Why do dogs chew?
Play with people and other dogs is an
important part of socialization.
Why do dogs chew?
Dogs, especially puppies are extremely playful and investigative. While play with
people and other dogs is an important part of socialization and social development,
exploration and object play are important ways for dogs to learn about their
environment. Therefore it is a normal behavior for puppies to investigate their
environment by sniffing, tasting and perhaps chewing on objects throughout the
home. Dogs that chew may also be scavenging for food (as in garbage raiding),
playing (as in the dog that chews apart a book or couch), teething (dogs 3 to 6
months of age that chew on household objects), or satisfying a natural urge to chew
and gnaw (which may serve to help keep teeth and gums healthy). Some dogs may
chew because they receive attention (even if it is negative) or treats from the owners
each time they chew, but the owners are inadvertently rewarding the behavior.
Chewing and destructive behaviors may also be a response to anxiety. Dogs that
are confined in areas where they are insecure may dig and chew in an attempt to
escape. Dogs that are in a state of conflict, arousal or anxiety, such as separation
anxiety, may turn to chewing and other forms of destructiveness as an outlet. (see
our handout on ‘Separation anxiety’) for this specific problem).
How can chewing be treated?
First, determine why the dog is chewing. If the dog is a puppy or young adult dog that is chewing at a variety of objects in
the household, it is likely that play and investigation (and perhaps teething) is the motive. Dogs that raid garbage and steal
food off counters are obviously motivated by the presence and odor of food. Some dogs are attempting to escape
confinement while in others chewing may be an outlet for anxiety. Determining the cause and motivation for chewing is
therefore essential in developing a treatment strategy. Directing the chewing into appealing alternatives, sufficient play and
exercise, and prevention of inappropriate chewing are needed for the exploratory dog. You must ensure that you are not
inadvertently rewarding the behavior. Inattention or disruption devices may be useful for these dogs. If the dog is a puppy
this behavior may decrease in time, provided you direct the chewing to proper outlets. Dogs that are garbage raiding or
food stealing need to be treated by supervision, prevention and booby-traps, since the behavior itself is self-rewarding.
Dogs that are destructive to escape confinement must learn to become comfortable and secure with the cage or room
where they are to be confined. Alternatively a new confinement area may have to be chosen. Dogs that are destructive as
an outlet for anxiety, will need to have the cause of the anxiety diagnosed, and the problem appropriately treated. (See
our handout on ‘Separation anxiety’).
How can proper chewing be encouraged?
Before considering how inappropriate chewing might be discouraged the real key is to provide some appropriate outlets
for your dog’s chewing “needs.” Begin with a few toys with a variety of tastes, odors, and textures to determine what
appeals most to the pet. Although plastic, nylon or rubber toys may be the most durable, products that can be torn apart
such as rawhide or pigs ears may be more like the natural prey and wood products that attract most dogs. Coating toys
with liver or cheese spread or peanut butter may also increase their desirability. The Kong is a durable chew toy, but its
appeal can be greatly enhanced by placing a piece of cheese or liver inside and then filling it tight with biscuits. Placing
soup items or food into the Kong and freezing it, or freezing food items in “Popsicle” makers and placing them in the dogs
food bowl may provide a little longer durability to the treats. Since the development of the Kong there are now a wide
variety of durable toys that can have food stuffed or frozen inside or placed into small grooves in the toy, so that the dog
needs to “work” to get its reward (see our handout on ‘Behavior management products’). Another group of dog toys have
compartments that can be filled with food. The dog needs to manipulate the toy by rolling, chewing or shaking to get the
food treats to fall out. To ensure that your puppy is encouraged and rewarded for chewing on its toys, and discouraged
from chewing on all other objects, it must be supervised at all times. Whenever supervision is not possible, you must
prevent access to any object or area that might be chewed. Although play periods and chew toys may be sufficient for
most pets, additional activities such as self-feeders, other pets, interactive toys, and even videos may help to keep pets
How else can my dog’s activity be reduced?
The needs of most working dogs are usually satisfied with daily work sessions (retrieving, herding, sledding, etc), while
non-working house-pets will require alternative forms of activity to meet their requirements for work and play. Games such
as tug-of-war, retrieving, catching a ball or Frisbee, jogging, or even long walks are often an acceptable alternative to
work, allow the dog an opportunity to expend unused energy, and provide regular attention periods. Obedience training,
agility classes and simply teaching your dog a few tricks are not only pleasant interactive activities for you and your dog,
but they also provide some stimulation and “work” to the dog’s daily schedule.
How can I stop the chewing on household objects?
Access to all areas that the dog might chew must be prevented unless the owner is present to supervise, or the area is
effectively booby-trapped. Your dog can only be punished for chewing if it is caught in the act. Even then, punishment
must be humane, immediate and effective. A shake can, verbal reprimand, or alarm (audible or ultrasonic) can deter the
pet in your presence, but the behavior will continue in your absence. Remote punishment (where the owner is out of sight
while administering punishment) may teach the dog that the behavior itself is inappropriate (see our handout on ‘Canine
punishment’). A head halter and long remote leash pulled each time the dog chews, a water rifle, remote citronella collar
or one of the audible or ultrasonic alarms may be effective. However, none of these products are practical when the owner
is absent or cannot supervise. Arriving home and punishing a pet for an act that is already completed will only serve to
increase the pet’s anxiety.
The only way that chewing might be deterred when your dog cannot be supervised, is to booby-trap the areas where the
dog might chew. To be successful the punishment must be noxious enough to immediately deter the pet. Taste or odor
aversion is often the simplest and most practical type of booby trap but many pets will have to be conditioned in advance
to detest the smell or taste by squirting anti-chew spray (eg. Bitter Apple, Ropel) into the pet's mouth or across its nose. A
small amount of cayenne pepper mixed with water, oil of citronella or commercial anti-chew sprays may also be
successful as deterrents. Alternatively, the spray could be placed on any object that the dog might chew and a fishing line
can be attached from the object to a stack of empty cans on a nearby table or counter. At the instant chewing begins the
stack will come crashing down. Most dogs are then conditioned after a few events to avoid the particular taste or odor for
fear of another "can attack". A shock or alarm mat, mousetrap trainers, indoor invisible fencing (citronella spray or “shock”),
or motion detectors are a few other examples of environmental punishment (see our handouts on ‘Behavior management
products’ and ‘Canine punishment’).
What if the dog continues to chew household objects?
Whenever you cannot supervise or monitor your dog’s behavior, he or she should be confined to a cage or dog-proof
room with any potential chewing sites effectively booby-trapped. Alternatively, a basket type muzzle can be used for short
This client information sheet is based on material written by Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB and
Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB. © Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. October 31, 2007.
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