Chewable treats a great substitue for your shoes!

Published 03/12/2013 | 05:30

Finzi chewing a Bullbar Horn Chew

When I came downstairs, one of my shoes was missing. It had been wet outside when I came home, and I'd taken both shoes off at the back door. One of the shoes was where I had left it, but the other one had vanished.

I eventually located the missing shoe: in my dog's basket. Finzi, our rescue dog, had picked it up and taken it to her den. She had chewed the rear part of the shoe to shreds: the shoe was now unwearable. The price of a new pair of shoes will now have to be added to the hidden cost of rescuing a dog.

I couldn't blame Finzi for what she had done: she had found an appealing object, and how was she to know that it was not to be chewed? I accepted full responsibility for what had happened: I shouldn't have left my shoes within easy reach of a boisterous adolescent dog.

Dogs love chewing, and there can be different reasons for doing it. Sometimes it's a type of play - the equivalent of human toddlers playing with toys, or children kicking a football around. On other occasions, dogs chew because they're hungry: they may like the taste of the object they're chewing, or they may be trying to open something that has treats inside it (such as a box of chocolates).

If dogs are bored, with nothing to do, chewing is more likely to happen. If they're anxious for any reason, they're also more likely to chew anything within reach. Dogs don't have hands that they can use to fiddle with objects, so chewing is the canine equivalent.

If dynamic imaging studies of dogs' brains were carried out while they were busy chewing, there would be activity in areas of the brain associated with pleasure and contentment. If blood samples were taken, there would be raised levels of feel-good chemicals like serotonins. For dogs, chewing is one of life's pleasant experiences, and it's good for them too, helping to keep their teeth clean.

Understandably, humans are often seriously irritated when dogs chew objects that are not "meant" to be chewed. My shoes were just standard working shoes, but still, it'll cost me sixty euro to replace them. A pair of ladies' designer shoes could cost €800 or more, and Finzi would only take a few seconds to destroy them. Dogs also chew furniture, doors and walls, all of which can be costly to replace or repair. It's no wonder that I'm often asked what can be done to stop dogs from chewing.

Most people immediately think of ways to make chewing less appealing for dogs. You can buy bitter-tasting sprays to coat objects with a foul taste, but surprisingly, most dogs seem to be able to chew through the bitterness. You can also set up booby traps, such as detonators that set off caps to make a loud noise if a dog chews something inappropriate, but such methods are more likely to result in nervous, frightened dogs than anything else.

So what can be done? The best approach is to accept that dogs love chewing, and to encourage them to chew objects that are designed to be chewed. If your dog is distracted by chewing all sorts of tasty and interesting objects, he's far less likely to be tempted to chew anything else in his environment.

If you go to any vet or pet shop, you'll find a range of chew toys, varying from hard rubber objects to tough plastic toys. Dogs often get bored with simple bland materials, so it can help to add a taste incentive. Some plastic toys have flavours infused into them, and others have a natural taste that dogs enjoy.

You can buy sawn-off lengths of stag antler or bull horn, specially prepared and preserved to be sold as dog chews. And the traditional chew toy, of course, is a bone from the butcher. You need to avoid cooked bones (which splinter more easily) and there's a small risk of a dog picking up a bacterial infection from raw bones, so this idea does not appeal to everyone.

Chewable treats, such as rawhide or Dentastix, can also give dogs safe chewing satisfaction.

My own favourite chew toy is a hollowed out hard rubber toy, known as the Kong. The idea is that you stuff the centre of the toy with part of your dog's dinner, then put it in the deep freeze. When it's frozen, you give it to your dog to chew.

At first, your pet will only be able to scrape off the outer layer of frozen food, but as it thaws out, the food will gradually be released. It's a clever way of eking out a small amount of food to keep a dog occupied for an hour or more, encouraging the animal to spend far more time chewing than they would otherwise do.

There are some health warnings about chew toys. First, you are never meant to leave a dog unattended while he's chewing: there are rare instances where dogs can get into trouble, either by choking, or due to a piece of broken chew object getting jammed somewhere like the roof of the mouth. Second, dogs can break their teeth if they chew objects that are too hard: veterinary dentists say that dogs should avoid chewing rock-hard objects.

Finzi now has a range of chew toys to occupy her attention. And I've learned never to leave my shoes within her range. Once chewed, twice shy!

Enniscorthy Guardian

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