Dogcharmer: Coffee table or chew toy?

Zeus has to learn to toe the line.

Zeus and Luna. — Courtesy Babette Benoit Rogers

Dear Dogcharmer,

My husband and I own two dogs: Our old girl, Luna, is a 9-year-old Lab mix whom we’ve had since she was a puppy, and Zeus, our 1.5-year-old potcake from St. Thomas, who we rescued a little over a year ago. They get along quite well, but Zeus definitely gets on Luna’s nerves from time to time.

I’ve had and lived with dogs my entire life, but this little guy is giving me a run for my money — he is Mr. Mischievous! He knows basic commands (sit, stay, down), and is crate-trained. He is well-loved, gets three decent walks a day (not including the times we take him out to pee/poop in between), and either my husband or I will let him run around our yard for about a half-hour with our kids when we get home from work every day.

Our greatest challenge with Zeus is that he is a chewer. He chews on anything and EVERYTHING. We have Kongs, chew bones, and balls lying all around the house for him to chew and play with, but he likes to go for things like the corner of our coffee table, shoes, the kids’ toys, the stuffing in his dog bed, etc. We have tried bitters spray to deter him from chewing, which has had no effect. We keep him crated when we are not home in fear of him chewing on and eating something that could hurt him. We’d eventually like to let him be out of his crate when we’re not home during the day so he can relax, roam, and snuggle/nap with Luna, but it doesn’t seem like that day will be anytime soon. What can we do to stop the chewing and destruction?

Thank you in advance,


Dear Babz,

Dogs basically live in the moment, so training a dog more often than not comes down to letting the dog know you like the behavior or you don’t, AS THE BEHAVIOR IS HAPPENING. I fully appreciate your efforts vis-à-vis the exercise, plenty of toys, bitter apple sprays, and being crated when left alone, but clearly, Mr. Zeus is a “habitual chewer.” (Dogs are great creatures of habit.)

In my experience, I’ve found lots of dogs with particular preferences. There was Princess, a Lab who just relished all things plastic. Her owners were extremely fed up with constantly replacing the TV remotes. Then there was the cocker spaniel, Chanelle, the true elitist, for whom money was no object. She was into cloth. Couches, pillows, bedspreads, clothes — coats, jackets, socks, whatever. The wood chewers have also been known to run up some pretty hefty tabs.

So, in order for Zeus to start “toeing the line,” he needs to do exactly that, tow a line. Take a cheap, four-foot or six-foot flat nylon leash, cut the handle off (less likely to catch on things), and have Mr. Zeus drag it whenever he’s not crated, under supervision of course. Try to stay kinda within reach of the leash, and give it a light tug-snap to the side as you say “Leave it!” Or say nothing, but have a frown on your face if Zeus looks at you. Please have two or three metal tags on his collar, so when the leash is lightly snapped, the startlement from the chinking sound of the tags is what provides the unpleasant experience associated with the unwanted chewing.

A couple of seconds after the frown comes the smile with a light word of praise acknowledging the cessation of the unwanted behavior. I call it “contrast,” letting Zeus know when you’re happy as well as, or even more than, when you’re unhappy with his behavior. That’s the fix, Part 1. Part 2 — preparing Zeus for his time to be trusted when not being observed — is for another question, because, as of now, he needs to be observed and towing the line whenever out of the crate.

Good luck,

The Dogcharmer

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