Destructive chewing is one of the most common behavior problems in dogs and puppies. In many cases, it's a natural behavior that can be redirected. Sometimes, however, it's a sign that your dog or puppy is in pain, anxious, or bored. Once you figure out the cause of your pet's destructive chewing, there are a number of steps you can take to eliminate the problem.
Destructive chewing is simply chewing that destroys objects you value. In other words: chewing a dog bone is no problem; chewing a couch is a serious problem. All dogs chew; your aim as a pet owner is to help your dog learn to chew appropriate toys and other items rather than items you value.
Reasons For the Behavior
Before looking at how to stop dog chewing, it helps to know why dogs chew. There are several reasons dogs might chew:
- Puppies, much like human babies, explore the world with their mouths. They pick up and chew anything and everything.
- Puppies also chew to relieve teething pain.
- Some dogs find chewing soothing. It helps them calm themselves down.
- Chewing relieves boredom in dogs.
- Dogs engage in destructive chewing when they're anxious, as we see with dogs with separation anxiety.
- Lack of training is another reason dogs chew on inappropriate objects.
It's important to know that dogs don't chew out of spite. Though it can be frustrating for dog owners, dogs chew on inappropriate things because they don't know any better. They don't understand that your favorite shoes are any different than their favorite chew toy until you teach them otherwise.
Address the Issue
To stop destructive chewing, it's important to understand its cause. Then, you'll be able to address the problem at its root. Start by asking these questions:
- Is my puppy teething?
- Is my dog bored or anxious?
- Has my dog been properly trained?
- Does my dog have enough appropriate outlets for natural chewing?
- Has my home been "dog-proofed?"
Once you've addressed all these issues, chances are your pet will no longer be a destructive chewer.
Just as homes must be "baby-proofed" for new babies, they must be "dog-proofed" for new puppies. Before bringing a dog home, be sure you have put away or removed any chewable items that could be destroyed. Move shoes, clothing, books, and knick-knacks to closed containers, closets, or high shelves. If you're particularly concerned about a favorite table or chair, sprays are available that can help repel dogs—but it's best not to rely on dog repellants for items of value.
The most important thing you can do to prevent dogs from destructive chewing is to have plenty of dog toys on hand that your dog can chew. Dogs like to chew. It's easier to train them to chew their toys instead of a table leg than it is to train them not to chew at all. By having lots of interesting and appropriate chew toys on hand, it'll be a lot easier to end destructive chewing. Do be aware that some dog toys and "chewables" can be ripped apart, and these can pose a choking hazard. Check to be sure the toys or chewables you select are safe and appropriate for your dog (larger dogs need larger, tougher toys).
Teething puppies may be coping with painful gums. In addition to providing them with appropriate toys, you can also offer a wetted, frozen washcloth to chew; the cold may help relieve gum pain. You may also want to invest in a few patented puppy "teething toys" which, like toys intended for human babies, can be frozen to help relieve pain.
Supervision and Confinement
Until a dog is completely chew trained, he should not be allowed to roam freely around your home. This just sets him up for failure because there are too many interesting objects to explore and chew around your home. Supervise him around the house, and when that's not possible, the dog should be confined to a crate or in a room where there's nothing inappropriate for him to chew.
Exercise and Engagement
Dogs are social animals that need interaction and exercise to stay healthy. A bored or frustrated dog may take out its frustrations through chewing. To avoid this problem, spend as much time as possible with your dog, and provide plenty of exercise. If you will be away for most of the day, consider taking your dog to a "doggy daycare" rather than leaving it at home alone for extended periods of time.
Redirect and Praise
Now that your dog is always either supervised or confined, you will be on hand any time he chews something. If he begins to chew something inappropriate, tell him "no" or "wrong" and redirect him to an appropriate chew toy. You may need to engage him a little by shaking the toy or turning it into a game. As soon as the dog is chewing on the toy, give him lots of praise.
Praise should also be used anytime you notice your puppy or dog choose an appropriate chew toy. This will encourage him to go for his own toys rather than furniture, shoes, and other objects around your home.
If there's something you just can't seem to keep your dog away from, try applying an aversive like Bitter Apple to the object. This is a spray that is not harmful to your dog or most items, but it tastes bad. Apply some to items your dog keeps trying to chew, and the bitter taste should stop him cold.
No matter how angry you get when you find your dog has just chewed your favorite possession, it's important that you don't punish. Punishing your dog will only increase his stress levels and anxiety which in turn increase his need to chew. Punishing your dog may only serve to increase the problem.
Many dog owners need a little extra help in training their pets. If you're finding that it's tough to manage your dog's chewing, consider taking your dog to a training class. Even a few sessions may provide both you and your dogs with the tools you need to minimize destructive chewing.
Be Patient and Realistic
Even the best-trained dogs have bad moments now and then. In your dog's lifetime, chances are he's going to chew something you would rather he didn't. If this happens, just go back to the beginning, and reinforce your dog's good chewing habits. Your patience will pay off.