Did you ever walk into a room to find your dog standing over the tattered remains of the bed that you so carefully selected for him? Whether he had finished the deed when you found him or whether he was in the midst of his destructive endeavor, you probably stood there puzzling over what possessed him to destroy his soft and cozy nest. You are not the only one. Numerous dog owners have spent good money on a nice dog bed, only to have it turn into a chew toy. It may not seem like a logical course of action to you, but for your dog, it is a natural outgrowth of his most basic instincts.
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The Root of the Behavior
From puppyhood, chewing serves a multitude of purposes. One of the most basic is to keep the teeth healthy, particularly when the dog is in the teething stage. Puppies and young dogs also tend to chew on objects around the house as a way of exploring and playing, and if they receive attention for it, the process can be even more fun. Yes, this means that you are encouraging the chewing if you chase your dog away or shout at him when you discover what he has done.
Puppy owners often have to contend with the fact that their little guy or girl is naturally inclined to chew on things and work out their hunting instincts by destroying things. If your dog is well into adulthood, however, he may be tearing up his bed because he is stressed out, anxious, or bored. Boredom is often the easiest to understand. If your dog lacks enough activity or toys to keep him busy, he will turn his bed into a toy. Stress and anxiety can be harder to understand since different things cause stress for different dogs. SInce your dog can't tell you why he is nervous, he turns to his chewing instinct to relieve the feeling.
But, why the bed specifically? Part of the reason is that the bed is soft and squishy like a prey animal would be. If you watch your dog chewing his bed, you may be able to see the resemblance. Dogs who chew their beds often hold the bed down with their front feet and bite down, then pull upward with the neck to tear the bed apart. This is the same technique that your dog would use if his bed were the bloody carcass of an equally soft rabbit or squirrel. Of course, your dog may simply choose his bed because it is available and within his reach. If the root of the behavior is anxiety, though, there may be an element of seeking out a comfort object.
Encouraging the Behavior
So, if your dog has chosen bed-chewing as a way of expressing his feelings, how serious is the problem and how do you get him to stop? In most cases, your dog is just trying to communicate that something is not right in his world. This may be as simple as not having something available that he can use to exercise his natural instinct to chew. According to veterinarians Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. Gary Lansberg, a good first step is to give your dog a number of chew toys with different textures, flavors, and consistencies. If your dog is particularly into chewing beds, soft toys should definitely be a part of the mix. If it seems like all the chew toys in the world don't keep your dog from tearing up his bed, he is probably stressed or bored. Make sure that he has a steady routine that includes plenty of exercise. If he is very active but still chewing, something is causing his anxiety.
You may be able to gain some insight by tracking your dog's chewing. If he tears his bed apart after a thunderstorm, he might need a quieter spot to sleep. If he goes after it while you are at work, he might be having a bit of separation anxiety, and if there have been changes in the home, he may need some time to settle. Meanwhile, distraction can go a long way. If your dog attacks his bed when he is crated or confined to the bedroom, he may need to have a secured area where he feels safer. Dogs who have separation anxiety can have a particularly difficult time feeling safe alone anywhere, but a TV or radio may help. If not, formal training may be the only fix.
Other Solutions and Considerations
When nothing seems to relieve your dog's chewing, there may be a compulsive behavior issue or gastrointestinal issue at play. Some dogs develop conditions that cause abnormal hunger levels or oral discomfort that is relieved by chewing, while the others suffer from a condition known as pica, which leads to the compulsion to chew and even eat things in the environment that are not food. If you have tried to address any underlying boredom, anxiety, or stress and nothing has helped, or if something just seems "off" about your dog's chewing, you may wish to make an appointment with your veterinarian, who can help you to determine if there is a medical cause for the behavior. If the vet believes that the condition is psychological, he or she may be able to refer you to a behaviorist.
Bed-chewing is definitely a frustrating behavior, and it can be even harder to have to figure out the whys and wherefores before you can fix it. It is important to remember, though, that when your dog misbehaves, he is trying to communicate with you. Resist the urge to punish, which can damage your relationship with your dog, and instead see if you can meet the need that he is telling you he has. A little bit of time will help you to take the "bite" out of the problem!