Sometimes, our dogs are very lucky we love them. One reason might be if your dog is chewing on everything in sight. Furniture, shoes, pillows, nothing is safe.
How can you keep your dogs from chewing on things like that and doing expensive damage?
Dog-Proof As Much As You Can
This is only a partial solution if dogs are chewing on the furniture, but remove the items your dogs like to chew from their reach, at least until you have broken the habit. This might mean you have to store your shoes in the closet and keep the door closed, for example. You may also need to keep your dog out of the bedroom unsupervised and store throw pillows on top of a counter when not using them. Remember that some dogs are perfectly capable of reaching the counter).
Make sure that if you have a dog that is prone to chewing that you are particularly careful to keep electrical cords out of reach. If this is not possible, run the cables through tough plastic tubing.
Work Out Why They Are Chewing
Destructive chewing often has a reason. Some common reasons include:
- Teething. Usually, puppies are done teething by the time they are six months old. However, while they are teething they genuinely need to chew to relieve discomfort. Giving them ice cubes or frozen wet washcloths can help relieve teething pain. Make sure that young puppies have appropriate toys.
- Separation anxiety. If your dog only chews when left alone, or chews more when left alone, they may be experiencing separation anxiety. Look for other signs such as whining, barking, pacing, and inappropriate urination and defecation. Separation anxiety is most common after a change of owner (rescues are at particular risk), residence, or routine. A death in the family or somebody moving out, such as your child going to college, can also trigger it. One easy treatment for separation anxiety is to give your dog a puzzle toy stuffed with food every time you leave. This only works for milder cases, but it gives them a distraction and something positive to associate with your departure. Some dogs also experience less separation anxiety if you leave the television or radio on for them.
- Boredom. A bored dog chews, this is pretty much a fact of life. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. Smarter breeds may need some kind of a "job," such as an intense game of frisbee.
- Frustration. A dog might chew the fence because they can't get at that squirrel that ran through the yard. Dogs in training classes have been known to chew their leash because they want to go now not when their turn is.
- Hunger. This can happen if you have to put your dog on a diet. They may get hungry and start chewing on things which smell like food, such as their food bowl. Talk to your vet if you are trying to get your dog to lose weight so that you can put them on a good diet that still provides all of the nutrients they need.
It's worth talking to a trainer or a behaviorist to see if you can get to the bottom of why your dog is engaging in this behavior.
Confine When Unsupervised
Sometimes, at least as an interim measure, it may be necessary to crate your dog every time you leave them alone. Most dogs don't mind being crate trained. Their crate is their den or safe space, and many dogs will put themselves in their crate if anxious or overstimulated, or if they want to be left alone.
Use an "Aversive"
This means putting something on the thing the dog is chewing that will make them think twice about doing it again. This is valuable if your dog is chewing large items such as furniture, or things which simply cannot be moved. Sticky tape over the area they keep chewing can help (this also works well if you have a cat who won't stop scratching the table legs). A plastic covering makes it impossible for them to chew and they will still give up. Bitter apple spray is harmless, but tastes bad.
Aversives can and should be removed once the dog has the message, unless they are protecting something it is very important they don't chew, such as electrical wire.
Do Not Punish
Yelling at your dog for chewing generally doesn't work. Yelling at them for chewing something they might have chewed three hours ago is even less effective, as dogs tend to associate punishment with the last thing they did not the thing they did wrong.
Remember that chewing is normal behavior. Dogs have a strong urge to chew and wild dogs and wolves spend hours chewing on bones. Chewing is important to exercise the jaw and to keep their teeth clean.
If you do catch your dog chewing something they shouldn't, then confiscate the item or pull the dog away from it (if you have a dog that chews furniture or fixed objects, leave a collar or harness on all the time so you can redirect them). Give them a firm no, and then hand them something they are allowed to chew, i.e. one of their toys.
This is particularly important with puppies. You are not telling them chewing is not okay, but rather teaching them what they are supposed to chew. This means having a handy supply of sturdy toys and long-lasting dog chew treats that you can use to redirect. You can also give your dog a chew when you leave, or if you want the dog to leave you alone for a bit. Do not give your dog bones; raw bones can make them sick and dogs can injure their mouth on a bone. Yes, wild dogs eat bones, but your dog does not need bones. Bully sticks and similar work better.
Also redirect if you find your dog chewing on something potentially harmful, such as a sharp stick.
We already mentioned boredom as a major cause of destructive behavior. Providing your dog with plenty to do can help reduce destructive chewing behavior. Some dogs are happy to sit quietly at home, while others need to be kept busy.
Puzzle toys containing food are a great way to occupy your dog, and if you have to leave your dog alone, it's a good idea to leave them a puzzle toy that will take about 20 to 30 minutes for them to solve. You can also make DIY puzzles for your dog.
Make sure your dog gets time with other dogs (unless they are not safe with others), ideally dogs of a similar size. Daycare is a good option for some dogs. Your dog needs exercise and variety; avoid having every walk be exactly the same route if at all possible.
Very smart dogs may need an actual job, such as obedience or agility, to keep them mentally healthy. When choosing a dog keep this in mind.
But the most important thing to do is redirect your dog to a good toy or long-lasting chew when they start to chew something you don't want them to. In the long run, your dog will learn what they are and are not allowed to chew and all dogs enjoy a long-lasting dog chew toy.