Nothing is more painful than coming home to a war zone of murdered couches, broken blinds, and the remnants of rubber that remain of your prized Louis Vuitton sandals.
In the middle of the carnage, your lab looks up, the strap from your now vanquished status symbol still dangling from their lips.
I’ve been there. I’ve raised several puppies in my lifetime. Before I understood how to manage their inquisitive little teeth, I incurred my fair share of gnawed furniture and ruined rugs.
Thankfully, now that I’ve learned how to properly channel the chew, these scenarios are nonexistent.
Contents & Quick Navigation
- What is Destructive Chewing?
- Why Do Dogs Chew?
- Above All, Remember Chewing is Natural
- How to Stop Your Puppy or Dog from Chewing – Tactics That Apply To All
- How To Stop a Puppy From Chewing During Teething
- Adult Dog Chewing – The Most Common Causes and Solutions
- Hold Your Ground – Even If Things Get Worse
- What NOT To Do
- Other Chewing Solutions
- Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help
- Final Thoughts
What is Destructive Chewing?
Chewing is one of the most common obstacles to a pet parent’s happily-ever-after dream.
Destructive chewing is chewing done on inappropriate items. They could be anything from an expensive leather couch, which is unfortunate for you, to doggy-dangerous objects like electric cords.
At its best, destructive chewing costs you some hard-earned cash; at its worst, it costs your dog his life.
Why Do Dogs Chew?
Destructive chewing happens for a variety of reasons.
- Medical issues
- Attention-seeking behavior
- Anxiety, boredom or frustration
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
- Lack of training
- Escape from confinement
Let’s explore each of these reasons in-depth.
While usually not the case, sometimes chewing can be a sign of illness. For example, imbalances in thyroid hormones or brain tumors can lead to destructive behaviors or changes in personality.
First, have your dog thoroughly checked by a veterinarian. All the training in the world can’t help you without addressing underlying medical issues first.
“I’m Teething or Exploring.”
Puppies are the guiltiest chewing culprits, as they have both a psychological and physical need to chew.
Puppies are naturally curious and love to explore their world. Just like human babies, they often feel that their mouth is the best way to do this.
Puppies also have a physical need to chew when they are teething.
Just like kids, puppies lose their baby teeth and experience the discomfort of new adult teeth pushing through their gums. Chewing is a way for them to relieve this pain.
“Pay Attention to Me!”
Some dogs will chew because they want your attention – even if it’s negative. The reasoning is bad attention is better than no attention.
If you aren’t able to spend enough time with your dog to meet his social needs, he may be acting out simply for the chance to interact with you.
Most often, dogs chew because they are bored or don’t have enough exercise.
If you aren’t taking your dogs for regular walks or meeting their needs for play and interaction, they may chew as an outlet for their pent-up energy.
All that energy has to go somewhere! It can either go into a walk or good play session, or into your antique end table. The choice is yours!
Some dogs may chew to calm themselves down.
If you notice your dog gets nervous when you leave them alone, and you come back to find evidence of a chewing frenzy, they may have separation anxiety. This is a very complicated issue that requires specialized training.
If you see signs of chewing next to windows, on leashes or along a fence line, you may have a dog that chews out of aggression or frustration.
Often, when a dog sees something on the other side of the fence that they can’t reach, they will chew on anything close.
This can be seen when a dog wants to run another dog off their property, but is hindered by a fence or leash.
It can also be seen when a dog just wants to join in something fun. Often, dogs at agility or flyball tournaments will chew when they see other dogs having a blast while running the course.
If you notice your dog having a renewed interest in chewing while on a diet, they may be trying to find something to fill an empty stomach.
Dogs get more orally active when they are searching for food. If this is the case, talk to your veterinarian about a higher-fiber food.
Just like people, dogs can develop obsessive-compulsive psychosis. Uncorrected bad behaviors become habits, which can turn into obsessions.
This requires a specific training approach to fix, and your dog may need to see a behavior specialist.
“I Wasn’t Taught Right From Wrong.”
If your dog wasn’t properly trained as a puppy to know what is acceptable to chew and what is not, you may see destructive chewing in adulthood. Your dog never learned how to behave correctly in our human world.
To a dog, a feather-pillow is a fabulous chew toy, providing hours of fun, squishy chewing pleasure. You will have to re-train your dog to follow your rules.
“I Want Out!”
If you notice chewing when your dog is confined or leashed, it could be they’re trying to escape.
Many dogs have learned that if they chew on something in their way, such as a gate, or something holding them back, like a leash, they can then be free to frolic unhindered through the house or great outdoors.
Above All, Remember Chewing is Natural
Chewing is very natural for any dog, or for that matter, any animal. Wolves often chew bones or sticks in the wild. Mice, cats, cows and anything else with teeth all enjoy a good chew.
The best way to understand the underlying motivation for chewing is to examine the benefit for the dog. What is your pup trying to achieve by chewing?
As detailed above, chewing helps puppies with teething pain. It cleans their teeth. It eliminates stress and pent-up energy.
It provides mental stimulation. It alleviates hunger. It may eliminate barriers to fun activities and provide escape outlets.
Once you understand chewing is natural and could be your dog’s own solution to any of the above problems, then you can try to identify the issue that they’re solving, work to better meet their needs and provide a better chewing target than your belongings.
After all, if your solution tastes better, is more fun, and meets more of their needs, why wouldn’t they redirect their chewing to an activity that gives them more benefit?
How to Stop Your Puppy or Dog from Chewing – Tactics That Apply To All
Chewing, as previously discussed, is often just the symptom of an underlying problem.
When you work to meet your dog’s deeper needs, you often will find the symptoms go away once the issue is alleviated.
These tactics, when applied correctly, will usually help to reduce or eliminate chewing in almost any dog.
Ensure Your Dog Has Sufficient Physical And Mental Exercise
When a dog is bored they find their own ways to entertain themselves. Mouthy breeds, such as the Labrador Retriever, tend to amuse themselves with occupational chewing.
So, whether there’s a different underlying cause or not, if your Lab isn’t being physically and mentally stimulated they will turn to chewing anyway – often on things you’re not going to like.
For any destructive chewer, the first thing you have to check into is that they’re getting enough activity for a stimulating and fulfilling life.
A few of the initial things you should try is to increase training sessions, provide mentally-stimulating toys and step up the amount of structured exercise that you’re providing.
Only once you meet this essential need, and you still find that it doesn’t resolve the issue, should you start to look at other reasons and possible issues to address.
Out of Reach Can’t Be Ruined
Remember, no matter your dog’s age, if something fun is within reach, it’s fair game.
You should always puppy-proof your house. Pick up items that can be claimed and chewed, such as shoes or kids toys. Having a puppy can be a great motivator to keep a clutter-free home!
When you can’t watch your dog, you can also confine them to an area where they can’t cause any damage.
Crate training is a great way to prevent destructive chewing, since your pup can’t chew what they can’t reach.
If you don’t want to use a crate, you can also confine your dog to an area of the house, such as a bathroom or kitchen, where they’re less likely to get into trouble while you’re gone. Please use baby gates or other barriers to keep your dog securely in an appropriate area.
Remember to leave safe chew toys with your dog, such as Kongs, puzzle toys or large Nylabones, to occupy them while you’re away. Also, don’t leave them confined for too long.
You may not always have to confine your dog once they learn the rules. I used crate training on my dogs until they proved themselves 100% trustworthy.
Now that they’re adults, I can leave them outside of the crate without fear of a chewing Armageddon while I’m gone.
Redirection is Key
The secret to saving your slippers is to first understand how dogs learn.
You must then channel their chewing towards appropriate objects instead of dangerous or valuable ones.
Train your dog to understand which items are on the floor for their chewing pleasure and which are off limits.
For example, if you catch your dog chewing on your mahogany table leg, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise.
If you find your dog has slunk off with your favorite slipper, offer a treat in exchange for the unfortunate footwear.
You can use the commands “Drop!” or “Leave it!” when your dog releases the item for the treat. Next, praise them when they take the treat and give you their previous prize.
Remember to offer an appropriate toy after you take away the slipper. You aren’t asking them to stop a natural behavior. You’re just showing them where to direct the desire.
During training, you must keep your pup under constant supervision so that you can provide them with the necessary feedback to avoid making mistakes.
When puppies learn that it’s fun to chew the carpet, it’s much harder to break an engrained habit later.
Instead, immediately redirect them to a fun chew toy the minute they take that first bite out of your Berber carpet.
When you can’t constantly supervise your puppy, you should make sure they’re in a crate or room where they can’t get into trouble.
Any time they chew on the wrong things, it reinforces the behavior and makes it harder to correct later.
If You Can’t Remove It, Make it Repulsive
If your pup has a strong affection for a certain item, you can also make this treasure turn into a taste tormentor.
Different chewing deterrents are sold that you can spray on your home’s choice chews to make them taste terrible.
There’s always the odd dog that doesn’t mind the taste. However, the majority of the time, it can make your pup think twice before biting into something bitter. These are certainly worth trying!
Stand Your Ground
Sometimes, no matter how appealing you make your dog’s toys, they make up their mind that nothing is better than a piece of sofa in their mouth.
This is when you have to hold your ground.
First, make sure you can’t eliminate the need for a stand off. After all, the best strategy is picking your battles. If the cherished chew trophy can be permanently moved out of the dog’s reach, try this first.
If you can’t move the item away from your pup, such as when they decide dry wall is the favorite new candy, make sure they don’t have access to it when you aren’t able to supervise them.
This is when a crate can be an invaluable tool. If your chewing tornado can’t access the cherished prize while you are away, then he can’t continue to get positive reinforcement from chewing on it.
When your dog chews on inappropriate items in front of you, distract them. Then, redirect them in a positive voice to a high-value chew toy.
If your dog has claimed a smaller item, exchange the trophy for a toy or treat. Praise them when they refocus on this so they know they made the right choice.
How To Stop a Puppy From Chewing During Teething
During the first year of your puppy’s life, a lot is going on in their mouth! This is why chewing is so important in your pup’s early development.
When puppies are three to six weeks old, they get their first set of 28 baby teeth. This is usually one of the main reasons the mother begins the weaning process. Those sharp little teeth hurt!
When your puppy is around eight to twelve weeks old, they begin to transition to their 42 adult teeth.
The baby teeth fall out, starting with the incisors, and are replaced with permanent teeth. This transition may continue until the puppy is eight months old.
During this time, the only thing pet parents can do is channel the chewing power onto suitable toys as much as possible. Your puppy will basically be a mouth with legs!
An Ounce of Prevention
Now is the time to train your puppy on appropriate chewing items, and redirect them when they make a mistake.
Understand, if your puppy chews up something valuable, and you didn’t have chew toys readily available or hadn’t adequately trained your pup on right from wrong, then the damage is 100% your fault. Please don’t blame your puppy.
You must expect your pup to chew during this period.
It is an instinctual response to teething. They will also make mistakes as they learn, which is why you should be there to guide them towards the right teething items.
Some dog owners will take treat-filled Kong toys and freeze them to provide their puppy with a cooling sensation on inflamed gums. Others will utilize frozen toys, or even a wet, frozen washcloth, to help soothe painful mouths.
Make sure that whatever you give your puppy cannot become a choking hazard. Always supervise them when they are chewing on items that can be torn down into pieces and eaten.
If you make the appropriate chewing items attractive to your puppy, they will be less likely to put the sofa in their cross hairs.
Adult Dog Chewing – The Most Common Causes and Solutions
The most common reasons for chewing in healthy adult dogs is because they are bored or have no energy outlet.
Dogs have basic needs for exercise and mental stimulation. When they aren’t provided with this fundamental necessity, they will take matters into their own paws (and mouths).
A tired dog is a good dog. Make sure your dog has plenty of exercise, interaction and play time with you. Take them for long walks and teach them how to play ball or Frisbee.
Dogs also need mental stimulation. This can be in the form of training, social trips or stimulating toys.
Many toys, such as treat-release puzzles, give your dog a problem to solve while receiving a food reward. These are great to leave with your pup when you can’t watch them during the day.
If you meet your dog’s natural needs, most destructive chewing will be eliminated before it even begins.
Hold Your Ground – Even If Things Get Worse
During training, your dog may go through behavior extinction bursts. This means that the behavior may get worse before it gets better. This is normal. Your dog, just like a child, is testing you and the situation.
During this outburst, you must stay consistent, cool headed and firm with your training. If you don’t, your dog will learn that resisting you means you will eventually give up and they will win.
If you give in during this time, any new training will be met with even more resistance. If you ask for a behavior, you have to follow through with it so that your dog understands that you really do mean what you say.
What NOT To Do
While there are many positive methods you can use to help stop destructive chewing, here are some actions that can hinder your training and relationship with your dog.
Don’t Be Confusing
Make sure you stay consistent with any type of training. If you don’t, you will confuse your poor pup.
For example, if you give your dog a pair of your older shoes to chew on as a puppy, you can’t be upset when they choose to annihilate your nice dress shoes that you forgot to put away.
Your dog can’t tell the difference between trashed and expensive shoes.
Don’t confuse them with similar items that look like things that are off limits. This also goes for chew toys that resemble shoes. It’s just not fair to your pup.
Don’t Punish For Past Sins
If you find that your dog chewed through your table leg while you were away, don’t bring them to it after the fact and punish them.
Dogs only associate corrections with a behavior that they are doing at the exact time that they experience it.
They don’t understand if you correct them hours, or even minutes, after they’ve destroyed your prize curtains. Your punishment is doing nothing more than creating distrust in your dog.
Don’t Expect Immediate Results
Behavior modification takes time. You can’t stop your puppy from chewing the wrong things overnight, especially if the habit is deeply ingrained.
Be patient with your pup and set reasonable expectations. Even the best trainers still have the occasional couch cushion sacrificed to puppyhood.
You will probably lose a few household items, especially if you don’t puppy proof properly. Accept this as a part of dog ownership, and don’t let it frustrate you.
Other Chewing Solutions
You’ve eliminated medical problems, met your dog’s mental, physical, and emotional needs, have given them attractive chew toys and have adequately trained them on those toys. And, yet, they’re still chewing!
It’s now time to look into other underlying issues.
Occasionally, dogs have psychological issues that cause them to chew.
Some of these problems, such as obsessive-compulsive behaviors, territorial aggression, escape-artist antics and separation anxiety, are best handled by talking to a veterinarian or professional dog trainer.
They are beyond the scope of this article.
If you can understand the underlying reason or trigger for the behavior, you can work to find solutions. Often, if the behavior is caught early, you can redirect the dog by giving him a more positive outlet.
Many times, if you take away the dog’s energy by tiring him out with exercise, he will choose to rest instead of engage in his previous destructive tendencies.
Once tired, tools such as crates, puzzle toys and food-stuffed Kong toys can often distract your dog from their obsessions or anxious behaviors.
Remember, dogs only engage in behaviors that benefit them. If you can offer a greater benefit than their current solution, you can fix early issues before they become full-blown ingrained habits.
Unfortunately, if these problems are allowed to escalate, you may have to seek out specialized training from professionals.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help
Sometimes, destructive chewing can only be fixed with professional help.
Don’t be too proud to seek out help if you aren’t finding success. It’s always better to ask for assistance instead of giving up or continuing ineffective training.
Destructive chewing can be frustrating for both pet parents and dogs. Yet, with a little love, patience, and perseverance, your household items and your Labrador puppy can live a long, happy life together!
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Before starting her full-time writing business, Sarah worked with a top pet food company as a consultant to veterinarians conducting weekly classes on canine and feline nutrition for the doctors and staff.
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