How to Stop Your Dog From Chewing Your Stuff

Jun 3, 2024

Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs, but it can be a significant problem for dog parents when it becomes destructive. Whether it’s a puppy exploring the world or an older dog dealing with anxiety or boredom, constant chewing can lead to damaged belongings and frustration. You deserve nice stuff too, so let’s look at how we can curb some of those destructive chewing habits for dogs of all ages.

Yes, Your Dog NEEDS To Chew

Chewing is a natural instinct behavior for dogs, and it’s rooted in their evolutionary history. For dogs, it has several purposes. The main function of chewing for dogs, other than eating, is to help keep their teeth clean and their jaws strong. In the wild, chewing on bones and other hard materials helps maintain their dental health by reducing plaque and tartar buildup. According to a study published in the journal Veterinary Dentistry and Oral Surgery, chewing can help reduce periodontal disease in dogs by mechanically cleaning their teeth and gums.

Chewing also provides mental stimulation, which is vital for a dog’s overall well-being. The act of chewing releases endorphins, which can help reduce stress and promote a sense of calm. Yes, chewing actually calms your dog down. A study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals(ASPCA) found that dogs who regularly engage in chewing activities show lower levels of stress and anxiety.

Dog Chewing Behavior By Developmental Stages (Puppies, Adults, Seniors)

  1. Puppies
    • Teething: Puppies go through a teething phase from around three weeks to six months of age. Their gums are sore during this time, and chewing helps relieve that pain. Chewing also helps puppies explore their environment, as they use their mouths to investigate new objects. For them, everything is explored with their mouth. It’s a way to learn about the world around them, learning about new textures, tastes and even the durability of different objects they come across.
  2. Adults
    • Mental Stimulation: Adult dogs chew to keep themselves occupied and mentally stimulated. Without sufficient stimulation, they may turn to destructive chewing out of boredom. Remember, chewing releases endorphins, and lots of dogs who are just living to spend their time and energy with you need to find something to keep them stimulated in the meantime.
    • Dental Health: Additionally, continuing to chew on appropriate objects helps maintain their dental health by keeping teeth clean and strong. Regular chewing can prevent dental issues that are common in adult dogs.
  3. Seniors
    • Cognitive Function: For senior dogs, chewing can help maintain their cognitive function. Regular chewing activities can help keep their minds sharp and provide comfort. It keeps them young, so-to-speak, but also, continues to offer endorphins that help them as they age.
    • Jaw Strength: Speaking of aging, as dogs do, their jaw strength can diminish. Chewing helps keep their jaw muscles strong and healthy, which is important for their overall health and ability to eat properly.

Why Do Dogs Chew? Anxiety Chewing

Dogs with separation anxiety often resort to chewing as a coping mechanism. This behavior typically occurs when they are left alone and can result in significant destruction. Research suggests that chewing can temporarily distract from the stress of being alone, but it does not address the underlying anxiety source. Identifying and managing separation anxiety through behavior modification and environmental changes is essential for reducing this type of chewing.

Stress and fear can also trigger chewing in dogs. This may be due to loud noises, changes in routine, or new environments. Chewing helps to alleviate stress and provides a sense of comfort for your dog. A study suggests that providing a secure and comforting environment can help reduce stress-induced chewing sources.

Addressing Anxiety Chewing BehaviorPhoto: A Bassett Hound chews on a rug.

The first step in addressing anxiety chewing is to identify the specific triggers causing your dog’s stress. Common triggers include being left alone, loud noises, or changes in routine. Observing your dog’s behavior and noting when and where the chewing occurs can help pinpoint these triggers. Addressing the root cause of anxiety is crucial for long-term solutions. Understanding and reducing anxiety triggers can significantly reduce stress-related behaviors, including destructive chewing.

Use of Calming Aids

Calming aids can be highly effective in reducing anxiety chewing. Products such as pheromone diffusers, anxiety wraps, and calming supplements can help create a more relaxed environment for your dog. Pheromone diffusers, like Adaptil, mimic the calming pheromones released by a mother dog to soothe her puppies. Anxiety wraps, such as the Thundershirt, provide gentle, constant pressure, which can help calm dogs during stressful situations. Research has shown that these aids can significantly reduce anxiety-related behaviors.

Gradual Desensitization and Counterconditioning

Gradual desensitization and counterconditioning are behavioral techniques that can help dogs become less sensitive to their anxiety triggers. This process involves gradually exposing your dog to the trigger at a low intensity and pairing it with positive experiences, such as treats or playtime. Over time, this can help change your dog’s emotional response to the trigger from fear to neutrality or even pleasure. Yes, even pleasure!

Providing a Safe and Secure Environment

Creating a safe and secure environment for your dog is essential in managing anxiety chewing. This can include setting up a quiet, comfortable space where your dog can retreat when feeling anxious. Providing access to their favorite toys and blankets can offer comfort. Maintaining a consistent routine also helps reduce anxiety by providing a predictable and stable environment. Daily routines they can count on may help reduce anxiety-related behaviors. Crate training and offering also help them feel safe and secure and reduce destructive situations.

Seeking Professional Help if Needed

If your dog’s anxiety chewing persists despite your efforts, it may be necessary to seek professional help. A veterinarian or a certified animal behaviorist can provide a thorough assessment and develop a customized treatment plan. They may recommend behavior modification techniques, supplements, medications, or other interventions to help manage your dog’s anxiety. Professional guidance can be really helpful when addressing severe anxiety issues and preventing destructive chewing.

Boredom Chewing Behavior In Dogs

Dogs that do not receive adequate mental and physical stimulation may turn to chewing as a way to entertain themselves. This type of chewing is common in dogs left alone for long periods or those not provided with enough interactive activities. Ensuring your dog has sufficient exercise and engaging toys can reduce boredom chewing. Consider giving something that they can smell and lick on while you’re not able to play–frozen marrow bones with peanut butter are fantastic ways to keep them busy and treat them (make sure the peanut butter does not have xylitol as it’s deadly for dogs). Puzzle toys and interactive games can keep your dog’s mind engaged and provide a productive outlet for their energy. Toys that can be filled with treats, or puzzle feeders that require problem-solving skills, can keep your dog entertained for extended periods. Interactive toys and treat-dispensing toys challenge your dog to work for their treats, providing both mental and physical stimulation. Examples include treat-dispensing balls, interactive feeders, and toys that require manipulation to release rewards.

Extra energy and inactivity can lead to destructive chewing because they turn to chewing to expend that pent-up energy. A well-exercised dog is not generally a destructive dog, and regular exercise and interactive play sessions are vital to keep dogs physically and mentally satisfied. Regular walks, playtime in the yard, or trips to the dog park can help expend your dog’s energy and reduce the likelihood of destructive behaviors.

Establish a Consistent Routine

Dogs thrive on routine, and a consistent daily schedule can help prevent boredom chewing. Establishing regular times for feeding, exercise, play, and rest helps provide structure and predictability, which can reduce anxiety and boredom. A consistent routine helps make sure your dog knows what to expect and can help minimize stress-related behaviors, including chewing.

Rotate Toys to Keep Them Interesting

Rotating your dog’s toys can keep them interesting and prevent boredom. Instead of giving your dog access to all their toys at once, try rotating them every few days. This makes old toys feel new again and helps keep your dog’s interest in toys.

Additional General Tips for Preventing Destructive Chewing

Consistent Training and Positive Reinforcement

Training your dog consistently and using positive reinforcement techniques can help curb destructive chewing. Reward your dog for chewing on appropriate items and redirect them when they start chewing on something inappropriate. Consistency in training helps reinforce good behavior. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior(AVSAB) recommends positive reinforcement as an effective method for modifying unwanted behaviors in dogs.

Safe and Appropriate Chew Toys And Dental Chews

Providing your dog with safe and appropriate chew toys and dental chews is essential in preventing destructive chewing. Choose toys that are durable, non-toxic, and suitable for your dog’s size and chewing strength. Toys designed specifically for chewing, such as rubber bones, nylon toys, and dental chews, can satisfy your dog’s need to chew while protecting your belongings.

Creating a Dog-Friendly Environment

Creating a dog-friendly environment can help prevent destructive chewing. Make sure that hazardous and valuable items are out of your dog’s reach, and provide plenty of safe alternatives for them to chew on. Designating specific areas where your dog is allowed to play and chew can help them understand boundaries and reduce the temptation to chew on inappropriate items.

Use of Deterrent Sprays

If desperate, deterrent sprays can effectively prevent your dog from chewing on furniture, shoes, and other items. These sprays are formulated with bitter-tasting substances that discourage chewing. Applying the spray to items your dog is prone to chew can help redirect their attention to more appropriate chew toys.

Monitoring and Managing Your Dog’s Environment

Regularly monitoring and managing your dog’s environment is key to preventing destructive chewing. Supervise your dog, especially when they are young or new to your home, and correct inappropriate chewing immediately. When you cannot supervise, confine your dog to a safe area with access to appropriate chew toys. The AVSAB emphasizes the importance of environmental management in preventing destructive behaviors in dogs.

What Should You Do if You Catch Your Dog Chewing on Things?Photo: A mixed-breed dog chews a pillow because its anxious.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

One of the most common mistakes pet owners make is punishing their dog after the fact. Dogs do not understand punishment that is not immediate and directly linked to the unwanted behavior. If you find chewed-up shoes or furniture hours after the incident, scolding your dog will only create confusion and fear. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), punishment-based training can lead to increased anxiety and more behavioral issues. Instead, focus on redirecting your dog to appropriate chewing items and reinforcing positive behavior as it happens.

Inconsistent Training Methods

Inconsistent training methods can confuse your dog and hinder their learning process. It’s essential to use the same commands, rewards, and corrections consistently. If different family members use varying techniques or allow different behaviors, your dog will struggle to understand what is expected of them. Make sure everyone in the household follows the same training protocols to ensure your dog learns effectively.

Neglecting to Address the Root Cause of Chewing

Neglecting to address the root cause of your dog’s chewing can lead to ongoing and growing problems. Chewing can be a symptom of underlying issues such as anxiety, boredom, or insufficient exercise. Simply managing the behavior without understanding why it occurs will not provide a long-term solution.

Dealing with destructive chewing in dogs can be challenging, but understanding the root causes makes it easier to manage. Whether your dog is a teething puppy, an anxious adult, or a bored senior, there’s usually a solution. Regular exercise, mental stimulation, and providing the right chew toys and dental chews can go a long way. Consistent training and creating a dog-friendly environment are also keys to success. 

 

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