t break into large or indigestible pieces.

“Dogs like tearing stuff apart because they like to feel they’re making progress,” Veralli said. “Hard rubber bones work well for some dogs, rawhide works great for others. It depends on the dog, but try anything besides what they can tear up and swallow in big pieces.”

Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at sfarnell@summitdaily.com.


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