Antlers are a common form of dog chewable and are considered to be a bone. They come from the elk, and although you have likely heard about risks regarding giving your dogs bones, these are widely accepted. After all, every dog has a favorite treat and bones are often at the top of the list. Although your dog may have great affection for them, some bones are detrimental to your dog's health. Antlers seem to be the go-to for many dogs, and they clearly love them; is there a reason? Do antlers have any impact on the well-being and general health of your dog? A good look at why dogs favor these treats may help us divine some of the answers we are looking for.
The Root of the Behavior
Most dogs, during their younger years, are quite the chewing machines. Some of this is because they do not know any better, but a lot of it is that their teeth are growing in. Chewing on things is not typically accepted in most households. So instead of coming home every day to find you need to purchase all new things, many dogs are introduced to antlers during this time. Some dogs just enjoy chewing on things, and antlers certainly provide a healthy and safe alternative to your shoes. Others, especially high strung dogs, find some relief from anxiety in the monotonous and repetitive act. Similar to a stress ball for humans. Alternatively, it is just something to do. Many people do not realize it, but dogs suffer from boredom. Some combination of a short attention span, no activities they can partake in at-will and a lack of general responsibilities and obligations leads to boredom for both man and canine alike. In addition to saving your shoes and furniture, there are some direct benefits for your dog as well. They contain a good amount of lean protein, calcium, and a spackling of other beneficial nutrients. The physical act of chewing on an antler helps to clean their teeth. Best of all, no deer are harmed as antlers are shed naturally each season. You may be tempted just to give your dog other bones from meat you have prepared. Be sure to look into what bones you are giving to your dog, and that the process you have done to prepare the meat has not degraded the bone at all. Some bones should simply not be given to your dog. Brittle bones, like chicken, can break off into sharp fragments and can puncture the esophagus, causing a complicated and perhaps life-threatening medical emergency.
Encouraging the Behavior
If your dog is a chewing machine and you want them to go over to antlers instead of footwear, there is some good news. It will be a breeze. To your dog it tastes like an ice cream Sunday would to us, just delicious, fun and a good way to spend an afternoon. That combined with the positive reinforcement they receive for chewing on the antler instead of the disappointment they receive when they tear apart your belongings, will quickly teach them to choose the antlers every time. Be sure to take the antler away from your dog after it has been chewed down to a size where they could potentially swallow it. This will take a while as they tend to last a good bit of time. Even if you forget or do not know where they hid it, this will rarely cause any harm to your dog but the potential is there so make it a best practice in your household. Once they have shifted their chewing behaviors toward antlers, and they are no longer tearing up your household, you can start reducing the frequency of antlers you give them. Do it over time, progressively weaning them off like you would for any addiction. Often, once they associate antlers with chewing they will not return to chewing on other things. This can be dependent on what is causing them to have the need to chew on things in the first place.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Unfortunately, this sword can have a bit of a double edge. If they chew due to a compulsion or out of some relief for mouth pain or anxiety, then this will work as a great alternative to their usual target. That being said, it reinforces the behavior and sets a tone of acceptability. In cases like these, it will likely cause them to want to chew on things more if an antler is not around. Medically it is not perfect either. Antlers are a pretty strong bone, which helps prevent splintering, but also can cause damage to their teeth. Canines have an incredible bite strength and they could potentially crack and break teeth typically near the rear of their mouth. If your dog is bored and they are chewing to fill time and alleviate boredom, a healthier and more constructive approach may come in the form of additional exercise or a few toys around the house that they really enjoy.
Overall, antlers are not just a tasty treat for your friend, but a great tool for you when you are trying to adjust some behaviors of your dog. Like most tools, they have their specific uses but really shouldn't be treated like a constant life partner for your dog. If you are looking for an occasional treat or a temporary training tool, then antlers might be perfect and highly outclass most of the other chewable options available.