Dogs chew―it’s a fact of life. It doesn’t discriminate by breed and is a common behavior in a lot of animals. What begins for many young dogs as a method of reducing discomfort in the gums during the puppy teething phase can become a stress reliever later in life, or nothing more than an expensive habit. Expensive for you, that is! Under certain circumstances, my dog Honey will bite my shoes, but only ever while they are still on my feet. Make of that what you will. I believe it’s more of a testament to her individual insanity―and the reason I only buy my footwear from Primark these days. So why is that some dogs just have to bite everything in their immediate vicinity and, more specifically, why shoes?
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The Root of the Behavior
Puppies chew for the same reason that babies need pacifiers and teething rings. Their baby teeth start to come through at around two to three weeks old. By eight weeks, most puppies will have all their milk teeth but before long, their adult teeth will start pushing them out and the process begins anew. All in all, the awkward teething, chew-everything phase tends to last around six to eight months until your puppy’s permanent teeth have all come through.
Chewing provides your dog with much-needed relief for their gums and, what do you know, shoes provide the perfect texture. A lot of footwear is also made from animal products like leather that may be giving off an attractive scent or taste particularly nice to your dog. Beyond the teething phase, chewing can be symptomatic of something else, like boredom, anxiety or stress. If your adult dog never grew out of chewing your loafers and you’re at the point of tearing your hair out, it’s vital that you work with your dog to understand exactly what is causing their destructive habit. By nature, our dogs don’t actively desire to behave badly or destroy our property, so something must be driving that behavior.
It is believed that the act of chewing releases a chemical called dopamine in the brain, which can soothe a range of moods or conditions, not just in animals but also in humans. Why do you think some people bite their nails? As I said earlier, it can be linked to stress or anxiety, but it could just be because it feels good. It could also be attention-seeking behavior if your dog is left alone for long periods of time for instance. Our dogs crave our attention, even if it comes in the shape of a ticking off for decimating another pair of slippers.
Encouraging the Behavior
As common as shoe-chewing might be, it should not be ignored and certainly not encouraged. However, as I mentioned previously, our dogs don’t chew to be deliberately naughty. There is always a deeper reason for the behavior, so try not to get angry with them. As heartbreaking as it may be to lose your comfiest pair of trainers if you go into a complete and utter meltdown as a result, your dog may become protective or even possessive over your shoes, which is an incredibly hard habit to break further down the line.
This is also the absolute worst way to react if your dog’s chewing habit is attention-seeking behavior. If your pooch is craving attention, they won’t care it’s positive or negative and your anger may actually encourage them to keep doing it. Of course, as dog owners, we surely aren’t blameless when our canine chums chow down on our footwear. Of course, our feet are on the floor the majority of the time, so it’s only natural that when our shoes get kicked off at the end of a hard day that they’ll most likely end up on the floor. But having taken a good look at the reasons why our shoes might be the tastiest thing our dog have put in their mouths all day, shouldn’t we know better than to leave them on the floor within the reach of paws and teeth?
Other Solutions and Considerations
One of the most tried-and-tested methods of dealing with destructive chewing behavior is the wide range of chewy treats and toys available from pet stores around the world. Especially in the puppy teething phase we talked about earlier, giving your dog the gift of chewing without consequence can end up saving you a fortune on your shoe bill.
If you feel as though you’ve tried everything and you’re getting nowhere, keeping your shoes in a rack or a cupboard above snout-level might be the only way forward. Generally speaking, when it comes to habitual behavior in dogs, if you take away the opportunity for them to misbehave, with patience and persistence you break the habit. You also take away the potential for a stress-inducing showdown with your dog, which can often exacerbate these behaviors.
Puppies need to chew just like a baby, so buy them plenty of chewy treats from the pet store and keep anything remotely edible off the floor. Meanwhile, if you have an older dog and you simply cannot break the habit, it might be worthwhile contacting a canine behaviorist to explore it on a deeper level.
So, the next time you wake up to find that devil spawn they call man’s best friend has annihilated your favorite shoes, don’t go into orbit. Just treat yourself to a new piece of furniture―unless your dog chews furniture, of course!