Jump to section
Do you have a paper shredder at home?
No, not the electric plug-in-the-wall type shredder, but the four-legged furry sort that steals mail as it plops onto the mat. Transforming junk mail into a soggy pile of pulp isn't so much of an issue, but the trouble is that the dog can't distinguish between rubbish and that six-figure lottery winner's check that you're expecting.
Letters, newspapers, invoices, money, books...heck if you have a paper-chewing pooch then nothing in the house is safe. But no matter how unfortunate his habit, your dog is only doing what Mother Nature programmed him to do. Tearing, ripping, and shredding are all deeply ingrained behaviors from the days when dogs hunted for their supper and had to render a carcass in order to eat.
However, a combination of planning and training can teach your dog to lick this habit, and here's how to go about it.
Teaching a dog not to eat paper is one of those situations that is best avoided in the first place. If you're in the happy position of having a new puppy, then be careful about what you give him to play with, as he'll add this to his mental, "OK to chew" list. For example, letting him gnaw a newspaper or chew on a cardboard roll will encourage him to seek out other objects with the same texture.
However, once the habit has happened, help the dog to turn over a new leaf by reducing temptation (tidying up!), providing alternatives to chew, and training him to drop those things he's not meant to have.
This takes time, consistency, and patience from everyone in the household, but happily, it isn't an impossible task so stick with it and you will get there.
To successfully train your dog not to chew, you'll need:
- Chew toys
- Squeaky toys
- Two identical toys
- Tasty treats
- An external box for mail
The Reduce Temptation Method
Understand the idea
Have you ever been on a diet, only to binge while eating out with friends? Temptation is a terrible thing and there's nothing quite like it for encouraging unwanted behavior. This is especially true for dogs, because the satisfaction of ripping up paper is its own reward. Thus, the dog happily teaches himself that chewing paper is fun. As part of retraining, you need to remove this potential source of self-reward by tidying up.
If you have a mail slot, fit a box around it to catch the mail and prevent the dog collecting it from the floor.
Troubleshoot from a dog's eye view
Look at each room from a dog's eye view. Look for newspapers, magazines, letters, printouts or anything else the dog can reach and tidy it away. Either put the papers in a secure box or up onto a high shelf that the dog can't reach
Don't accidentally encourage him
Stop giving the dog cardboard rolls to play with or rolled up newspapers to chew. If he is given these as chew toys, he won't recognize the difference when he sees the Sunday newspaper on the coffee table.
Expend energy with exercise
Give the dog plenty of exercise. A dog that's pleasantly tired gets up to less mischief.
The Provide Appropriate Chews Method
Understand the idea
The dog isn't being malicious, he's exhibiting a natural need to chew. When he picks the wrong thing (paper), distract him and substitute a more appropriate outlet for his chewing. Indeed, giving him plenty of opportunity for appropriate chewing will decrease his interest in things he shouldn't.
Never chase after him
Avoid the pitfall of chasing after the dog when he's got hold of something he shouldn't. A game of chase is fun and actually rewards him for stealing the newspaper, making him keener to do this in future rather than preventing him.
Provide satisfying chew toys
When your dog has down-time, provide a suitable chew for him to get his teeth into. This feeds his inner need to chew so he doesn't go looking for his own outlet for this behavior. If this is rawhide or an edible chew, be sure to supervise him at all times.
Distract the dog
The dog is about to shred a letter. You should grab a squeaky toy and squeak it like mad to distract him. When he drops the letter, heap praise upon his furry head, and reward him with a hearty game with the toy.
Substitute one object with another
Alternatively, distract him with the squeaky toy and when he drops the letter, provide his all-time favorite chew toy as an alternative. You are rewarding him for relinquishing the letter, by providing something equally satisfying to chew on.
The 'Give It' Method
Understand the idea
For those times when your reflexes are too slow and the dog snatches a papery snack, teaching the 'give it' command could save the day.
Start with two identical toys
Take two identical toys (which your dog adores). Play with one and keep the other out of sight. Let the dog have toy #1 and play with it.
Offer toy #2 as a reward
Now divert his attention to toy #2. Play with it as if it's the most interesting toy ever. Once the dog sees this, he'll lose interest in toy #1. As he opens his mouth to let go and take the second toy, say "give it" in a firm but happy voice, and let him have toy #2 as a reward.
The toy exchange
Repeat this toy exchange, making it into a game. The secret is perfect timing and saying "give it" just as the dog was about to relinquish his prize for another. This helps him link the words to the action.
Exchange for a treat
Alternatively, you can teach 'give it' by having him drop the toy to take a treat. Your aim is to have the dog automatically drop what's in his mouth when he hears "give it" since he's worked out he gets a reward for so doing and therefore there's nothing to lose.
Written by Pippa Elliott
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 11/03/2017, edited: 01/13/2021