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Dogs may not be able to actually talk to us, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own ways of communicating when something is up—it’s just up to us as pet parents to notice when they’re trying to send us a message. If you’ve noticed that your dog is chewing on things he shouldn’t be, for example, it doesn’t mean that he’s a bad boy or that he’s trying to ruin your life (or even your belongings). It just means that something else is going on with him that you need to address. Here’s what you need to know about how to handle a dog who is chewing on all the wrong things—and how to solve the problem.
Why dogs chew
Before you can start to correct any undesirable behavior with a pup, you first need to understand why dogs chew. When it comes to chewing, there are several possible reasons behind the behavior.
The first factor to consider when you’re trying to determine why a dog is chewing is their age. For puppies, chewing is incredibly natural. Just like human babies, puppies put things in their mouths when they’re getting to know the world around them. This doesn’t always mean that those things should be in their mouths, of course, but it also doesn’t mean the chewing is necessarily indicative of any underlying issues. When puppies are 3-4 months old, they start teething, which can also prompt chewing as they try to alleviate the discomfort.
For adult dogs, however, chewing can be a sign that something else needs to be addressed. If your adult dog is engaging in destructive chewing, several issues could be at play, including:
- Separation anxiety
- Fear-related issues
To determine what’s triggering your dog’s destructive chewing, you’ll want to pay close attention to the circumstances that surround incidents of unwanted chomping. Dogs who are suffering from separation anxiety, for example, will typically only act out when they’re left alone, so if your pup never even needs a gentle reminder not to chew when the humans are around, it could be a sign that separation anxiety is at play.
Boredom-driven chewing will almost never occur when your dog’s body and mind are thoroughly stimulated, so if your dog is chewing on furniture and shoes right after a long walk or trip to the dog park, boredom probably isn’t the issue. Dogs who chew because they’re dealing with other anxieties may chew more when there’s a trigger present—like a stranger visiting the house or loud noises like construction work or fireworks outside. Whatever is motivating your dog to chew inappropriately, by paying close attention to what’s going on when the unwanted chewing occurs, you should be able to identify the root cause. And, of course, if you’re struggling to get to the core of the issue, you can always enlist the help of a well-reviewed, positive-only trainer in your area to figure it out.
How to curb destructive chewing
If your dog is engaging in destructive chewing, don’t panic. There are plenty of simple steps you can take to discourage the behavior and even help correct it long-term.
1. Set your dog up for success.
If your dog has been struggling with what to chew and what not to chew, make things easier by picking up any items that should stay firmly on the “no chewing” list and keeping them out of your dog’s reach. After all, they can’t chew what they can’t get to.
2. Don’t leave your dog alone if you don’t have to.
Dogs are like kids in that they need constant supervision when they’re young or just learning a new set of rules. If your dog is still getting a handle on what’s appropriate to chew and what isn’t, it will help to have you close by to praise him quickly and consistently when he’s chewing on the right things and to give him replacement chews when his chewing attention is focused on the wrong items during the learning process.
3. Buy the right dog toys.
If your dog is having a hard time sticking to his own toys for chewing, make things as easy as possible for him by stocking up on dog toys that are obviously different from the household items you don’t want him chewing.
4. Exercise your dog’s body and mind.
One of the most common causes of inappropriate chewing among dogs is boredom. When dogs are bored, they look for ways to amuse themselves and, in dog world, chewing is a fantastic source of entertainment. By keeping your dog physically tuckered out with plenty of walks and play (like running in a Sniffspot near you) and mentally worn out with things like puzzle toys and scent walks, you’ll help curb the urge to chew.
5. Interrupt inappropriate chewing as soon as you see it.
When you do notice that your dog is chewing on something he shouldn’t be, don’t punish him. Instead, just remove the thing your pup shouldn’t be chewing from the area and then have an appropriate chew toy handy to give them as a replacement. When they chomp down on the toy instead of your favorite pair of shoes, be sure to praise them lots to reinforce the positive behavior.
6. Make chewing on the wrong things less tasty.
If your dog is really struggling to kick the habit of chewing on high value items like furniture, consider investing in a taste deterrent (like Bitter Apple® spray) to make the act of chewing on those items literally leave a bad taste in your dog’s mouth. But remember, you must supervise your dog really carefully when first trying a taste deterrent. For some dogs, they won’t actually be effective and the chewing will continue on just as strong as before.
7. Be patient and realistic.
Correcting any undesirable behavior won’t happen overnight and chewing is no exception. If your dog is struggling with chewing on the wrong things, be patient with him and accept that you’re probably going to lose a few items in the process of teaching your pup what to chew and what not to chew. Just remember that your dog and your amazing relationship with him is worth more than any pair of shoes or your favorite phone case.
What not to do
When you set out to train your dog not to chew on the wrong things, it’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what you should be doing. If you catch your dog chewing something he shouldn’t be—whether it’s during the act or after the fact—don’t punish them. And yes, that includes verbal punishment like yelling or scolding.
We never advocate negative reinforcement of any kind. Positive-focused training—in which desirable behavior is praised and rewarded and undesirable behavior is ignored—is always the best way to train a dog. While scolding and other forms of punishment won’t ever help the situation, when applied after the fact (like when you come home from work to find something chewed up in the middle of the living room floor), they only serve to confuse your dog and can actually trigger anxiety and additional undesirable behaviors. If you don’t notice inappropriate chewing as it’s happening, fight the instinct to scold your dog and just ignore it.
Trainer that reviewed this article
There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content.
This is the trainer that reviewed this article:
M.Ed. Humane Education
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
Certified Tellington TTouch and TTEAM Practitioner