What Does It Mean When Your Dog Nibbles on Stuff?

"The newspaper was delivered in shredded pieces. Wasn't me."
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You come home to find the newspaper, your favorite pair of shoes and the couch all tattered and shredded. Your pooch has a particularly guilty look, as each area of destruction points to a decidedly doggy perpetrator. Although it's normal for dogs to chew, some gnawing behavior goes over-the-top.

Dainty Nibbles

A common behavior among canines of all ages, nibbling refers to little barely-opened-his-mouth bites. Essentially he's kind of scraping his teeth against you or whatever object has caught his attention. Dogs usually do this as a way to show affection or to explore their surroundings. Puppies are curious little critters, and use their mouths to check things out. When a bite is too much, but a lick isn't enough, he'll give it a little nibble. When you are the object in question, these little nibbles give the puppy -- or dog, as nibbling knows no age limit -- a little taste of his favorite person in the whole world. Nibbling can easily go too far, especially if the pooch gets excited or doesn't know his own strength, so you may want to redirect this urge to more appropriate toys.

Normal Chewing

It's a canine fact of life -- all dogs chew. The reasons behind the chewing can range from pure enjoyment to stress relief. The act of gnawing on hard objects helps your pooch strengthen his jaw and cleans plaque and tartar from his teeth. This is an instinctual behavior, and unless you provide something appropriate for him to get his teeth around, he's going to seek out something on his own -- which could end up being your new leather couch or those cute shoes you got on sale last month. Dogs don't discriminate and if they come across something that strikes their fancy, into the mouth it goes.

Puppy Teething

Puppies are not born with teeth and will develop their tiny little baby teeth between 3 and 8 weeks old. Between months four and six, their adult teeth start to move in, causing gum and jaw pain for the pups. Chewing helps alleviate this discomfort, and encourages the puppy teeth to make way for the permanent ones faster. Offer your teething puppy plenty of appropriate chew toys to help ease this transition, and prevent him from finding stuff on his own to gnaw on. If he's allowed to chew on anything and everything available during this time, he may continue to do so when the teething stage ends.

Destructive Chewing

Although chewing is a natural behavior in dogs, some occurrences aren't as innocent. Technically all chewing could be classified as destructive depending on what your pooch has chosen to chew on, but true destructive chewing doesn't just stop at inappropriate gnawing -- it essentially looks like a tornado went through the room. Your dog may tear apart cushions, pull down curtains and rip anything he can get his mouth around to shreds. This usually happens while you're out, as he suffers from separation anxiety and chews, rips and shreds to relieve his stress and fear of being alone.

Offer Appropriate Chew Toys

Because it's instinctual behavior, you'll never completely stop your dog from chewing, but you can redirect him toward more appropriate things. Offer plenty of toys to keep him occupied, and rotate them regularly to keep his interest, as some dogs chew if they get bored. Circulate a variety of soft toys and inedible chew bones, or edible hard treats such as pig ears and rawhide bones. Replace toys and treats as they become too worn, as he may unintentionally swallow small pieces which could lead to choking or intestinal problems. Use a bitter-tasting spray deterrent on items he should not touch and supervise him until you're sure the inappropriate chewing has been corrected.

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