Owning a Labrador Retriever can be a wonderful experience, rewarding for both dog and owner. However, many pet owners experience the problem of their Labrador Retriever chewing on their personal possessions. This can include shoes, clothes, tupperware, kitchen utensils, doorknobs, or anything else within a dog’s reach. Why do some dogs engage in this behavior? What can you, as a responsible pet owner, do to discourage this behavior?
It’s important to first understand some of the common causes for Labrador Retrievers to portray destructive tendencies towards household objects. Understanding the reasons behind this behavior is the first step in using a training program to stop it. Labrador Retrievers are generally very well behaved dogs, but it is your responsibility as a pet owner to give them a clear sense of the difference between good and bad behavior. Otherwise, you may be scolding them for something that they do not categorize as a “bad dog” situation.
If your dog is still a puppy, the reason that they may be chewing on household items is because they are teething. Labrador Retriever puppies acquire all of their “puppy teeth” by the time they are eight weeks old. When they reach about 4-5 months of age, their adult teeth begin to come in. This can be a very frustrating and painful time for your Labrador puppy, and they may have constant oral discomfort. Just like human babies, puppies will try to have something in their mouth to chew on, as this will help lessen their discomfort. Be sure to provide lots of interesting toys to occupy your puppy’s attention, as this will help distract them from chewing on undesirable objects. If they are not using their toys, try to purchase toys of various textures and materials until you find one that your puppy likes.
Labrador Retrievers have a breed-based oral fixation, which is the desire to carry objects in their mouth. This is one of the reasons that they make such excellent hunting dogs, since they are eager to retrieve and carry fallen game. However, this oral fixation can present problems in other areas of your dog’s home life, as they may seem to always chew on something that is of value to you. It’s important to understand that this is a natural instinctual behavior of your Labrador, and your dog is not doing it to “spite you”. This is essential knowledge, because understanding that this is a natural desire of your dog can help you be more understanding when training your dog to abstain from this behavior.
Another very common reason that Labrador Retrievers engage in destructive behavior (such as chewing your personal possessions) is a lack of attention, or loneliness. Dogs under emotional distress may participate in behavior that is destructive, in order to elicit attention from their owners. A lack of positive attention toward your Labrador can cause them to seek negative attention, much like human children do. Again, this is not behavior to “get back at you”, instead, it’s your dog’s way of crying for help. If your dog is persistently chewing on household items, take this opportunity to asses your interaction with your pet, and if you are giving them adequate attention.
In relation to attention-seeking chewing, your Labrador may also be chewing on objects because of boredom. This may seem to be an over-simplified cause of this behavior, but it is a legitimate reason for some dogs to seek out additional chew toys to play with. If your dog is constantly sneaking away your shoes, perhaps they are in need of additional toys or more interactive playtime.
Now that you understand some of the possible causes behind your Labrador Retriever’s desire to chew on your things, it’s time to find a successful way to discourage them from this behavior. Depending on which type of training program that you are participating in with your dog, there are several ways to accomplish this.
If you have chosen to engage in clicker training with your dog, you are already involved in one of the most successful training programs for shaping good behavior. The basis of clicker training is positive reinforcement, on a consistent basis. No negative reinforcement is used in this program, which is baffling to some pet owners. Studies have attested to the positive effects of clicker training, and its high success rate. When your dog is chewing on household items, completely ignore them. Converse with other family members, interact with other pets, or engage in an activity. With clicker training, your pet receives constant positive reinforcement, and this lack of attention will eventually clue them in to the fact that something is wrong. When your dog ceases to chew on the object, and comes over for attention, give them a reward, a “click” (with the tool used in clicker training) and a lot of praise. Repeat this process as many times as necessary, until your dog stops this behavior.
This is only one example of using the aspects of your training program to discourage your Labrador Retriever from “chewing on your stuff”. Your dog is always looking to please you, and will respond to your ability to teach them the difference between good and bad behavior. Above all, be patient with your dog, and they will be much more inclined to listen to you.