A few years ago, my lovely dog gave me a fright. I came back home from work and saw that she has chewed an entire fluffy pillow and a couple of other things. She left the whole house in a mess, but I was more concerned about her health. I was scared she could have chewed enough fluff that might get her suffocated.
I’m glad she survived without any complication. Before long, I realized that I wasn’t the only one bothered about my dog chewing on things. Let’s say it’s a habit for dogs and puppies that can be corrected using the right steps and techniques.
You don’t need to get frustrated that your dog loves chewing on the carpet for lunch and chews off shoes for fun. I’ll guide you through the root cause of the problem and how to solve it. Hopefully, with the right approach, it will be a thing of the past.
Why Do Dogs Chew On Things?
Understanding why dogs chew on things is the first step towards stopping them from doing so. There are many reasons why they do so as I’ll explain below.
1. It’s A Norm
Colin Tennant, chairman of the U.K. Canine and Feline Behaviour Association, has spent over 30 years studying the behaviors and inclinations of dogs.
Speaking to Live Science, he said,
“Chewing, for a dog, is like a human opening a door and looking into a room… People are nosy, and so are dogs. But they investigate with their mouths because they don’t have hands.”
This for one shows that chewing of things is not a health defect for them or an arbitrary act they learned from a spoilt dog. It’s a norm that they do with every form of ‘innocence.’
Dogs are inquisitive. They always want to investigate things as inherent in their behavior. The result of their inquisitiveness is torn pillows and shattered plates.
Chewing is often a direct effect of boredom. Dogs don’t want to be left alone. They are domestic animals that appreciate the company of humans and other animals.
Have you noticed that most times your dog chewed on things were those times you weren’t at home? In your absence, your stuff are the closest things they have to you because of your smell that is all over the material.
“Dogs frequently chew things because they like the taste or the odor,” Tennant said. “In a home, the odors that the dogs find the most attractive are the human odors. People leave their shoes about, and the shoes have an intense smell.”
What this means is that they always think of something to get them engaged instead of lying around doing nothing.
3. Teething Issues
Just like humans, all other mammals go through a teething stage. A full grown dog has 42 permanent teeth. Teething causes pain and discomfort for puppies as the teeth form in the gums. It begins at the age of 3 weeks, and by the first eight weeks, they should have 28 teeth.
However, it doesn’t mark the end of the teething process. It continues till around the age of 30 weeks when the permanent 42 teeth have been replaced the temporary ones.
During this period of teething, dogs have to chew on things to relieve the pains. They may also exhibit biting tendencies which should be curbed.
For some dogs, chewing on things as a result of teething doesn’t stop after the full formation of their teeth. It grows as a habit and may continue for a whole year.
4. Separation Anxiety
An easy way to understand this is to put yourself in your dog’s shoes. No one wants to be left alone for a long time without any familiar face.
It can get a little worse for dogs. Separation anxiety has been diagnosed in 15% of all behavioral cases in dogs. It often occurs when they are locked up at home all to themselves. They obviously don’t understand where everyone went.
Anxiety quickly sets in. They’d bark incessantly as they react to the fear that has built up in them.
Most times, they don’t stop at chewing on things. They can exhibit other behaviors such as defecating, vomiting, urinating, cage breaking, or self-harming.
Dogs with very close relationships with their owners are more susceptible to separation anxiety. The dogs need to be trained on how to be on their own with little or no attention from the owner.
5. Peculiar Breed Instincts
You probably need to put this into consideration the next time you set out to get a dog. Yes, chewing has a lot to do with the peculiarity of breeds.
The results showed that Great Danes, Chihuahuas, Mastiffs, and Basset Hounds are the most destructive dog species. Each of them cost their owners damages of over £550 in a lifetime.
If you have any of these breeds, you probably shouldn’t find it strange when you return home from work each day and notice they’ve ripped your furniture apart. It’s an inherent behavior. They just need to be trained out of it.
6. Hunger Tension
I didn’t forget this point. Are you really feeding your dog well? A dog on a calorie-restricted diet is bound to chew and destroy things in the house in a bid to find other sources of nutrition. They often ransack kitchens chewing on anything that looks like food.
Some dog owners are in the habit of punishing their dogs when they do something wrong by starving them. It’s very wrong and inappropriate. Dogs are predators and definitely use their claws and teeth to mess up everything they come across in such scenarios.
Ideally, a dog should be fed twice daily. Failure to do so will leave your dog hungry for more than 12 hours a day. This problem leads to hunger tension. Destructive chewing is just one of the results of this problem. A hungry dog can go as far as biting his owner in a bid to feed.
7. Early Weaning
While most dogs love shoes, some suck and chew on fabrics. It’s believed that this behavior is caused by been weaned too early, probably before 8 weeks of age.
If this behavior continues for long to the extent that it is difficult to dissuade him from doing so, then it means the behavior has probably become compulsive.
You can seek professional behavior help for him by contacting a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) with specialized skills in treating compulsive behavior.
8. Stress and Frustration
A dog may chew due to prolong crating or being crates with other animals he doesn’t get along well with. He won’t like being teased by kids while he is restricted too. This can cause stress for your dog.
The frustrations come in his inability to do anything about it. Apart from chewing on things, this can breed digging tendencies in your dog as well.
Dogs that are not allowed to engage in exciting things show an unusual dimension of frustration. For instance, a dog who is chained to a pen will get frustrated if he can’t chase after a nearby cat.
Similarly, a dog will tend to express his anger by chewing on things when he sees other dogs doing some physical exercises while he is locked away in a crate.
Understanding these behaviors in your dog will help stop him from chewing on things.
How to Stop A Dog From Chewing On Things
Now we’ve established the reasons why dogs chew on things. Let’s look at how to stop your pooch from making a snack out of your stuff.
But I must tell you, you can’t stop a dog ‘completely’ from chewing on things. Trying to do so is probably going to end in futility. However, there are steps to take to ensure that your dog’s destructive chewing behaviors reduce to the barest minimum.
1. Dog-Proofing Your House
Prevention is really better than cure. As I insinuated earlier, it’s tough to get a dog to learn from an action she committed about an hour ago. Your screams, spanks, and scolds may amount to nothing. A better approach is to prevent the action from taking place in the first place.
Just like families baby-proof their house to prevent babies from damaging things and getting themselves injured, you can also dog-proof/puppy-proof your house.
The first step is to put away everything that your dog may want to chew on. Lock up your shoes, put your clothes away from your dog’s reach. Stash away every other thing it may be tempted to chew on.
I know you can’t do much about your furniture and the fluffy pillows on the seat. A way out of this bottleneck is to restrict the dog’s access to areas where it often chews on.
You can keep him confined in his own room where there are no fluffy pillows to chew on or wooden furniture to shatter. Keeping him in an exercise pen while you’re away isn’t really a bad idea too.
2. Train Your Dog to Understand Cues
Training is the best way to get a dog to stop chewing on your valuable items. One of the most important training is for him to know when to “drop it” or “leave it” on your cue.
You’ve got to rehearse this over and over again by speaking the words and making corresponding face gestures until he learns.
It’s great to initiate the training during playtime. When the play is intense, stop playing suddenly and allow your dog to interpret the look on your face.
The response would be that he will stop playing as well. Repeat this over and over again, so he will know when to drop your valuable items by just speaking the word or giving the right facial gesture.
3. Supervise Your Dog
Keeping a close eye on your dog is a formidable approach towards preventing chewing behaviors. Whenever she’s not restricted, watch her every move and call her to order whenever she gets close to chewing those things she craves for.
You should ask her to “drop it” or “leave it.” That way, she can attribute your instructions to the action she was about to take. Remember that prevention of the act is better than correction.
4. Try Physical Exercises and Mental Simulations
Take your dog out for more exercises. You can try out activities like hikes, walks, tug-of-war, fetch, flirt-poles, etc. Physical exercises kill boredom for dogs. Mental simulations are great too.
Try stuff like backyard agility, manners classes, freestyle canine disc, trick training, obedience training, and training games.
5. Use Chewing Deterrents Spray
Some dog chewing deterrents are made of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice or white vinegar. They are not harmful, but dogs find their taste and smell repugnant. You can easily discourage your dog from chewing on things by spraying them with chewing deterrents.
The first time you use it, put a little on a tissue or wool and rub it in the mouth of your dog. The taste and smell will repel him and register in his head that it’s not something he would love.
Spray it on anything you don’t want him to chew. Trust me, he won’t want to chew anything that smells like it. Consistently reapply deterrents every day for a couple of weeks.
You can get good chewing deterrents from pet stores. But never try to make a deterrent using anything that can harm your dog like chemicals. It’s not advisable.
6. Make Him ‘Earn’ His Food
You should consider emptying your pooch’s food bowl and replacing it with food-dispensing puzzle toys. This will give him a mental exercise and keep his brain busy as he scrambles for his food. It’s a proven way to avert boredom.
The more time it takes for him to get his meal, the less time he has to chew on your valuable stuff.
7. Train Your Dogs to Chew Dog Toys
A good alternative to chewing your shoes is to chew dog toys. Don’t just toss any plastic to your dog to chew. Some plastics can be poisonous with lots of chemicals.
So instead of just giving her anything that comes to your mind to chew on, you can do well to visit a reputable pet store and get befitting toys for your dog. Nonetheless, it isn’t really easy at times to make a dog chew toys.
“The most common misconception people learn from the internet is that they just need to buy the dog some toys and [the chewing] would stop,” Tennant said. “It won’t. A toy would smell of plastic, which is not necessarily a pleasant smell for a dog, [whereas] the shoe stinks of a human, which is a fantastic smell [for a dog]. They love it. There is no contest.”
This means dog owners have a significant role to play in training their dogs to be content with toys even though they aren’t as appealing as shoes.
Keep in mind that puppy chew toys need to be softer because their teeth are tender.
8. Make The Toys Attractive
Providing toys for your dog is one thing, getting him to love the toys is another thing. You can make the toys attractive by attaching much value to them.
For instance, instead of just handing the toys over, you can make him earn it by doing a couple of routine tasks like sitting and standing a couple of times.
You can do more to make them attractive by coating the toys with canned food or peanut butter. Stuff toys like Kong with food so your dog will have a nice time chewing on them.
Tie a rope around ring-shaped-toys. Play tug-of-war and make you chase them for fun.
Release new toys once in a while. If you give your dog all the toys at a go, he’s probably going to get bored after sometime. So release the toys in batches, perhaps new ones every week or thereabout.
9. Reward Your Dog for Chewing On A Chew Toy
Allow your dog to learn by commendation. Each time you see her chewing on a chew toy, smile, and speak sweet words to her. Give her a treat, play with her.
These gestures will make her realize how happy you are with what she did. Before long, she will understand that you want her to chew on only chew toys and not on your shoes.
10. Set Your Dog Up For A Test
After a couple of weeks of consistently giving her valuable chew toys, set up a controlled test for her to see how much she will fare. It will enable her to know what is required of her and what she is not expected to chew on.
When you notice her chewing, put a good chew toy on one side and your shoe (or something else she loves) on another. Make her choose one.
If she chooses the chew toy, praise her, give her a treat.
But if she chooses the shoe, take it away from her and put the toy before her.
That way, she’ll understand you don’t like her eating shoes or other valuables. Repeat this experiment once in a while until the aim is actualized.
11. Give Your Dog More Freedom
You won’t really know how much your dog has learned until you give her some tests. After trying the above techniques, it’s time to give your dog a little more freedom when you’re not at home.
Allow her to have more access in the house and see if she’ll fall for the temptation of chewing on unacceptable things.
Remember that dogs need constant training to understand what you need them to do. So don’t get disappointed if she fails.
Repeat the above techniques over and over again until your little pooch learns.
How to Stop a Dog from Chewing Shoes
Shoes are top of the target for dogs. The reason is primarily because of your scent that is in the shoes. Another reason is that it’s one of the things they see regularly.
Use all the above techniques and do more by keeping your shoes away.
What Not To Do When A Dog Chews Things
I know this may sound awkward, but it’s true. Punishing a dog is not always effective against destructive chewing habits. I know you’ve seen the seemingly guilty looks in the eyes of your dog when he’s threatened. But after 30 years of studying their behaviors, this is what Tennant has to say:
“If you scream at them half an hour after they destroyed something, the only thing they would learn is that sometimes you act nuts… And just because your dog can look guilty near the scene of a canine crime don’t be fooled. This is what I describe as ‘anticipatory fear’ not guilt.”
It’s not advisable to punish your dog for being a dog. Punishments, especially the ones that come hours after the deed is done is far from being fruitful. When you start “acting nut”–as dogs perceive–the next thing they would do will be to hide or scream away in fear.
This proves they’ve got feelings and can sense your anger. Predominantly, they sense changes in behavioral moods, which they respond to by being deferential or just walking away till your mood changes.
It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve learned any major lesson. As a matter of fact, punishing them will only spark a fire for other undesirable behaviors in them.
Do not muzzle your dog to prevent it from chewing. It can be depressing. Worse is to tie a damaged object around your dog’s neck to remind him of what he did. Come on, it’s inhumane. You’ve got to be in your dog’s shoes to understand what it feels like.
Lastly, please don’t use duct tape on your dog. It’s just another way of muzzling it. A more painful way.
Every dog chew on things. It’s part of their intrinsic makeup. But destructive chewing is not an acceptable act. You’ve got a role to play as the dog owner in correcting this phenomenon.
I need to emphasize the need for patience. Dogs learn at their own pace. You should appreciate that and remain optimistic as you train them to do the right things.