Destructive Chewing

Even though chewing is a normal and natural behavior for dogs, it doesn’t mean they should chew on whatever they want, whenever they want. Here are some ways to limit destructive chewing.

What to do if Inappropriate Chewing Happens.

If you catch them in the act, calmly take the item from them, tell them “No”. Then replace it with an appropriate chew toy. If you’re not home or unable to supervise them properly, safely confine them to a crate or puppy proof area.

If the damage is already done, clean up the mess and do not reprimand your dog. Dogs only have a three second window to associate what they’re doing with either reward or punishment. Punishing your dog for a mess made hours or even minutes before has no meaning for them.

Managing Boredom.

Dogs exhibit boredom in various ways:

Most puppies and young dogs have more energy than we give them an outlet to burn off. One way dogs burn energy is by chewing – and they’ll do it whether it’s appropriate or inappropriate. A tired dog is a good dog. Providing enough physical and mental stimulation decreases the likelihood of destructive behaviors. The amount of exercise/entertainment should be based on your dog’s breed characteristics and age. The younger and more energetic your dog is, the more work you have cut out for you. To decrease destructive behaviors:

  • Provide physical and mental exercise.
  • Don’t leave your dog alone for extended periods of time.
  • Provide supervision. Your dog won’t know how to behave if you don’t teach alternatives to inappropriate behavior.
  • Interact with them. Often people put their pets outside with toys yet wonder why they still exhibit destructive behavior. Most dogs don’t do well entertaining themselves alone for hours on end. They’d rather be with you. Toys alone quickly lose their fun and dogs may find a more exciting activity that you wish they hadn’t.

Management Tools.

Prevention.

If your pet can’t get to it, they can’t chew it. 

  • “Puppy Proof” your house. Get down low and see things that are within their reach that may be tempting – especially trash and loose items. If it shouldn’t go in a dog’s mouth, it shouldn’t be available.
  • Temporarily take up throw rugs. 
  • Move all plants, household cleaners, paper products like tissues or toilet paper, shoes, socks, remotes, or any other small chewable object out of reach.
  • Move trash cans out of reach or make sure they have a pet proof lid.
  • Remove or secure heavy objects which could tip or be pulled down and cause injury.

Safely Confine.

Keep your puppy in an area where there are no tempting chew items using either a baby gate in a puppy-proofed room (laundry or kitchen) or a crate when you’re unable to supervise. See our brochure Crate Training for Dogs for how to properly introduce your puppy or dog to a crate. 

Provide Appropriate Chew Things.

A dog wants and needs to chew. The more items you provide that are appropriate to chew on, the less likely your dog will chew on the wrong thing.

Identify toys. Give your dog toys that are clearly distinguishable from household items. Don’t confuse your dog by offering shoes or socks as toys and then expect them to distinguish between his things and yours.

Provide a toy box. It’s easier for dogs to know what’s ok and what’s not if all their things are accessible in one spot.

Build a toy preference. Use puzzle toys to feed your pet or stuff a Kong with peanut butter or canned pet food. Make the toy more interesting than other items.

Keep it interesting. Great options include chews like Nylabones, Kongs or other hard rubber toys, natural parts such as bully sticks, antlers and smoked or raw bones. 

Not all toys are chew toys. There is no such thing as a plush toy that is meant to withstand a dog’s bite. It’s important to pick safe chew items. Avoid toys with pieces that could come off and be ingested. If you see your dog tearing apart a plush toy, remove it immediately and replace it with a tougher chew option.

Exercise.

Excess energy contributes to an increase in chewing. Puppies who are destructive indoors need at least an hour or two of vigorous physical outdoor exercise daily. Play fetch, run, teach them to run alongside a bike, swim or take them to a large fenced area to wear them out. Wrestling with other dogs is another tiring activity. If your dog is friendly with others, a local dog park or doggy daycare is a great option. 

Obedience Training.

Proper training can go a long way to improve problem behaviors. Obedience classes with a professional trainer are a great place to have your puppy learn basic manners. Plus, a trainer may have additional suggestions to curb destructive behaviors. Keep them learning. Start with puppy kindergarten and continue on through their teenage stage for a well-rounded, obedient companion. Teach a ‘drop it’ or ‘leave it’ command so if your dog grabs something they shouldn’t, they will trade it for a treat.

Separation Anxiety.

There is a difference between ‘normal’ destructive behavior and destructive behavior associated with separation anxiety. Your dog may have separation anxiety if:

  • The behavior occurs when left alone and typically soon after you leave.
  • Your dog follows you from room-to-room
  • Your dog displays overly excitable and frantic greeting behaviors.
  • The behavior occurs whether they’ve been left alone for short or long periods.
  • They react with excitement, depression or anxiety to your rituals as you prepare to leave the house.

The destruction and house soiling that occur with separation anxiety are part of a panic response. Your dog isn’t trying to misbehave so it’s important not to punish them for their behavior.

Treating Minor Separation Anxiety.

Many of the management tools used for other destructive behavior will work in cases of minor separation anxiety. Puppy-proof the house, provide lots of ‘busy’ toys and make sure your dog is tired before you leave. In addition:

  • Tone down departures and arrivals. High excitement arrivals and goodbye behaviors increase anxiety in a nervous dog. Virtually ignore your dog for about 15 minutes before you leave and after you return.
  • Provide a high value stuffed Kong or another puzzle toy when you leave. Most behaviors associated with separation anxiety occur immediately after leaving and a toy that holds a tempting treat is usually enough to distract dogs with mild separation anxiety.
  • Leave a radio or tv on to provide soothing background noise.
  • Use an over-the-counter calming product that may decrease anxiety, such as pheromones, natural herbal remedies, wearable calming devices and/or hemp oil. 
  • For severe separation anxiety, consult with a professional trainer or veterinarian. 

In Conclusion.

You can’t teach a dog not to chew, but you can direct them to appropriate items. There are many causes for chewing and destructive behaviors, but also many solutions. Through management practices such as prevention, safe confinement, providing appropriate chew items, proper exercise and decreasing boredom, inappropriate chewing can be easily curbed.