Coming home to find your favorite pair of shoes chewed into a thousand little pieces is never fun. Yet, it's almost a rite of passage for dog owners. A fact of life. Especially, when you get a new puppy. In fact, most experienced dog owners expect puppies to chew things up. It comes with the territory. You blame yourself for leaving the shoes out, or for not crating your pup, but what if the problem continues well past puppyhood? A better question might be, why do dogs like to chew in the first place? Understanding the reason dogs gnaw on everything they get their mouths on is important. It may help you find solutions to the behavior, and hopefully keep your favorite shoes intact for years to come.
The Root of the Behavior
According to the ASPCA, there are a number of reasons your dog chews on things. Puppies chew to relieve pain from teething, as well as to explore the world around them. Puppies usually teeth for about six months, and chewing helps alleviate some of the gum and jaw pain that comes along with it. But it's not just about teething, remember that your little buddy is a baby, and like human babies, they like to explore the world through their mouth. But as most dog owners know, chewing isn't just a puppy thing. Many dogs continue to chew as they grow older. And, in many cases, it can become a big problem. For some dogs, it's a way to strengthen the jaw and keep teeth clean. For others, it's a way to entertain themselves or relieve anxiety while you're away.
To discover the reason for chewing, ask yourself a few questions: Does your dog mainly chew while you're away? Does your dog whine, bark or otherwise seem restless when you're leaving? Do they urinate or defecate inside while you're at work? If the answers to those question are yes, the chewing behavior is likely separation anxiety, perhaps mixed with a bit of boredom. Another cause to consider might be hunger. If your dog is on a calorie-restricted diet, or you're not feeding him enough, he might chew to search for food. Most of the time, hungry dogs chew on items that are related to food (dog food bags) or smell like food (items from the garbage). If this is the case, you may need to feed your dog more. Or, in a case when they're on a calorie-restricted diet, talk to your vet about your options. Some chewing is natural, however. It's just something that dogs do, both domesticated and wild. It's their way to strengthen their jaws, clean their teeth, alleviate boredom and to help relieve anxiety. It's only a problem when the behavior becomes destructive. But, don't fret! There are ways to work with your dog's natural urge to chew that won't end with your shoes ruined and furniture destroyed.
Encouraging the Behavior
Training is key to a happy and healthy dog. Not only will it help prevent damage to your things, it could also save your dog's life. Obstructions, choking and poisoning are all things that could befall a dog on a mission to find something to gnaw on. But, how can you train your dog to not chew things he shouldn't? The first step is to have items they can chew readily available. You may say - but I have plenty of toys and bones, and he still insists on chewing on the couch cushions! Just because you put the items out doesn't mean the dog knows the difference between their toys and your new iPhone. No, if they start chewing something they shouldn't, you will have to redirect their behavior toward their own items. See them chewing something they shouldn't? Firmly tell them, “NO” and stop them from chewing. And then replace the item with a toy or bone instead. It will take time, but eventually they'll learn what's okay to chew on and what's not. Also, make sure their toys look nothing like household items you don't want them chewing on. For example, it would be impossible to train them which shoes are okay to chew on, and which ones aren't. So make it easy on yourself and don't buy toys that look like shoes, or it defeats the whole purpose. If your dog is chewing because they're bored or anxious, work on these issues along with the training. If your dog isn't getting enough play-time and exercise, they're more likely to be destructive. So before you leave for work, take them on a walk. Visit the dog park. Play with them in your backyard. A tired dog is less likely to be a destructive dog. Separation anxiety is a complex issue, however, and may require the advice of a professional. But, you can help your dog by not making a big deal or getting excited about you coming and going.
When you leave, don't stress your dog out with a drawn out goodbye. Just leave calmly. And when you return, don't make a big deal about it. If you do, it tells your buddy that you being home is good and something noteworthy. Which means that some dogs might take it as a bad thing, or something to stress about when you're not. Crate training is another way to keep your dog safe and secure while you're away, and for many, it alleviates the stress of being left alone. If you're going to be gone for hours at a time, you may want to have someone check in on your dog and walk them. That helps to break up the time they're left alone and allows them to stretch their legs. This could go a long way in stopping the chewing - it wears them out and keeps them from getting bored. And of course, be responsible for your belongings. Teach your kids to pick up after themselves – and be sure you pick up after yourself. If you don't want their toys or your shoes obliterated by Fido, keep those precious items out of harm's way.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Keeping things out of your dog's reach will help ensure that it will not end up being devoured. However, sometimes that just is not possible. As mentioned above, if you're having trouble with anxiety, you may need to seek help from your veterinarian or a dog trainer in your area. There are anxiety medications that can be given to your dog if your vet deems it necessary. Dog trainers can also help determine the cause, as well as fixes, for your dog's chewing. They can work with you to formulate a plan that'll help your furry baby learn what's okay to chew on, and what's not, while also looking for underlying issues that are unique to your dog.
Remember, for most dogs, destructive chewing is merely a phase. It's something they eventually grow out of. Sure, it can be frustrating, but keep your cool and work with your dog to teach them better behaviors. The bottom line is - play with your pup every chance you get, make sure he has toys that are safe for chewing, and reward good behavior while redirecting the bad. Both your dog and your belongings will appreciate it!