Dogs have an affinity for chewing things, as this is a natural behavior.
“Chewing is a part of who they are and is a species-appropriate behavior,” says Dana Ebbecke, an animal behavior counselor at the ASPCA in New York, New York.
Come home to a torn sofa or chomped up pair of shoes, however, and that natural behavior ceases to be endearing. Instead it becomes a source of agitation for both the human and canine members of your household.
The idea of “dog destructive chewing” is really all about perspective. Dogs don’t know the difference between appropriate dog toys, like Nylabone’s DuraChewy dinosaur dog toy, and that pricy woodworking you just had installed. They are not born with an understanding of what is OK to chew on versus what is appropriate to chew on… until we teach them.
What can you do to stop your dog from chewing on your stuff? It depends on what’s behind the chewing, says Liz Stelow, DVM, DACVB, chief of service for the University of California-Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.
“If the dog is anxious, the underlying anxiety must be addressed, because the chewing is just a symptom,” Dr. Stelow says. “A dog that’s hungry will need to have her constant hunger addressed. The bored dog needs more to do with her time. If she’s a puppy, she may be teething.”
This is not a “one size fits all” solution, so let’s look at the possible reasons a dog might chew and what we, as pet parents, can do about them.
Why Do Dogs Chew?
Serious Health Conditions
Chewing is a normal activity for dogs, but sometimes it’s tied to a more serious condition. On rare occasions, a medical issue is to blame, says Zenithson Ng, DVM, DABVP (canine/feline), a clinical assistant professor of small animal clinical sciences at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville, Tennessee. Some of these conditions include dental issues, oral masses, neurologic disease or a disease resulting in extreme hunger, he says.
Some dogs with stomach or intestinal problems also can be driven to lick or chew items, Dr. Stelow says.
“Some [dogs] are very hungry—often due to medications—and will chew and even consume items that may taste like food,” Dr. Stelow says. “Some are soothed by chewing or sucking on soft items.”
Compulsive Behavior Issues
A compulsive behavior called pica, in which a dog eats inedible objects like dirt, clay and soap, also may be to blame, Ebbecke says.
Destructive chewing mostly is tied to behavioral issues like fear, stress and separation anxiety, Dr. Ng says.
Some dogs become panicked when parents leave, so they attempt to “break out” of the house, which is why you may come home to find your window frames, doors and child-proof gates destroyed, Dr. Stelow says.
Boredom—from lack of exercise or mental stimulation—also may play a part, as can changes in the dog’s routine, says Robin Bennett, CPDT-KA a certified professional dog trainer in Stafford, Virginia.
How to Stop Dog Destructive Chewing
Once your vet has ruled out health and behavioral issues, there are several things you can try to help curb your best friend’s appetite for your valuables.
It is up to us, as pet parents, to teach our dogs alternative behaviors. To stop your dog from chewing on your things, you can introduce something more valuable and fun instead of the destructive chewing.
Pet parents often focus on what we don’t want. Instead, focus on the behaviors we do want by rewarding good behavior. Instead of chewing on my new shoes I will trade out the shoes for an appropriate chew toy, like a Benebone Pawplexer dog chew toy.
We also have to manage our dog’s environment and eliminate the opportunity for her to make bad choices. For example, put your shoes in your closet where the dog cannot access them rather than leaving them in the middle of the living room floor.
Teaching some basic obedience commands also will help when (not if) mistakes happen. Useful commands in these situations are “leave it” and “drop it.”
If you have a problem chewer, you can hire a positive reinforcement trainer. They can help you set up beneficial rules and routines to help curb dog destructive chewing.
Keep Her Mind Active
Does your dog have enough stimuli to keep herself occupied? Mental exercise helps tire a dog as much as physical exercise can, Bennett says.
“Using (healthful) treat-filled toys, which the dog has to roll around to get the food, playing ‘find the hidden treats’ in the yard or house, or any of the puzzle games made for dogs can help,” Bennett says.
Try filling a KONG Classic dog toy with peanut butter or another high-value treat. An interactive toy like The Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound’s dog twister also is designed to keep dogs busy, especially if they love the challenge of a stimulating puzzle toy.
Variety is important, says Ebbecke, who recommends providing pups with several appropriate Dog chew toys. Regularly rotating them helps keep them fun and interesting.
Dr. Ng also suggests leaving the radio or television on for your dog while you’re away. These sounds can help break the monotony (like it does for us) and help with separation anxiety.
Tired dogs usually are not problem chewers. Pups who are busy with appropriate toys rarely chew up shoes, and anxious dogs who are busy working on a puzzle type toy or feeder, like Outward Hound’s interactive dog bowl, are less likely to be a destructive chewer.
If keeping your dog busy and giving her access to appropriate toys help, imagine what will happen when adding an exercise program. Exercise provides several benefits to dogs, from helping with weight loss to promoting relaxation and aiding in digestion. It also can help deter dog destructive chewing, Bennett says, but you must do more than just let your dog loose in the backyard and expect results.
“At least two times a day, for 20 minutes a day, someone should physically interact with the dog,” Bennett says. “Although some dogs get outside time in the yard, if no one is playing with them, they will often find their own activities, which might include chewing something we consider valuable.”
You don’t have to limit the exercise to just walking, either. Make it fun and head to a lake or park that allows dogs to swim, play catch with a Starmark treat-dispensing chew toy, or even dance with your dog.
Don’t discount doggy daycares and professional dog walkers. We all live busy lives, but that’s no excuse for our dog’s problem behaviors. We are responsible for creating rules and routines inside our homes that teach success and guide our pets to make the decisions we want and is rewarding to the dog.
By: Mike Deathe (Professional Dog Trainer) & Paula Fizsimmons