How to Limit Destructive Chewing In Dogs

Whether or not a dog engages in destructive chewing seems to be more of a personal preference among individual dogs than a predictable pattern. Some dogs are born with a desire to chew because it provides pleasure, and others seem to be completely disinterested in chewing unless they’re bored.

Using the term “destructive chewing” often seems repetitive to some people, since chewing is almost always destructive just in its very nature. Dogs are full of sharp teeth and have strong jaws, so anything they decide to chew on will likely show evidence of that chewing in a very short window of time. But “destructive chewing” is considered inappropriate chewing. For instance, your dog chewing on a bone is going to “destroy” the bone, but he’s supposed to chew bones, so it’s appropriate. If, however, your dog decides to chew on household items, personal property, like shoes, walls, or other similar items, that would be destructive chewing because it’s not appropriate and destroys something other than your dog’s designated toys and bones.

Dogs chew for three main reasons:

  • The dog has an innate, natural need or desire to chew. It gives them pleasure, is self-reinforcing and self-rewarding.
  • The dog uses chewing as an outlet for emotion, be it boredom, loneliness, stress, or nervousness. By chewing the dog is engaging in a repetitive act that is soothing and comforting. In a way, it’s like comfort food to a dog.
  • The dog is not getting enough exercise and is using chewing as a way to rid themselves of excess energy.

Preventing Destructive Chewing

You should know that it’s very possible to teach your dog not to chew your property. With a little bit of effort on your part, you can save your property and possessions from destructive chewing.

Take Control of the Situation

Your first step to controlling your dog’s behavior is to take control of the situation. Go through your home and “puppy proof” it. Dogs explore with their mouths; they don’t have hands like humans do. Knowing that, you shouldn’t leave things out unnecessarily. Anything that could possibly end up in your dog’s mouth, be it a jacket, a pair of shoes, a purse, or something else, should be unavailable for your dog to grab. Consider the following things when you puppy proof your home.

  • Can your dog jump?
  • What is your dog’s agility like?
  • How tall is your dog on her back legs? Can she reach the counter?
  • Can your dog jump up on counters?

Also keep in mind the most common items that dogs chew. These include glasses, shoes and clothing, small appliances, remote controls, books, and so on. Of course, all food needs to be stored away where dogs cannot reach it. Dirty plates need to be rinsed off and put in the dishwasher, or leave them out of reach. Don’t tempt your dog unnecessarily.

Don’t Let Your Dog Learn to Like Inappropriate Chewing

Dogs, like people, learn through habit. If you let your dog get a hold of a running shoe, table leg, or some other item you don’t want her chewing, she’ll likely go for it again. Dogs will test limits, and if your dog learns that she likes to chew on the pillow and you allowed it once, you can almost guarantee she’ll go back to it again. Prevention is the best method of protecting your property, so if you’re in a position to keep your dog in a puppy-proofed area until she understands the limits, that would be the best course of action.

Don’t Blur the Boundaries

Dogs don’t know the difference between the old work shirt you’re throwing out and the brand new expensive shirt you just bought for a trip. Some owners have a habit of giving their dog old clothes or shoes to chew on if they no longer care about the item. But to your dog, a shoe is a shoe and a shirt is a shirt. She doesn’t know the difference between the two, so if you let her chew an old running shoe, don’t be surprised if she chews your brand new ones, too. If you want a certain type of item to be off limits, all items in that category must be off limits.

Provide Desirable Alternatives

Providing your dog with irresistible replacements for items she likes to chew on but shouldn’t is a great idea. If you have a home that is clear of things to chew – including toys and treats – it’s almost a guarantee that your items will be chewed up at some point. Most dogs do have an innate need to chew, especially dogs under three years of age. A good way to keep your dog interested in the toys that are available to her is to stock up on toys, bones, and other appropriate things to chew on and rotate them in quantities of two or three. Keep the toys on a continual rotation and your dog will never get bored of her current toy set and chew your furniture or clothing.

Actively Supervise Your Dog

While it might be easier for owners to keep a dog in a crate or lock her out in the yard, it’s incredibly boring and stressful for a dog. This boredom and stress can turn into destructive chewing quite easily. If your dog is spending all day locked in a crate, it’s difficult for her to understand the rules of the house. Instead, let your dog explore and see what she gravitates towards. When she goes for something that is not okay for her to chew on, reprimand her right away and provide an alternative. This kind of conditioning will teach a dog what is okay and not okay to chew on, and after awhile you won’t have to monitor her anymore.

How to Correctly Discipline Your Dog

During supervised exploration there is a right way and many wrong ways to teach your dog that something is off-limits. Yelling and other aggressive forms of discipline are not necessary and can be damaging to the dog. Instead, clap your hands, use another form of noise, or make an “ah-ah” or “uh-uh” sound with your voice. Then immediately give your dog an appropriate alternative to whatever it was she was just trying to chew on, and lay on the praise and encouragement when she takes the alternative. For instance, if your puppy starts chewing on a pillow, clap your hands and hand her a rawhide bone. Then, when she takes the bone praise her abundantly. This will teach your dog that appropriate chewing will warrant praise, but everything else will lead to trouble.

Keep Your Attitude Positive and Productive

Your attitude has a lot to do with the success or failure of teaching your dog the difference between appropriate and destructive chewing. Most importantly, maintain realistic expectations for your dog. This is particularly true if you just brought home a new dog or your dog is a puppy. She’s just learning the ropes and the two of you are learning about the dynamics of your relationship together. Set up an environment that will give her the best chance of success, minimize unnecessary temptations, give her time to learn the rules, and be patient. And make sure you have plenty of time together, too.

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