Why do dogs chew?
Chewing is perfectly normal behavior for dogs, but it becomes problematic when your pup starts destroying the furniture, their dog bed, or your favorite pair of shoes. If you’ve got a problem chewer, don’t worry -- there’s an end in sight. Here we’ll give you an overview of why your pooch chews in the first place, plus the best methods to put an end to destructive chewing in your home.
Chewing is normal, natural behavior in dogs both domestic and wild. This sometimes frustrating behavior provides mental stimulation and anxiety relief for your pup, in addition to keeping their jaws strong and their teeth clean.
Chewing tends to be more of an issue during the puppy phase and during stressful events. If you’re not sure why your pup is ripping their dog bed apart (for the third time) while you’re away, check out the following most common reasons your dog may be chewing more than normal.
Puppies in particular tend to be aggressive chewers because they explore new environments (and objects!) with their mouths. Not only do they love analyzing new items with their chompers, they -- like us humans -- have a fair amount of discomfort when their adult teeth are coming in, so they chew to relieve the pain. (Puppies begin losing their baby teeth at around 3-4 months to make room for those 42 impressive adult teeth.) Chewing helps relieve their aching gums, which become inflamed and painful during teething. It’s important to offer your puppy safe and durable toys to gnaw on during this period while ensuring you keep anything valuable out of their reach. Add cold or frozen toys to the mix to further alleviate discomfort in their gums.
Dogs of all ages tend to chew more frequently when they’re frustrated or stressed. Separation anxiety in particular can exacerbate existing chewing problems, and can be particularly damaging to your pup’s health (and your home!) If your dog’s chewing is worse when you leave for an extended period of time, or is accompanied by other signs like accidents, whining, barking, or pacing, separation anxiety may be the culprit. Talk to your veterinarian about how to best manage your pup’s stress and anxiety for your (and your dog’s) sanity. Sometimes, medication is necessary.
If you notice your dog licking or chewing furniture or other items compulsively, it may be due to lack of stimulation, injury, illness, stress, or even the possibility that they were weaned too early (before 7-8 weeks). Compulsive behaviors are those behaviors that are repeated over and over again, are not easily interrupted, and often interfere with their normal functioning. This type of behavior will likely improve once your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist determines the root cause and can treat it accordingly.
Your pup may start to chew just because they’re excited to see you when you get home, they’re around other dogs and want to play, or they see something they can’t get to -- like a squirrel outside the window. This is usually an easy fix; by providing them access to appropriate toys, they’ll be less likely to grab on to something else to gnaw on (like your socks!) when they become excited.
If your dog is on a calorie-restricted diet (or if their appetite is insatiable), they may chew just because they’re hungry. If you think this may be the case, it might be worth reassessing their diet with your veterinarian or offering low-calorie snacks like carrots to curb their hunger pangs.
How to put an end to destructive chewing?
Destructive chewing is not only frustrating for you, it could potentially cause health problems for your beloved pooch. Toy pieces or fabric from a shredded dog bed, for instance, can become lodged in their digestive tract leading to a serious medical emergency often requiring surgery.
Thankfully, this problem can be managed with a little time and patience. Until your pup knows exactly what they can and can’t chew, it’s up to you to show them what’s okay and what isn’t. Try the following options to keep their chompers happy and your home intact.
Provide gentle guidance
If you catch your dog in the act of chewing an inappropriate object, try saying “ah-ah” or “uh-oh”, remove the item, and replace it with something he or she is allowed to chew. Make sure to praise them when they chew on the preferred toy. Keep in mind that scolding your pup long after they have already chewed something inappropriate is not effective and will only frighten and confuse them.
In addition to correcting their behavior, you can also try spraying inappropriate objects with a chewing deterrent like bitter apple, which most dogs generally find extremely unappetizing.
Keep the area free of valuable objects while unsupervised
When your pup is unsupervised, it’s best that valuable objects -- including laundry and shoes -- are kept tucked safely away and out of their reach. It’s also a good idea to keep your pooch confined to a crate or small room without valuable items if they’re known to chew while you’re away from home; just be sure they’re not confined for more than 6 hours at a time. Also keep in mind that crates should never be used as punishment; your pup should think of their crate as a safe, positive den-like environment where they feel secure.
“Should I offer my pup a dog bed or blanket to sleep on while I’m gone?”
It’s common for dogs to chew their beds for the same reasons they go after your shoes; It may be related to the stress of being alone, boredom, or lack of other toys. If your pup tends to shred their beds and blankets, it’s best to remove those for the time being until you can figure out the cause of their chewing. If you don’t want to forego the cozy bed, try a comfy chew-proof alternative like our Chew Proof Dog Cot -- they’re virtually indestructible.
Your dog will be more likely to chew appropriate toys if those toys are consistently rotated to keep their attention and prevent boredom. Take notice of the toys your dog seems especially drawn to, and incorporate more of those if you can. Puzzle toys and durable natural rubber toys tend to keep a dog’s attention for longer periods of time, and are less likely to break apart.
Toys should never resemble valuable objects (i.e., don’t offer your pup an old shirt or slipper to chew on, as they won’t be able to tell the difference between an unwanted item and a valuable one in the future.)
And, while it may be tempting, it is generally recommended that you avoid giving cooked bones and rawhide to your beloved pooch; this is because both of these can seriously damage a dog’s digestive tract.
Exercise and stimulation
A tired dog tends to be a more well-behaved dog. Daily walks, trips to the dog park, or a game of fetch can do wonders for their behavior. Dogs that are under-stimulated, high energy, or bored are often more destructive than their well-exercised counterparts.
Have a chat with your vet or trainer
Tried everything and still having trouble with your dog’s chewing habit? It may be time to talk to your veterinarian or a certified dog trainer about the best options moving forward.