Stop us if this sounds familiar: You come home from work, expecting to find everything as you left it and your dog ready to greet you with a goofy smile on their face. Instead, you find your favorite pair of sneakers with teeth marks in them, your beautiful couch cushions destroyed, and a dog with the guiltiest expression you’ve ever seen waiting for you to notice their handiwork.
As frustrating as it can be to come home to chewed-up couch cushions, chewing itself is a normal and healthy behavior for our canine companions. In addition to supporting healthy gums and teeth, the act of chewing also boosts your pup’s brainpower by providing them with mental stimulation.
Still, you probably don’t love it when your dog destroys your possessions or even your home itself. Enter this helpful guide on how to stop dogs from chewing things. Ahead, we’ll explain why dogs chew and provide tips on how to curb unwanted chewing.
So, why is your pup so doggone obsessed with chewing? The short answer is that your dog’s desire to nibble and gnaw on things is hardwired into their furry little brain. Chewing is a perfectly normal activity that provides a slew of benefits, including better dental health, stress relief, mental stimulation, and strong jaws.
Of course, this doesn’t really explain why dogs chew in the first place. Although it can be difficult to decode the behavior of canines, here are some of the most plausible explanations for why your dog loves to chew on things:
Once you understand the motivation behind your dog’s unwanted chewing, the real work can begin. Breaking your dog’s chewing habits will likely require a lot of time and patience on your part, so remember to be realistic with your training expectations. Depending on the reason behind your dog’s chewing behavior, you may need to consult a behaviorist. But, first, try these tips to help your dog stop chewing on things:
Avoid letting your dog roam freely in the house, even if you’re only going to be gone for five minutes to talk to your neighbor. While five minutes may not seem like a long time to you, it’s plenty of time for Fido to notice your absence and find a tasty sneaker to chew on while you’re distracted.
To avoid any chewing mishaps, keep your dog supervised at all times and be ready to act the moment your pup finds an inappropriate chewing opportunity. Puppies are relatively easy to watch because they tend to have short bursts of energy followed by long naps. However, if you have an adult dog or rambunctious puppy, you may want to consider keeping them tethered to you with a long leash so that they’re never out of sight.
Let’s face it. You can’t be with your dog 100 percent of the time. When you cannot supervise your dog, keep them confined to a crate, a puppy playpen, or another dog-proof area. Crate training is particularly beneficial for puppies because it can help with other parts of their training, such as housebreaking. Besides, crating your dog is one of the safest ways to travel with them, so you might as well get them used to it from a young age!
Dogs of all ages can be crate trained — the key is to take things slow and create positive associations with the crate. Consider periodically putting treats in your dog’s crate and adding a soft blanket or crate pad to make it cozier.
Remember, chewing offers a number of mental and physical health benefits for your dog. Therefore, the goal isn’t to stop your dog from chewing altogether, but rather to teach them good chewing habits. One way to do just that is by scheduling time for your dog to chew on edible things, such as all-natural bully sticks, collagen cheeks, and marrow bones for dogs. Not only are these dog chew treats safe and healthy for dogs, but they’re also a great way to head off bad behavior by satisfying your pup’s desire to chew.
Keep in mind that dogs often have specific times of the day when they like to chew and gnaw on things. Consider offering your pup a variety of chew treats at different times of the day to find out what works best for them.
In addition to offering chew treats, make sure that your dog has plenty of inedible chew toys to gnaw on whenever they get bored. Try to choose toys that will keep your pup busy and occupied for long periods of time. (Hint: a frozen KONG toy is always a crowd-pleaser). Although your dog probably has their favorite toys, it’s also a good idea to rotate their toys weekly by making only a handful available at one time.
This will help keep things new and exciting for them, preventing the kind of boredom that often leads to unwanted chewing. Dogs are often in different moods for different toys, so it’s also a good idea to offer toys in a variety of textures (e.g., thick rope, plush, rubber, and Kevlar). This is especially important for teething puppies who may prefer to gnaw on different textures to help ease their sore gums.
When you catch your dog chewing on something inappropriate, gently interrupt the behavior and redirect their attention to an appropriate chew toy. Keep in mind that your dog may have found an item more exciting than the one you’re trying to offer them. If your dog is unwilling to give the object up, you may need to offer them a high-value treat — aka, a treat so enticing that it motivates your pup to listen to you.
High-value treats can vary depending on the dog’s preferences, but, in general, anything that has a strong aroma or taste (or both!) should do the trick. Bully sticks, for example, have a distinct odor that dogs will recognize the second you open up the bag, while marrow bones are a 10/10 on the flavor scale for dogs. If your dog doesn’t drop the object for these chew treats, they’re probably not going to give it up for anything!
The “leave it” command is exactly what it sounds like — you drop a random object on the ground and instruct your dog to “leave it” alone. This command is a particularly useful addition to your chew training sessions because it teaches your dog that they should automatically leave foreign objects alone unless you give them permission.
Try to practice “leave it” with your dog using lots of different household objects, such as your wallet, socks, books, and anything else you don’t want Fido chewing on. When your dog leaves the object alone and focuses their attention on you, reward them with lots of praise and treats! Eventually, your dog will get the picture that they can’t just start chewing on random things.
Most cases of destructive chewing can be chalked up to boredom, lack of exercise, or a combination of the two. This is especially common with high-energy dog breeds that need lots of mental and physical stimulation. Start by giving your dog plenty of physical exercise every day. While most dogs are satisfied with a long walk, others may need a hardy game of fetch. Here are a few other ways to tire your pup out physically:
Don’t forget to stimulate their brain, too. This is especially helpful for working breed dogs that need lots of mental stimulation. Give your dog plenty of brain-stimulating toys, play the classic muffin game with them, and start the day with a training session. Your pup will be less likely to chew when their brain and body are thoroughly worked out.
When you catch your dog chewing on something important to you, it can be tempting to pull the object out of their mouth and scold them. But studies have shown time and time again that negative reinforcement isn’t an effective way to change your dog’s behavior. Dogs respond best to positivity and praise, which is why it’s better to get your dog’s attention and trade the item for a tasty chew treat or toy.
Remember, it takes time for dogs to change their behavior. Be patient, positive, and consistent with your dog’s training. Eventually, your pup will learn good chewing habits and put their mouths to work in a good way!