How to Keep Your Dog From Destructive Chewing

My dog chewed from teething and/or from boredom.—Kerry Copas

I have two young dogs who naturally love to chew. One of them likes to chew on my computer cords. The other one chews anything she can find and especially loves to chew my grandkids’ toys.—Cathy Ratcliffe Bendzunas

I believe Cookie chewed everything as that’s what she learned having lived alone, tied up outside. There were no rules; whatever there was, was a fair game. So once adopted, she didn’t know any different and chewed what there was.—Jana Rade>

Dolly is still a strong chewer at eight-years-old. She can destroy a squeaky toy in minutes.—Sandra Townsend

“Destructive chewing is a common problem in puppies and adult dogs,” said Dr. Emily Kerl of Ehlers Animal Care. “Destructive behaviors are not only damaging to your home and possessions. They can also lead to injury to your dog. In addition, they’re a major reason dogs are taken to animal shelters and humane societies.”

Studies support Dr. Kerl’s concern that chewing may lead to dog relinquishment. One study, published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, found that destructive behavior (including chewing) in the house is among the top five reasons that dogs are surrendered to shelters/rescues. Another study, published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, found that destructive behavior is among the top factors that can make dogs unadoptable.

REASONS DOGS CHEW

Veterinarian Karen Fine said that chewing is a normal behavior for dogs, and that it usually only becomes a problem when dog owners fail to realize that. Dr. Kerl pointed out, “Puppies may chew because they’re teething (up to 8 months of age), playing, learning about their environment, trying to escape from their kennel, to name a few reasons.” For older dogs, Dr. Hiebner of Pitts Veterinarian Hospital noted, “Chewing keeps their teeth cleaner and gums healthier. Dogs can’t brush or floss so chewing becomes their dental hygiene.” For all dogs, chewing can relieve boredom and stress.

Even the most well-adjusted dog may find it difficult to avoid particularly alluring objects such as shoes and furniture. An article in Live Science points out that dogs frequently chew things because they like the odor or the taste. According to Live Science, the odors in a home that the dogs find the most attractive are the human odors. Hence, the reason dogs chew shoes. As for furniture, Live Science says that dogs can’t necessarily distinguish between the stick in the garden that they’re allowed to chew and the wood of a favorite chair that they’re not allowed to chew.

The reason dogs have evolved to find chewing pleasurable relates to both getting nutrition, and getting healthy,” said Kristi Benson, dog trainer. According to Benson, “Wild canines will often chew the long bones of their animal prey to get at the marrow, which is a rich source of fat and nutrients otherwise locked away inside of the bones. Chewing keeps jaws strong and teeth clean, which are obvious bonuses for an animal that hunts or scavenges for a living.”

CHEWING OPTIONS

If problems occur when people forget that chewing is a normal behavior for dogs, what can pet owners do? “It is up to us as their caretakers,” says Dr. Fine, “to make sure that dogs are chewing something acceptable and safe.” Viable options fall into three main categories: toys, exercise, and people time.

Toys: Chewing toys come in three main types: inedible chew toys, edible chew toys, and puzzle toys. Pay attention to the types of toys that keep your dog chews the longest and continue to offer these. Have enough toys that you can occasionally take one group out of rotation and replace it with another group, so your dog won’t get bored. Another way to build a toy obsession is to use their toys to feed them.

Regarding inedible toys, the Humane Society of the United States offers the following advice:

  • Buy toys of appropriate size. Toys that are too small can easily be swallowed or become lodged in your dog’s throat.
  • Supervise your dog’s play with squeaky toys. If your dog tries to destroy the source of the squeaking, the toy could get ingested.
  • Avoid or alter toys that aren’t “dog-proof” by removing ribbons, strings, eyes or other parts that could be ingested. Dr. Amy Walton of Pet Care Center also advised, “If you have a power chewer, make sure that the toy is durable enough to withstand their chewing. I avoid chew toys such as tennis balls, ropes, and stuffed toys. Many animals can swallow the ball, stuffing, strings, or squeakers out of these items and wind up with expensive foreign body surgeries.”
  • Discard toys when they start to break into pieces or are torn. Even “safe” stuffing isn’t truly digestible. At the same time, remember that toys will be destroyed; that’s how you know it’s a toy your dog likes.

Live Science cautions that owners can’t simply buy toys for their dog and then expect the chewing to stop.  “A toy will 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.” To encourage your dog to choose appropriate toys, use chasing games to establish a positive connection with them.

Regarding edible chews, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals warns that dogs can choke on these, especially if they swallow huge chunks, and offers the following advice:

  • If you have multiple dogs, give them all edible chews at the same time. If any of your dogs are hassled by the others when working on an edible chew, to the point that it becomes protective of the chew, confine the other dogs to another part of the house so all of the dogs can enjoy their chews free from stress.
  • Monitor your dog whenever he’s working on an edible chew so that you can intervene if he starts to choke. Dr. Hiebner also noted, “Chew objects that are very hard such as antlers can break teeth, causing fractures, infection and pain. Bones can splinter and lodge inside the gum tissue and we have seen round bones get stuck on lower jaws. Find out what your dog likes but also be aware of how your dog handles those chews.”
  • Take away edible chews when they become small enough to be swallowed.

Exercise and People Time: Dogs that are bored will find way to amuse themselves and you probably won’t like the choices they make. Dr. Walton advised, “Keep dogs busy. Exercise, reward-based training sessions, and playtime allow dogs to use their brains and muscles. Doggy daycare should also be considered to burn off excess energy and ward off boredom.” She recommended that owners become aware of their dog’s basic breed personality traits. High energy, working type breeds will require more exercise, interaction, and exercise to keep them entertained.

OTHER STRATEGIES

What are other ways to minimize chewing damage caused to your home? There are four main ways: dog-proof your home, make items you don’t want chew taste less pleasant, supervise your dog, and confine your dog when you’re not at home.

Dog-proof: Whenever possible, if you don’t want certain objects in your dog’s mouth, keep them out of reach.

Discourage chewing: Spray a taste deterrent such as Bitter Apple on anything your dog might chew but shouldn’t. Keep in mind that some dogs will ignore taste deterrents. Also, the deterrent may need to be reapplied on a daily basis. You might also make the area around the object unpleasant with plastic rug runners or motion/vibration detectors.

To help your dog learn the difference between what is allowed and what is not allowed, do not offer unwanted household items to your dog as chew toys. It’s unfair to expect your dog to understand that some shoes are okay to chew but others aren’t.

Supervise your dog: If you see your dog chewing an unacceptable object, interrupt the behavior by saying “Uh-oh” or making a loud noise. Remove the item from your dog’s mouth offer an acceptable toy instead and praise your dog when he takes it. As your dog catches on to this idea, add the command “Give” as their cue to release the object. If your dog will not release the object it’s chewing, teach your dog the “Give” command using a desirable treat instead. Once your dog has learned to “Give” on command, you can replace the treat with an appropriate chew toy. Dr. Kerl noted, “It’s always better to reinforce positive behavior; punishment can cause anxiety and other undesirable behaviors to develop.”

Confine your dog: If you work during the day, leave your dog in a confinement area for a few hours. Use a crate or shut your door in a small room. Remove all things that your dog shouldn’t chew from his confinement area and leave him a variety of appropriate chew things to enjoy instead. Dr. Kerl suggested, “If you decide to use a crate, acclimatize your dog to it or your dog may develop other behavior problems.”

Teething puppies need extra special care. Dr. Walton suggested putting canned pumpkin or peanut butter inside of a Kong toy and freezing it. The cold temperature will soothe the puppy’s sore gums. HSUS gave this tip: “Freeze a wet washcloth for them to chew on. The cold cloth will soothe their gums. Supervise your puppy so they don’t chew and swallow any pieces of the washcloth.”

FINAL WORDS

Even though chewing is a normal behavior for dogs, there are times when a specialist should be consulted. If your dog licks, sucks, or chews at fabrics for lengthy periods of time, your dog may suffer from a compulsive disorder. If your dog only chews when left alone, or chews more intensely when left alone, your dog may suffer from separation anxiety. Consult your veterinarian for advice.

On the other hand, if your dog displays normal chewing tendencies, have realistic expectations. Dogs need time to learn the rules. With patience and diligence, your dog can be as successful as the following dogs.

Training seemed to keep him from boredom. So if I caught him chewing a bottle or something, I simple grabbed treats and began to train. I didn’t pick up the item as I shouldn’t have to. He was more focused on the treats and praise than the item he was chewing on.—Kerry Copast

My grandkids know if they leave their toys lying around, they’re taking the chance of a dog chewing them up. We’re still working on getting the dogs to stop chewing on things they aren’t supposed to, but we don’t have a time table. Hopefully, as they get older, they will chew less.—Cathy Ratcliffe Bendzunas

My strategy was to provide enough appropriate things, and when I caught her chewing something else I’d tell her calmly that was a “No-no” and offered something in exchange and praised her when she chewed on it. She learned fast; took about two to three weeks.—Jana Rade

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