Help, my dog chews everything! Those are the exasperated words of some pet parents who seek the services of a professional dog trainer. Sadly, behavioral problems are one of the many reasons dogs are surrendered to shelters every year.
Dogs don’t have hands, so they’ve learned to communicate in other ways. Chewing is a normal and necessary canine behavior, along with sniffing, tail wagging, and barking. Normal everyday chewing can quickly escalate into destructive behavior if your dog acquires a taste for chewing everything in her path.
In a study on chewing behavior in dogs, 4 percent of respondents indicated their dogs needed medical treatment due to a problem with chewed material. Though chewing on objects was more common in younger dogs, other factors may cause an adult dog to chew on things inappropriately, too.
Why Do Puppies Chew?
“All puppies go through a chewing/teething stage as they lose their puppy teeth and the adult teeth start coming in, similar to how human babies teethe,” says dog trainer Laurie C. Williams, owner and training director of Pup ’N Iron Canine Enrichment Center in Virginia.
She explains the urge to chew will decrease when adult teeth start coming in, anywhere between 6 and 12 months of age. Puppies, like babies, chew to relieve the pain of new teeth trying to pop up through the gums.
As they age, if puppies aren’t taught what is acceptable chewing behavior and what’s off limits, problems can develop. Puppies won’t suddenly realize it is poor etiquette to chew a couch, your favorite shoe, or household items—they must be taught.
Williams has been a dog trainer for over 35 years, and she recommends adding enrichment activities that fill a puppy’s innate desire to chew. These items include safe chew toys and raw bones.
Why Do Dogs Chew?
Chewing is something dogs like to do, and it doesn’t stop after puppyhood. Dogs chew to cope with stress and boredom, but also to satisfy their inner desire to gnaw and chew on something.
When an adult or senior dog starts to chew, pet parents should investigate to determine the cause. Hopefully, your adult dog’s chewing isn’t anything major, but it’s always best to talk to your veterinarian about any sudden changes in behavior.
“Your new leather shoes felt really great in their mouths, and the closet door was open, and in their mind, the shoes were a gift for them,” Williams says about dogs who love to chew on things. “Destructive behavior can manifest in chewing and tearing things up in frustration when a dog is anxious and left unsupervised.”
She indicates that you do not train a dog not to chew. Instead, you prevent a dog from being able to chew things that are off-limits. By not giving the dog access and providing direct supervision, the dog can be redirected with enrichment activities and appropriate outlets for chewing.
Risks of Dog Chewing
Aside from the inherent risks of chewing items like wires, cables, and wooden floors, there are other reasons dogs prone to chewing must be supervised.
According to Tufts University, some dogs will chew and swallow almost anything. Oftentimes, pet parents don’t realize their dog ingested something until the pet shows outward signs of distress. Cummings School surgeon Dr. John Berg says some dogs are chronic repeaters, with the same animals having surgery to remove foreign objects over and over.
Some of the more common dog chewing hazards include:
- Electrical wires that can lead to being shocked.
- Cords and strings that can strangle a dog.
- Some balls and dog toys that can be torn apart and swallowed.
- Rawhide bones that may damage teeth and lead to choking and intestinal obstruction.
- Sticks at the park may get stuck in a dog’s mouth or scrape the intestines if swallowed.
Harder to detect chewing hazards include:
- Bottles and cans of household cleaners can prove fatal if ingested.
- Cooked bones can splinter due to their brittle nature and cause intestinal perforation or obstruction.
- Clothing that can wrap itself around a dog’s intestines.
- Pennies dated after 1982, which are made with zinc and can lead to zinc toxicity if swallowed.
Always puppy-proof your house by thinking like your puppy. What does she have access to? Look at the world from her point of view. She has no idea the enticing wire is dangerous or that the bottle of wood glue can take her life.
When a dog is fully grown, chewing temptations don’t immediately subside. Most dogs are lifelong chewers. Williams tells pet parents to keep doors shut to rooms with cables and wires and use dog gates to keep them out of areas with things they’ve tried to chew before.
Excessive Chewing: What Is Your Dog Telling You?
You walk in the door from a long day, and your dog has chewed up an armchair, the couch, a coffee table leg, or any other number of items in your home.
If your dog is an excessive chewer, now isn’t the time to scold her or remind her what a bad girl she is. You need to catch your dog in the act of chewing and redirect her to a more appropriate behavior. Remember, dogs are innate chewers, so you want to show her what she can and should chew.
Some reasons dogs chew excessively include:
- Separation anxiety
- Improper training
- Too much access to the home or apartment
- For fun
“If they are supervised and monitored, we can tell them ‘wrong’ when they try to chew something we don’t want them to and they will eventually learn what is off limits,” Williams says. “Some dogs take longer to learn this than others, and in those cases, when you can’t supervise, dogs should be crated, corralled in a specific dog-proof area, or kept in a safe room where they can’t destroy anything.”
Addressing the underlying reasons your dog is acting out is the key to stopping the behavior. Training tools like bitter apple spray or anti-chew dog spray are helpful but act as a bandage until the real problem is solved.
How to Stop a Dog From Chewing Everything
You might be feeling at your wit’s end. If your pooch just tore up your favorite designer slippers or chomped down on a leather chair, it’s all relative. Your pooch sees those items as big chew toys.
Step by step, here’s how to stop dogs from chewing everything.
Step 1: Puppy proof or dog-proof your residence indoors and out. Chewing is an inherent behavior, so restrict access to the things your dog has no business chewing.
Step 2: Train the right way. Williams says dogs need to be supervised, shown the behavior we find desirable, and then we need to reinforce that behavior. When training your dog, you always want to use positive reinforcement of what she can and can’t chew on.
Step 3: Determine the source of the chewing. When does your dog chew on things? When she is alone? Does she need someone to spend time with her? Can you give her something appropriate to chew on?
Step 4: Get to the bottom of canine anxiety and frustration. Williams says if a dog is chewing and displaying destructive behavior because of anxiety and frustration, then definitely seek the help of an experienced dog trainer and/or canine behavior specialist.
Step 5: Give your dog chew toys and appropriate bones for limited periods of time, not all the time. Williams says you want them to feel special so dogs won’t become bored with those items. She suggests keeping special toys in the freezer, as the coldness adds more pleasure for the dogs to chew.
Step 6: Use bitter apple or chew deterrent sprays in areas you are unable to monitor. Follow manufacturer instructions closely.
Step 7: Spend time with your dog bonding and playing together every day. Take your dog for a walk, try brain games or puzzle toys, give her one-on-one time, and devote yourself to this bonding seven days a week. Dogs get into trouble when they are bored, neglected, or forgotten.
Step 8: Dogs are hard-wired to chew, so don’t try to break them of this behavior. Puppies are fun, so be sure to train your pup the right way and use positive, kind reinforcement to teach her right from wrong.
Dog Chewing Prevention: Tips for Success
Training a dog not to chew is a marathon, not a sprint. Here are some helpful do’s and don’ts to stop your dog from chewing everything and give her a roadmap to success.
Have patience. Never spank or hit your dog for chewing. Redirect her with love, and do not make her fear you. Cut your puppy some slack and be the role model she needs you to be.
Redirect your dog’s energy. Find appropriate outlets to channel your dog’s energy. Some dogs love agility, others love brain games, and a long walk will suffice for others.
Create a no-chew space. Create a dog-proof area of your residence where you can let your chew fears disappear. If you feel a bit uneasy about this, install a doggy camera and watch her on a phone app.
Choose the right toys. Give her appropriate chew toys but monitor her chewing aggression. You don’t want her to destroy the toys and ingest pieces.
Consult a trainer. Work with a positive reinforcement dog trainer to get to the bottom of deep-seated, ongoing chewing behaviors.
Leave your puppy for a long time. Do not leave your puppy or dog for an extended period of time without potty breaks or interaction. This is unfair and cruel to the pet.
Use a crate as punishment. Do not use a kennel or crate as a form of punishment if you find an item your dog chewed on. This will create negative associations with the crate.
Use dangerous toys or bones. Do not give your dog breakable toys or dangerous bones to chew on. It is best to supervise your dog whenever she is working on a new toy or treat.
Scold your dog. Do not chastise or scold your dog physically or emotionally.
Avoid exercise and stimulation. Do not blame the dog if training or exercise has been inadequate. A bored dog can become a destructive dog.
With time, patience, and proper training, puppies who chew everything won’t take that pattern into their adulthood. Adult dogs who chew may need more time, attention, and laser-focused positive reinforcement so she knows what to chew and what to ignore.