As you relax on the couch with your pooch, you notice he seems quite focused on his favorite toy. In fact, he seems to be sucking on it. This otherwise puppy-like behavior doesn't necessarily signal any problems with your pup, unless it becomes overly obsessive.
A dog who likes to suck on things is similar to a thumb-sucking child. It's a way to soothe rattled nerves and keep him calm and relaxed. Puppies taken from their mother before they're weaned, usually before 7 or 8 weeks old, tend to revert to this soothing behavior and continue it as they age. Dogs with other emotional issues such as separation anxiety or high levels of fear can adopt this self-calming behavior, as well. At its root, inappropriate suckling addresses the dog's need to feel secure and relaxed.
In some cases, your pooch may become too dependent and obsessed with sucking on his personal lovey, crossing the line from a harmless soothing technique to obsessive compulsive behavior. This happens when your pup doesn't head for his favorite blanket or toy when he's ready for bed or feeling stressed and the object becomes inseparable from him. He may develop an unhealthy attachment to it and become stressed if he's separated from it.
Stop It Or Not
Although it may be odd to watch, in general your dog isn't hurting anything by indulging in this self-soothing habit. The occasional snuggle with his lovey shouldn't be cause for alarm, especially if he has predictable times when he does it, such as before bed or after dinner. It's a way for him to blow off steam and release stress, and afterward he's ready for play or sleep. If, however, all he wants to do is lay around and suck his toy or blanket, and you have a hard time getting him to leave it behind, you've got a problem.
Distraction and Redirection
Eliminating unwanted behaviors in dogs isn't about punishing the misdeed, it's about showing him what you'd like him to do instead. Then you praise him when he complies. When he heads for his slobbery teddy bear, distract him by going for a walk. Initiate playtime and toss a tennis ball around. He'll likely enjoy the exercise and one-on-one time, especially if you give him plenty of love in the meantime. For those particularly stubborn pooches, you may need to enlist the help of a dog trainer for more experienced guidance.
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