April 14, 2023
* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *
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 our job as pet parents to pay attention when they’re trying to send us a message!
If you’ve noticed that your dog is chewing on things they shouldn’t be, it doesn’t mean that they're being bad or trying to ruin your life (or even to intentionally destroy your belongings). It just means that something else is going on with them — maybe boredom, anxiety, or even pain — 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. We'll help you solve the problem in no time!
Before you can start to correct any undesirable behavior with your pup, you first need to understand why dogs chew and what might encourage their chewing on household objects. There are several possible reasons your dog is getting their mouth on things you wish they’d leave alone.
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 does mean the chewing isn't necessarily indicative of any underlying issues.
When puppies are 3-4 months of age they start teething — the process of losing their baby teeth (much like how human children do) to make room for their adult teeth. This process can prompt chewing as they try to alleviate the discomfort. Teething can be a difficult process for both dog and owner! Prepare yourself for a lot of chewing — puppies have very sharp teeth — and be ready to redirect from your hands and furniture to acceptable alternatives like designated chew toys. You can learn more about making it through in our puppy training guide here.
For many adult dogs, excessive chewing can be a sign that something else needs to be addressed. If your older dog is engaging in destructive chewing, it could be an outlet for anxiety, like separation anxiety or fear-related problems.
To determine what’s triggering your dog’s chewing, you’ll want to pay close attention to the circumstances that surround incidents of unwanted chomping.
Dogs also chew when they’re bored. Sometimes chewing can be a way to solicit affection — some pets learn that when they run off with your shoe, you always chase after them, which they might view as a pretty fun game.
Boredom-driven chewing will almost never occur when your dog’s body and mind are thoroughly satisfied. If your dog is chewing on furniture and shoes right after a long walk or trip to the dog park or trick training session or other forms of mental stimulation, boredom probably isn’t the issue.
Whatever your dog's motivation for chewing inappropriately, you should be able to identify the root cause by paying close attention to what’s going on when the unwanted chewing occurs.
And, of course, if you’re struggling to get to the core of the issue, you can always enlist the help of a force free trainer in your area to figure it out!
If your dog is engaging in destructive chewing, don’t panic. There are plenty of simple steps you can take to discourage the behavior in the moment and help create new healthy habits in the long run.
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.
(We know this is easier said than done, especially with curious puppies — consider creating a designated "off limits" area on a counter or in a cabinet while you're working through this chewing training with your dog.)
Some dogs are more likely to chew when they’re hungry, which is common if your pup is on a calorie-restricted diet. Mouthing is a natural urge often associated with consuming food.
Make sure you provide your pup with daily nutritious meals, fresh water, and regular bathroom breaks at reasonable periods of time (no more than 6-8 hours for an adult dog and shorter intervals for a puppy) to meet their basic needs.
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 the dog world, chewing is a fantastic source of entertainment. Like we said above, chewing is a normal canine behavior!
By keeping your dog physically tuckered out with plenty of exercise, like walks and fast-paced play (like running in a Sniffspot near you); mentally worn out with things like puzzle toys and scent walks; and secure in their relationship with you through social stimulation, you’ll help curb the urge to chew.
We want to place special emphasis on the importance of mental stimulation alongside physical exercise. Dogs are intelligent, emotional animals who benefit from being able to use their brains alongside their bodies.
You can learn more about dog enrichment in our comprehensive guide!
Because chewing is a natural, instinctive behavior, it can be really satisfying for our dogs. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but one way to address problem chewing is to make sure you give your dog ample chances to chew safe, approved toys (or edibles like bully sticks, kongs with peanut butter, and other enrichment toys). A bonus of this? Appropriate chewing on a variety of objects can maintain your dog's healthy teeth throughout adulthood!
If you're worried about creating confusion here, consider only giving these toys in a specific area of the house or when you say a certain verbal cue. That can help your dog learn when it is and isn't okay to chew to prevent further destructive behaviors..
If your dog is having a hard time sticking to their own toys for chewing, make things as easy as possible for them by stocking up on dog toys that are obviously different from the household items you don’t want them chewing (like your favorite shoes).
This can be especially challenging — but important — if your dog lives in a household with human kids who have their own belongings lying around. It's also an opportunity to teach your children about the value in cleaning up after playing!
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 them quickly and consistently when they're chewing on the right things — and to give them replacement chews when their chewing attention is focused on the wrong items during the learning process.
When you do notice that your dog is chewing on something they shouldn’t be, don’t punish them. 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.
If your pup struggles to let you take items away in return for other appropriate toys, they might be resource guarding. You can learn more about food aggression and related behavior in this article!
If your dog is really struggling to kick the habit of chewing on high value items like furniture, consider investing in a taste deterrent spray (like Bitter Apple spray or apple cider vinegar) 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.
Addressing any undesirable behavior won’t happen overnight — and chewing is no exception. We know this is hard as a pet parent!
If your dog is struggling with chewing on the wrong things, be patient with them 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 them is worth more than any pair of shoes or your favorite phone case.
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 they shouldn’t be — whether it’s during the act or after the fact — don’t punish them. That includes verbal punishment like yelling or scolding.
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. Go back to your management plan and remember you've got this!
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.
These are the trainers who reviewed this article:
Owner/Founder: UpSwing Total Pet Care - Certified Behavior Consultant Canine (CBCC-KA), IAABC Accredited Dog Trainer (IAABC-ADT),
CATCH Certified Dog Trainer (CCDT), Certified Trick Dog Instructor (CTDI), Certified Animal Reiki Practitioner
M.Ed. Humane Education
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
Certified Tellington TTouch and TTEAM Practitioner
April 14, 2023
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