You might be someone who loves to buy shoes in all colors and styles and has over 20 pairs. You might be someone who only wants a few pairs and keeps things simple. Your dog, however, doesn’t care about your footwear choices. He will happily play with a pair of high heeled, open toed cobalt blue designer shoes, a leather loafer, or a worn-out smelly sneaker. Your style doesn’t matter to your dog, as long as it’s accessible and tasty. He might just play with them and move them around the house, toss them around, or gnaw on them until they’re unwearable. Why does your dog treat your shoes as a plaything?
The Root of the Behavior
To a dog, shoes make an excellent toy. They’re easily accessible by being at your front door in a neat line or on a shoe rack, strewn around the house on the floor from family members who’ve taken them off and forgotten about them, or in your closet lined up for each specific outfit. It’s very little effort to grab a shoe and for a medium-sized dog or larger, a shoe is the perfect size for a toy. He can grab it off the floor, toss it in the air, and play with it like a regular toy. And lucky for him, there’s a second one for when he loses or destroys the first!
Your footwear is full of smells. You’ve probably noticed that your scent is unfortunately potent in your shoe. Your dog’s nose can smell a lot more than yours, so that shoe is a smorgasbord of your scent. Also, your shoe picked up scents from everywhere you walked. Parks, city streets, the gym, the office, near other animals, and your dog wants to learn about your day’s adventures and your shoe is just the place to do so.
Shoes are also delicious. For your pup, the shoe is chewy and durable, so he might be gnawing on it like he would a bone. If your dog targets your leather shoe, he might be enjoying the taste and texture of leather. This long-lasting chew toy is perfect for him. Don’t think your sneakers or canvas shoes are safe just because he prefers their leather ones; the softness of a fabric shoe is also appealing to dogs.
Your dog might take to chewing on your shoe because he’s teething. A teething puppy will chew on your shoe to relieve some of the pain. Just like babies, it hurts when teeth come in and gnawing on something is helpful.
You might also have an anxious or stressed dog on your hands. If you have a dog who feels stressed, perhaps by a significant change like a new animal or a new home, he might chew on them to relieve some of his stress. Other signs of stress include excessive chewing or licking, decreased appetite, increased sleeping, digestive issues, and isolation.
If you have a dog who struggles every time you leave and only chews on your shoes when you’re not home, he might be anxious. Anxious behavior also includes shaking, excessive licking or chewing, inappropriate toileting, or excessive barking.
Encouraging the Behavior
Whether or not you have a closet full of designer shoes or you have one pair of off-brand shoes you’ve worn for years, shoes are an expensive toy for a dog. If your dog played with one of your shoes already, the teeth marks and slobber probably ruined it, so you might as well let him have the other.
However, this is one expensive toy and you should consider your wallet when your dog demonstrates this behavior. While shoes are durable and sturdy and a solid investment for your feet, purchasing dog toys is cheaper. Also, ingesting a piece of your shoe, the strap of a Mary Jane shoe, a shoelace, or if he works hard to get that soul off, is dangerous. Depending on how big the piece he swallowed is, he might need immediate attention. If you’re not sure if he swallowed a piece or just ripped it off, monitor him for changes in behavior and bowel movements. If he becomes lethargic or excessively thirsty, or just unsure and concerned, take him to the vet.
To discourage this behavior, you first should put your shoes out of reach. This might mean corralling your family’s shoes off the living room floor, finding shoeboxes, or putting them on raised shelves out of your dog’s reach. This will take the easiest part of shoes as toys out of the equation.
When you catch your dog playing with your shoe, don’t yell at him because that can confuse him and harm your relationship. You can give him a firm “no,” take away the shoe and replace it with an appropriate toy. Get your dog some sturdy chew toys from the pet store. Consider thick ropes, rawhide, or teething sticks. You can give these to your dog and praise him for using them. This praise will show him it is okay to play with toys, not shoes.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Warn your guests about your dog with a shoe fetish. Have the appropriate toys ready for him so he can be distracted if he makes an attempt on a friend’s footwear. If you think you have an anxious, stressed, or bored dog, make sure you provide him with lots of walks, playtime, and belly rubs. Keeping him active during the day might release some of that energy.
If you’ve given your dog an appropriate toy and attention, but he still seems obsessed with shoes, consider a trip to the vet. He might have something medical occurring or his anxiety might be high for a reason unknown to you. The vet can diagnose and treat your pup.
Commanding your dog to heel might have a whole other meaning to him. Your tasty shoes are the best toy he has. To spare your wallet and frustration, put your shoes where he can’t reach, provide another toy, and make sure your pup is healthy if he actually ate a piece of your sole.