“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” according to Dr. John Gray, author of a fabulous bestseller about the behavior of men and women, and their inability to fully understand each other. Dogs, on the other hand, are probably from Earth, because no matter what they do, someone has an explanation for it, whether we like the explanation or not; and the dog will never validate or deny it. The good news is that even if we don’t understand why the dog is doing what it’s doing, we can usually modify the behavior to a more positive and acceptable one. Let’s talk about chewing and eating inappropriate things!
One of the most frustrating behavioral problems, families with dogs have to face is chewing. Dogs can and will chew and sometimes swallow almost anything. They are capable of chewing a decent size hole in a plaster wall. It doesn’t necessarily need to be on the corner or edge as you might suspect. It’s not unusual for a dog to start chewing a hole in the center of a flat wall.
All puppies go through a period of chewing especially when they are teething, which is around 4 to 6 months of age. Chewing can be controlled, redirected and modified through exercise, playtime, alternative chewable and toys and increased time together. ( I will talk more about how to correct or modify chewing, in another post.)
In addition to aiding in house training, a crate and/or playard are also helpful in reducing the chance of chewing your furniture when your not home or you can’t keep your eyes on your dog. My personal favorite for puppies going through teething is soaking a braided chew toy (photo on left) in water and freezing it.
In its extreme form, “Pica”, defined as a medical disorder, is an appetite for largely non-nutritive substances (e.g., coal, soil, feces, chalk, paper, soap, ash, etc. The shocking part is that this definition pertains to humans. With that in mind imagine what a dog will consume. Because Pica is a medical disorder, it is something that should be either diagnosed and treated by your veterinarian or ruled out.
Coprophagia is even more frustrating and upsetting to me than a dog eating my favorite pair of shoes. The nicest way to define coprophagia is to say that it is the consumption of poop. There are many reasons for this obsession with one’s own waste, including medical problems, nutritional needs, poorly digestible diet, boredom, curiosity, attempt to clean up a soiled area to avoid punishment, a learned behavior from the dog’s mother or something as simple as hunger. My experience with dogs that show signs of coprophagia is that most of them had been confined to small kennels for extended periods of time, usually in pet shops or overcrowded breeders, where they are forced to eat, drink, sleep, play, defecate and urinate in the same small enclosure. Some dogs will also eat cat poop out of the litter box. I know it’s one of those “easier said than done” situations but preventing your dog’s access to litter boxes and immediately cleaning up after your dog does his business, is a good start in the right direction. Dogs that exhibit any desire to eat their stool, should be leash walked.
There are taste deterrents that can be sprayed on or inserted into feces to help correct the unwanted behavior or coprophagia. You may also find an assortment of products that are given orally to your dog. NONE OF THESE PRODUCTS OR METHODS ARE RECOMMENDED! Talk to your veterinarian first, before using any products that may be consumed by your dog EVEN IF IT IS USED DIRECTED ON HIS FECES.