You enjoy camping. You bring your whole family, including your dog. But as soon as you get to camp, your dog won’t stop chewing up sticks. The entire campsite is now littered with bits of wood. Should you be concerned, or is your dog just a bit quirky? Why do dogs chew on wood?
Most dogs go through a chewing phase during puppyhood. With the right preparedness and training, hopefully, your best shoes can be avoided as a teething device. But occasionally, chewing becomes more than just a puppy habit. Some dogs continue to chew, even on things that weren’t intended to be toys or treats. So what can you do when Fido finds other things to chew on?
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The Root of the Behavior
Dogs chew for many reasons. It’s a natural instinct. Many dogs and puppies resort to wood as a chew toy, especially if you play fetch with sticks. And dogs may not differentiate between a stick outside or a piece of furniture inside. What is it about wood that dogs find irresistible? Even if you give your dog toys or treats, why do they resort to chewing up sticks?
Chewing is most often a problem during teething. But there’s more than one reason that puppies chew while they’re sprouting teeth. Not only as pain relief for their teeth and gums, but also because they explore the world around them with their mouths. It’s a crucial stage in a dog’s development. If not taught which objects are appropriate toys or treats, some may continue to find other objects to chew on, like your furniture, clothes, or hands.
Dogs also chew to entertain themselves. Especially dogs left alone without a way to stay engaged, chewing can become a way to alleviate boredom. Especially if you ever use sticks during sessions of fetch at the park or even in your own back yard, your dog is more likely to pick up a stick again and gnaw away, not understanding that sticks aren’t meant to be chewed on. Providing stimulating toys or safe treats is a great way to keep Fido occupied while you’re away.
Some dogs, however, chew for just that reason. Do you find that Fido always seems to destroy things while you’re gone? It could be due to anxiety. Some dogs suffer separation anxiety and chew to alleviate that stress. It’s their way of coping with what is, to them, a great deal of stress. Dogs don’t understand that you’ll be right back, or that the table leg isn’t a viable security chew toy. Severe anxiety may require vet intervention and additional training.
There is another reason why dogs might chew on wood, however. In some cases, dogs or puppies may chew because of pica, a condition that results in animals (and even people) eating inedible or harmful objects. Pica can be caused by poor diet or nutrition, or even an intestinal parasite. If your dog is persistently chewing or eating wood or other harmful things, consult a vet to make sure there’s nothing more serious going on.
Encouraging the Behavior
So, what’s the harm in letting your dog chew on wood? If it keeps them calm, isn’t it better to let your dog chew on sticks than, say, your shoes? Not necessarily. While chewing on wood might help relieve stress or alleviate boredom, there are also significant risks associated with chewing on wood.
Even if your dog has been chewing on wood for some time, and it’s never seemed like a problem, you shouldn’t let the behavior continue. More than just the harmless destruction of stray branches, inappropriate chewing, if left to continue, can result in damage to your or others’ property, and even to your dog’s health and well-being.
Wood is prone to breaking apart. Even if you don’t think your dog is actively eating wood, small pieces or splinters may break off and become swallowed. Those splinters can become lodged in your dog’s throat or digestive tract, which can form blockages or infections anywhere in the digestive system. Worse, those splinters may embed or perforate the mouth, esophagus, or intestine, which can require costly vet intervention measures to repair. Not to mention, poor Fido may have to go through invasive surgery and the resulting recovery period, which isn’t something any dog should have to endure. Additionally, some kinds of wood, such as black walnut, black cherry, yew, or red maple, is toxic to dogs.
Other Solutions and Considerations
So what can you do to deter your dog or puppy from chewing on wood? For starters, avoid using sticks as play toys, both at home and at parks. Doing so will discourage the association between sticks and toy.
Secondly, always provide safe and appropriate toys and treats for your dog. Be aware that not everything sold at your local pet store may be a safe toy or treat for your dog. Use toys and treats that are appropriate for your dog’s size. Watch for toys that begin breaking and discard them immediately. Always replace soft toys that begin fraying or losing stuffing. And always supervise your dog with bones, as small pieces can still become dangerous when swallowed.
Puppy-proofing is also important. Remove sticks and yard waste immediately. Consider trimming or removing bushes or trees with exposed branches. Begin correcting your dog’s behavior, encouraging the use of toys instead of sticks. Also, always put away hazardous chemicals, electrical cords, or small toys that could be swallowed.
Also, to discourage boredom chewing, spend more time with your dog, either on walks or engaging in more active play time. Tired dogs are less likely to become bored or restless and chew on whatever they find.
If your dog is persistently chewing on wood, there are additional actions you may take, including introducing bitter sprays available at your local pet store and negative reinforcement, such as a noise maker combined with a firm “no.”
While chewing on wood might seem like an innocuous habit, it can be harmful to your home and your dog. Teaching teething puppies what’s appropriate to chew on will help prevent them from continuing the habit into adulthood. For adult dogs, giving them appropriate toys and treats, and keeping your dog engaged, active, and adequately-fed will discourage them from resorting to other means to relieve the need to chew. And with patience and perseverance, you won’t have to come home to a Ficus felled by Fido.