Chewing is a completely normal part of most dogs’ routines. Young puppies will turn to chewing to soothe the pain from teeth growing in, while older dogs have the natural instinct to chew to keep their jaws and teeth strong. Some dogs may also chew items they shouldn’t out of boredom, an investigative urge to check out their environment, or even as a response to anxiety they’re feeling. When it comes to destructive chewing, it’s essential to first find the cause of your dog’s behavior and then redirect them accordingly — even if that simply means finding a more durable toy!
Many, if not all, of us have had that moment when we’ve come home from work or come out of our home office after a few hours to find that our dog has gone wild. For me, it was when I got home from a long day out to find our pup had chewed through a pair of new shoes and had pulled several books off of our bookshelf, ripping the pages out of each of them. Although our gut reaction may be to yell at or punish our pups for being so destructive, this will prove to be an ineffective way to train your dog. Unless you catch your dog in the act, punishing or scolding him after the fact will only confuse him further, as he is unable to connect your punishment with his actions from hours or even minutes ago. Therefore, it is essential to focus on determining to root cause of the destructive chewing and stop it at the source.
For young pups, especially those under 6 months, there is a high chance that they are feeling some pain from their incoming teeth. When puppies lose their baby teeth, much like human infants, they experience pain and discomfort as their adult teeth begin to come in. When we see our young puppy being destructive with their chewing our instinct may be to give them a more durable toy. However, puppy teeth are fragile and hollow, making it easy for puppies to cause damage or even break a tooth on a toy meant for an adult dog. To help soothe your puppy’s teething pain, try teething toys marked with the age of your pup, or even try freezing a wet washcloth to help numb the pain. This is the perfect opportunity to practice redirecting your puppy’s chewing behavior to their own toys, and showing them that the right toy will help soothe their pain.
Missing Physical and Mental Stimulation
Some pups, especially those who are left inside during the work day, may get bored without enough stimulation. Chewing is one of the easiest ways for a dog to keep themselves entertained, and this can often lead to chewing new objects around the house that are typically off limits. An easy way to test if your pup is being destructive due to boredom is to provide plenty of stimulation before leaving them for extended periods of time. This can include a long walk, time at an off-leash dog park where he can socialize, or even puzzle food bowls that help exercise your dog’s brain. When it is time to leave your pup, be sure he has plenty of durable toys and try confining him to a smaller room in the house where you can remove all important and potentially dangerous items from his path.
Stress and Separation Anxiety
Stress can linger with a dog for a few days after a stress event, even if the pup doesn’t remember exactly what happened to lead him to feel stressed. If you unexpectedly find your dog has been destructive, think back to any event in the past day or two that may have put your dog under stress. It could be a bad interaction at a dog park, being crated near another animal he doesn’t get along with while at the groomers or daycare, or even a long car ride that didn’t sit well with him. If there’s any situation that comes to mind, do your best to avoid those stressors, especially before your pup will be alone for a long period of time, and try to supervise closely whenever you know your dog might be stressed.
Separation anxiety is a more specific situation that can put your dog under stress, and is one of the more common reasons behind destructive chewing. We struggled with separation anxiety with our pandemic pup, and spent quite a long time slowly extending the amount of time we left him home alone from just 20 minutes while we ran a quick errand to a few hours while away at work.
Dogs who chew destructively due to separation anxiety will only chew, or chew most intensely, when left alone. They will also show other signs of this anxiety through howling, whining, urination, defecation, digging, and even trying to escape. For milder cases of separation anxiety, you can try counterconditioning to try and rewire your pup’s associations with you leaving. By offering up something good, like a delicious treat only when your dog is being left alone, he will begin to associate being left alone with good things and overtime that fear and stress may begin to diminish.
Heavy Chewer Breeds
Ultimately, some dogs are just heavy chewers and are always looking for something to gnaw on. This can often depend a lot on breed. Great danes, chihuahuas, beagles, and labradors are some of the most aggressive chewer breeds. For these pups, the best thing you can do is provide durable, stimulating chew toys that will help them get their energy out and satisfy their need to chew. Toys that include rubber and rope, or even certain balls prove to be long-lasting, while tougher plushies can still help with teething pains that need a softer touch.
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