Chewing is part of a dog’s normal instinct – for fun, for teething, for hygiene, and for stress. Dogs use their mouths to explore their world. In much the same way humans use our hands and eyes, dogs rely on their nose and mouths to get a closer look and feel.
Yet chewing can be destructive and dangerous for dogs.
If your dog is chewing his own tail or shredding patio furniture, it’s important to explore the causes of chewing behaviors, different symptoms, and types of chewing in order to offer solutions to each.
1. Dogs might chew if they have dental problems or are teething. As with many frustrating dog behaviors, it’s important to rule out medical reasons first. The most common cause of chewing for puppies between the ages of 4 weeks and 30 weeks old is teething. Their teeth are growing rapidly, and it’s uncomfortable.
If your dog is older than a teething puppy, it’s important to have a veterinarian check to ensure there are no other medical problems with your dog’s teeth that might be causing discomfort.
2. Dogs chew when they’re bored. Bored dogs are destructive dogs. Chewing is a natural habit for a dog to pick up if they’re left home all day while you’re at work. Find ways to create some mental stimulation for him. Treat puzzles and toys are the simplest options.
Separation anxiety is one cause that might make Fido chew on items around the hous. Another could be aggression from being territorial if there are people or other dogs walking by the house, or the postman popping by every day.
4. Dogs that don’t get enough nutrition or exercise might gnaw on things around the house or yard. Dogs need at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. That includes running, playing, fast walking, etc.
For high energy dogs and larger breeds, it’s more.
So if your dog isn’t getting enough exercise, pent-up energy could be coming out in the form of chewing on whatever happens to be lying around the house.
Also, some animals will chew or eat things they wouldn’t normally eat, such as grass, sticks, rocks, and wood, if they have a nutritional imbalance. Ensure your dog is getting a well-rounded, healthy, natural diet.
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5. Some breeds chew more than others due to genetics. Some breeds are naturally more inclined to love to chew than others. Examples include retrievers, who have a high instinct to grab things in their mouth and hold (or gnaw) them.
Also, it includes terriers and other hunting dogs that are predisposed to chasing and killing prey. It’s just that sometimes the “prey” is the couch cushion or a towel that Fifi has shredded to bits. These include Jack Russell terriers, schnauzers and dachshunds.
A study conducted by Esure Pet Insurance with 3,000 dog owners revealed a list of the top 10-20 breeds that caused the most destruction in homes. A few high-anxiety breeds were listed, like Great Danes, Chihuahuas, bulldogs, and basset hounds.
Mastiffs are on the list, too, though their motivation may come more from their high energy and drive to dig.
Doberman Pinschers, English setters, and boxers are high energy breeds that tend to chew more when cooped up at home too long.
Ending the Cycle of Chewing
1. Prevent the bad habit before it begins. Every time a puppy chews on something and gets an adrenaline rush that soothes some urgency, it reinforces the desire to chew again in the future.
Dog-proof your home to make sure all tempting-to-chew items are out of reach. Don’t leave shoes, clothes, and toys in the floor for your dog to find in the first place. Consider crating or restricting your dog’s access to the house by using a pet gate when you’re not home or able to supervise.
2. Keep a close watch on Fido and Fifi. Pay attention to the types of things your dog shows a lot of interest in. If he starts to nibble or fuss with something, interrupt him before he reaches it and redirect his attention to a toy, activity, or chew treat.
You can also use a training lead, even inside the house. A training lead is a long leash that can drag the ground for you to step on or grab to stop your dog in his tracks before reaching that chew temptation.
3. The pros and cons of chewing deterrent sprays. There are a few “miracle” solutions designed as a bitter, foul-smelling and tasting spray to keep dogs from chewing on particular surfaces.
However, many of these sprays are actually designed to deter pets from chewing or licking their own fur. This is especially helpful for medical treatment sites or healing wounds.
According to the reviews on various websites that sell these products, about 50% of buyers (or at least buyers that take the time to review the product) were happy to say the product worked. “It works! Roxie took one taste test on the recliner and decided she would rather chew her Dingo treat or her Holee Roller ball. Also, for my wife's sake, Grannick's Bitter Apple Spray did not stain the furniture. Roxie spent the rest of the evening either playing with her toys or resting on my wife's lap,” said one customer after using Bitter Apples.
4. Try a treat or toy for distraction. If your pup is chewing to satisfy that “itch,” provide her with plenty of appropriate chew toys and treats! There is literally an entire section of any pet store specifically for chew toys and treats.
What are the best things for dogs to chew on?
My favorites are toys with re-chargeable flavor options. Here are some ideas:
Antlers (they’re pricey, but they last much longer than typical chew bones. They’re very hard though, so these are NOT for puppies or dogs with sensitive teeth)
Keep in mind that puppy chew toys need to be a bit softer, as their puppy teeth will break easily on hard products.
An additional trick is to use special chew toys in the rooms of the house where the furniture has been especially tempting to your dog. For example, if your dog has chewed the couch frequently, then reserve one or two very special chew treats for use only in the living room. Throughout the rest of the day, store these special treats out of sight and reach of Fido so that they’re always fresh and exciting (more so than chewing the couch.)
5. Lastly, try some training to interrupt the chewing problems. Incorporate some training to help protect your valuable home goods from a destructive chewer.
Teach your dog to “drop it” or “leave it” on cue. Then, anytime you see him mouthing an inappropriate item (or even giving too long of a glance at one) you can cue him to “leave it” and offer a distraction.
A simple way to start the training is to initiate some fun playtime with a tug toy.
When you’re ready, stop playing suddenly, letting your end of the toy go limp.
Wait silently and still for the moment your dog drops the item and looks at you funny, as if to say, “What’s going on?”
Immediately praise (or *click*) and reward your dog for dropping the toy and resume the game.
Repeat repeat repeat. Add the cue “drop it.”
Practice with other toys, too!
If you have a dog that is chewing you out of house and home, three things you can do on the front end are:
- Increase daily exercise.
- Add mental stimulation throughout the day.
- Check for dental problems.
- Consider separation anxiety & barrier aggression as the cause.
On the back-end, some ways to curb your pooch’s appetite for chewing are:
- Restrict free access during unsupervised times.
- Use dog chewing deterrent spray
- Interrupt chewing inappropriate items and redirect to an appropriate item.
- Provide plenty of (rotating) chew treats.
- Train “drop it.”
- Meta‐analytic review of the effects of enrichment on stereotypic behavior in zoo mammals. Amanda Shyne. Zoo Biology, 2006.
- “Great Danes and Chihuahuas are the most destructive dogs” Aislin Simpson. The Daily Telegraph, 2008. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2675410/Great-Danes-and-Chihuahuas-are-the-most-destructive-dogs.html
Liz London is a certified dog trainer through the Certifying Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT-KA) & the Karen Pryor Academy (Dog Trainer Foundations Certification) with regular continuing education courses from the top animal trainers from all over the world, including Michele Pouliot, director of training for the Guide Dogs for the Blind. She has trained zoo animals, search & rescue canines, gundogs, and helped people raise happy, healthy, and well-behaved canine companions for over ten years.