Q: What should I do if my puppy tears up my furniture?
A: Puppies need to be actively taught what they can and cannot chew – they don’t come pre-programmed knowing that your couch is off-limits. Make sure the puppy has plenty of toys, but don’t just leave them lying around, as puppies get bored quickly and find their own entertainment. Rotate toys, play with your puppy with his toys to make them exciting, and look at getting toys like a Kong for interactive feeding. Puppies need constant supervision; don’t forget that you have a baby in the home! If you cannot easily supervise your pup, consider installing baby gates or getting a play pen – prevention is essential.
If you find evidence that your puppy has chewed on the dining room chairs, do NOT react. You cannot scold a dog after the fact, as they will not make the association and it will just confuse and frighten them. The whole thing about dogs ‘looking guilty’ is nonsense: that expression is fear, not guilt. Puppies are not wilfully naughty or stubborn; they simply need a lot of positive teaching. If you catch your puppy in the act, again, avoid scolding – it doesn’t teach a puppy an alternative and could also cause nervousness.
Rather redirect their attention onto something they can chew – throw a toy around or run outside and toss a ball. Get them focussed on something appropriate. Also avoid products that claim to deter puppies from chewing – these foul-tasting sprays don’t always work, and it’s generally a bad idea to use aversives, as they will make puppies feel unsafe in their home. If your furniture continues to suffer, contact a qualified professional behaviourist for assistance.
Katherine Brown, behaviourist