This 12-week old Australian Koolie puppy wanted to “mouth” everything during her first day home! Be prepared for your puppy’s first day home by offering them an irresistible long-lasting chew, such as a bully stick!
Puppies love to chew!
Chewing is a natural behavior that you should expect to observe in puppies, especially between the ages of 4-6 months, which is the “teething” stage. Like humans, young puppies have deciduous teeth, or “milk teeth”, that will start to fall out during this age and be replaced with their permanent adult teeth.
Many new puppy owners are alarmed the first time they see a bloody tooth fall out of their puppy’s mouth, but this is completely normal!
Teething can be a rather painful experience for your puppy, so he or she will likely seek out objects to chew to relieve the discomfort. Unlike toddlers, who love to reach out and grab things in order to examine it closely, puppies learn about the world through “mouthing” behaviors, such as biting, chewing, and licking.
Rather than punishing a puppy’s desire to chew, we recommend offering an appropriate item for your puppy to chew. This can include frozen Kongs stuffed with canned dog food, rubber kibble dispensing toys (such as this Twist N Treat by PetSafe), or a natural, long-lasting chew such as a bully stick.
Here's what to consider when buying bully sticks and treats for your puppy:
The Size of the Bully Stick
While bully sticks are low in fat and carbohydrates, it’s a treat that’s very high in protein. An excessive amount of protein may cause loose stools, which can be problematic if your puppy is still learning about house training! We recommend letting your pup chew a bully stick for about 30-60 minutes, and then take it away and offer it again some other time.
You can gradually allow your puppy to consume more of the bully stick with each session - a puppy’s gut microbiome (i.e. the beneficial bacteria that resides in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract and aids in digestion) changes in response to diet, so slowly increasing the amount of high-protein treats over a period of time will help prevent digestive upset down the line.
Sometimes, when you give a puppy a really special treat, they may feel afraid that a person or dog will come to take the treat away from them - this is why “resource guarding” behaviors can sometimes develop. There’s an easy way to prevent this! The very first time you offer a bully stick or some other high value chew to your puppy, give them some space to enjoy the treat. Refrain from staring into their eyes, or petting them while they’re eating - doing so may make your puppy nervous and attempt to scarf down the treat even quicker.
Let your puppy chew in peace until it’s time to take the chew away. Rather than forcefully taking the chew away from the puppy, offer something irresistible in exchange, such as pieces of chicken, by tossing the food right by your puppy’s mouth. When the puppy drops the bully stick in order to take the chicken, tell them, “Yes!” or “Good!”, continue dropping pieces of chicken as you put the bully stick away, and finally, scatter a pile of chicken on the ground so that your puppy has to do a little bit of sniffing to find all of the pieces.
Do this every time you need to approach your puppy while they are eating. Here, we are teaching the puppy that if we approach them while they are eating a chew, we’re not going to bully them and take it away, instead, they will get something even more valuable in return!
Observe this 5-month old Rottweiler puppy’s body language. What do you see? This puppy is exhibiting “whale eyes” and a slightly stiffened posture (rather than loose and relaxed). This puppy is a little worried that someone will take his curly bully stick away.
If your puppy is already exhibiting defensive behaviors around food, click here to read an excellent, in-depth article on preventing and treating resource guarding.
Always Observe Your Puppy When Offering Any Treat or Chew
Hard chews that are less than 2” in length can be a potential choking hazard - a puppy’s esophagus and the rest of the digestive tract is much smaller in diameter, compared to an adult dog. While closely observing your puppy and taking away the last couple of inches of a chew is acceptable, if there’s a chance you may forget to do so, we recommend using a toy similar to this Westpaw Qwizl.
The Qwizl pairs great with a bully stick because it can be used to prevent your dog from swallowing the last couple inches of the bully stick.
Regularly providing your puppy with a variety of appropriate items to chew provides a form of enrichment, helps ease the pain of teething, keeps your puppy occupied and out of trouble, and gives them a fun outlet for a very normal behavior!