Ask a Pet Expert: The teething phase

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News has invited the Richmond SPCA to begin a regular feature on Richmond SPCA Behavior and Training Specialist Alan Lankford will answer your questions and offer training tips not only to improve your pet’s behavior but to improve your relationship and understanding.

Help! Our one-year-old puppy, who has had training, will not stop chewing up any and everything. He is a beagle/hound mix who continues to destroy everything in his path, including our couch and tables. What should we do?

The teething phase is a nightmare, but once all the puppy teeth are out, the terror subsides and you can begin to sort through the rubble. You can get back to a normal rhythm of life. Throw pillows are replaced. It’s finally over. But is it really over?

With your puppy resuming his destructive habits right at the cusp of doghood, I don’t think I need to tell you that, no, it’s not over. But I can add a “yet.” The good news in this trying time is that your puppy is going through a totally normal second teething phase. If the first teething phase can be likened to a human child’s terrible-twos, the second phase can be likened to a human’s teenage years. Instead of smoking cigarettes, listening to punk rock and “borrowing” your car, your puppy is expressing his teenage angst by destroying your furniture.

Such angst is likely caused by pain in his teeth as his jaw grows, as well as an increased interest in exploring (and laying waste to) his environment. Like any other natural disaster, this teething phase cannot be prevented. It can, however, with the proper techniques, be survived with minimal damage.

The first thing to understand is that you can’t ask your puppy to do nothing; as long as he’s in this phase, the chewing is serving an important purpose for him. What you can do is redirect his adolescent energy into a more positive outlet—the equivalent of buying a delinquent teenager a drum kit. When you see him beginning to masticate a prized heirloom, get his attention and redirect him to a chew toy or bone. Dogs can have highly refined taste in chew toys, so don’t be discouraged if he turns up your initial selections as philistine. Deer antlers are an excellent, long-lasting choice for the cultured chewer, though in a pinch a soaked washcloth, tied in knots and frozen, can be very soothing to the teeth.

If you’re not around to interrupt and redirect, then the only option is to keep him away from anything chewable. Crate training is the best option here. If he’s not already used to a crate, you can begin by feeding him his meals there, or giving him special treats there he never gets otherwise. The goal is to make the crate a fun place to chill out and tear into some deer antler, not a zone of exile for Bad Dogs. Once you notice that his chew toys are suffering less abuse, you can begin closing him off uncrated in your least destructible room to see if he can handle the responsibility, gradually expanding his range as he matures. Any piece of furniture he seems to be particularly drawn to—or that is particularly valuable—can be treated with nasty tasting stuff like Bitter Apple spray, hot sauce or Tiger Balm. Dogs are funny creatures: they’ll dig cheerfully into 5-day-old road kill, but the tastes of these products are nearly always beyond the pale.

Lastly, keeping his mind busy with positive-reinforcement training, or tiring him out with a dog sport like agility, is always a good idea. For free advice on training, you can contact the Richmond SPCA Behavior Helpline at 804-643-7722, or for information on class schedules, call Gail Bird Necklace at 804-521-1332.

I hope you find this advice makes this phase a little less painful for you and your puppy, and remember: this, too, shall pass.

Ready to ask the expert? Send your pet behavior questions to be answered on to

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