Whether or not we like it, most dogs chew. No matter how much we don’t want them to they are going to end up chewing on something. So how can you get your dog or puppy to stop trying to eat everything and destroying stuff? Let’s look at some tips.
Why Do Dogs Chew?
Really, dogs chew for quite a few reasons, and in dog training it is always best to look at the basic reasons why in order to stop it. The biggest reasons we see dogs chewing are instinct, boredom, stress, and fun! Just like us, your dog wants something to do, and since they can’t really work a remote control to watch Netflix, they work with what they've got.
So I would like to say first off, if your dog chews something when you are not able to correct them while they are doing it, it is too late to try to reprimand them after the fact. You just need to put your puppy away, clean up the mess and move on (no matter how mad you may be, puppies make mistakes and they cannot make the connection between something that happened earlier with being punished at a later time).
How to Stop Chewing?
To stop or prevent chewing in your puppy there are three things you have to do. Manage their time, provide a fun, puppy-proof environment, and get your puppy more exercise and some basic obedience training. Managing your dog's time is all about preventing them from being able to chew and redirecting them to more appropriate activities. Providing a fun environment is about setting them up for success. And of course exercise is the cure all for most dog problems!
Managing Your Dog's Time to Prevent Chewing
Managing your dogs time is all about integrating multiple training concepts into one place. First and foremost if your puppy is a chewer you should religiously be following the 3 Rule of Housetraining, I will recap them here but please make sure to read some of our blog posts and podcasts about the 3 Rules of Housetraining that go into more detail.
Rule 1: Inside With You on Leash
Wow, Rule 1 sounds so weird to new people, but then they try it and realize it fixes a majority of the problems you are having. It is as easy as taking an old leash you don’t really use anymore, cutting the handle (so it doesn’t get hung up on things), clip it to your dogs collar and let them drag it around.
Why should you do this? It basically becomes like a remote control for your dog in that you can easily get a hold of them when you need to. You no longer have to frantically grab for your dog's collar, you no longer have to chase them to get something away, they can no longer sneak away and chew something. You can see now why this is Rule 1?
Rule 2: Outside With You on Leash.
Now, this rule is more related to good house training practices more than it is for chewing. But, it can also help here by giving you an opportunity to work with your dog on 'Leave It' and 'Come' when called commands so it can translate to being helpful at home.
Rule 3: When You Can't Be With Your Dog, They Go in a Crate.
Getting back to the rules that help chewing, this is a big one. Think of your crate as your dog’s home. It is the safe place for them to go so that they don’t hurt themselves or any of your things. Some people view the crate as punishment, but honestly dogs are den animals and prefer having a nice quiet place to go to (especially if the crate is not used for punishment). I would also point out that even if your dog does not enjoy the crate it is dramatically better for you to come home to a dog that is been in the crate for a couple hours and is happy to see you and ready to come out as opposed to coming home to a chewed up dining room table and everyone is upset! Just remember, dogs are not birds! A crate is a temporary place for them to stay, not for long term stays.
So you can see that starting with the 3 Rules of Housetraining you can prevent certain unwanted situations. But there is one key to doing this, you still have to pay attention to your dog! If you have a dog that is prone to chewing things, you should always have one eye on them so that you can prevent them from taking the opportunity to chew something. It always amazes me how quickly a puppy can get something in his mouth!
Provide a Fun and Puppy-proof Environment
Even after working with people most of my life I am still amazed when talking to someone about their dog chewing and I ask what kind of toys they have and their answer is “I don’t know” or “well, they have one of those rubber bones. But he doesn’t really like it”. Well, are you really surprised that he chews on your kids' toys and the pair of shoes you just bought?
First and foremost, your dog should have as good a selection of toys and chew items. My rule of thumb is that they should have as many chew items in direct relation to how voracious about playing and chewing they are.
My 2 Goldens always enjoyed chewing, but weren’t over the top about it, so we only had 4 or 6 bones in the house (of course it had to be even numbers so that they could work together on splitting them up). My mom's pair of Golden Retrievers on the other hand exist with a chew bone in their mouth, so she literally has a bucket full of them! Not because they chew them all up, but because it keeps them interested in the fact that there is “that one bone” they want, and I have seen them dig through the whole bucket pulling out bones only to drop it because it is not the one.
Personally my bone of choice is the sterilized hollow bone. They come in either filled or unfilled variety so that if your dog has particular allergies you can fill it yourself. Speaking of, a toy with a filling is a perfect way to keep your dog entertained whether at you feet, in the crate, or heading off to board for the weekend.
Filling a toy with good stuff is all up to your preference and knowing what your dog loves. Between hollow bones, kong toys, and various other busy toys you have lots of choices for what to leave for your pet. If you google kong filling recipes you will come up with a treasure trove of ideas. Personally the simple ones work for me, a little dab of natural peanut butter (make sure that anything you use does not contain xylitol as a sweetener) deep inside the toy with a few treats jammed down in there would always keep my puppies busy for hours trying to get all the good stuff out!
For the hot time of year, I use this great recipe from Canine Mind for creating a frozen stuffed kong toy. But just remember it melts! So it's best if used outside.
Any chew toy can have some risks with it so it is a good idea to ask your veterinarian if certain toys are off limits for your specific dog. Harder chew toys have been known to cause dental problems including fractured teeth. And some softer toys can be chewed up and become choking hazards. It is always a good idea to supervise your dog closely the first few times they play with a new toy until you feel confident that it is a good match for your dog.
Another good option for keeping your dog busy while you supervise them are any of the puzzle style toys. Depending on how voracious a chewer and destroyer your dog is should dictate what material the toy is made of. For dogs that don’t get frustrated and tear things, the soft toys like the Outward Hound Hide a Bee are lots of fun. But for our lovely boxer-lab mix we have at home, Zoey, she would happily outsmart the designer and tear it in half to get to the sweet toys inside. So when we bought her a puzzle game it was made of wood and plastic so that she could not easily rip apart. (Of course that doesn’t mean she didn’t try to rip one of the little doors off when she got mad at it!) There are also a bevy of hide a treat and treat dispensing toys that will challenge your dog's mental abilities in order to get themselves a snack.
Just remember that as fun as these toys are, they are not for unsupervised play time. If you have a diligent chewer they will take all of these toys as a challenge and eventually decide that chewing the item is more fun that trying to get what is inside!
At the same time that you are thinking about what kinds of fun toys and chewing options to offer your dog, it is also important to think about what items to put away and keep out of reach of a dedicated chewer. Your goal is to create a space that is both fun and enriching, as well as safe for your dog. This means valuable shoes, sentimental objects, or fancy linens should be kept tucked away or in a room with a closed door that is off limits to your dog when unsupervised. Also be sure to keep medications, cleaning supplies, electronics, and any other known pet dangers carefully out of reach to avoid serious injuries and toxin exposures.
Exercise Your Puppy's Body and Mind
Just like the 3 Rules of Housetraining this one is simple and will fix many problems. It is no secret that puppies need LOTS of exercise, and depending on the breed may need LOTS AND LOTS of exercise. But as with the lack of toys it amazes me how many people come in and don’t see this correlation. So if you are having problems with chewing, and you have already provided an enriching environment with lots of appropriate toys, then get out there and exercise your puppy!
We have written multiple articles about good games to play, please make sure you check those out. If you are not able to increase the amount of exercise your puppy gets, consider taking them to a doggy daycare or hiring a dog walker to give them an extra long walk. You would be amazed at how much that can improve their overall behavior, because as Margaret always says “A tired dog can’t chew!"
Short, frequent training sessions can double as both opportunities for exercise and mental enrichment. Training sessions also provide a chance for you to connect with your dog and teach it the behaviors you want it to use in place of unwanted behaviors like chewing. This may include useful cues like 'leave it,' 'drop it,' or teaching your dog to go to its crate on command. That way, if you find your dog chewing on that nice new shoe, you can quickly get it back and redirect your dog to a better choice.