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San Diego Humane Society

Behavior Challenges: Destructive Chewing

It’s normal for dogs to explore the world with their mouths, especially puppies. However, dogs who aren’t able to exercise their mind and body, or who have unresolved needs (such as anxiety or normal teething behavior), will commonly engage in undesirable behaviors like destructive chewing. It is possible to redirect this behavior where appropriate, setting both you and your dog up for more success.

Try the tips and tricks below to help prevent your dog from destructive chewing.

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Assess Your Environment

  • Pick up or secure items that you don’t want your dog to chew (shoes, cords, clothes, etc.). Trash cans can be placed behind a baby gate or you can switch yours out for one with a lid.

  • Look at your dog’s toys: Do any of them look like something you don’t want them to chew? If you’ve given them an old sock to chew, they may not understand that they can’t chew on the rest of your socks. Your dog’s toys should be obviously different from household goods.

  • Keep your dog in a safe space while unsupervised until they learn what’s appropriate for chewing. This may be a dog-proofed room with a baby gate or an exercise pen or crate with everything they need. Remember, teaching a dog to enjoy a crate often requires training. Dogs should never be crated as punishment, should not be left in a crate longer than they are comfortable and should not be crated if other management options that provide more freedom are available.

  • Set realistic expectations. Your dog may chew up something you value while they are still learning what is acceptable to chew on. This is often part of the transition to a new home. Remember you and your dog are both learning: they're learning the house rules, while you're learning to take precautions and keep things out of their reach. 

Determine Motivations

Chewing is normal! Puppies are teething and learning about the world around them with their mouths, just like a human baby.

Adult dogs, however, engage in destructive behavior for a variety of reasons. To resolve the undesired behavior, you must first determine why your dog is being destructive. Here are some common reasons and ways to address them:

Boredom or Social Isolation

When dogs do not get enough engagement through play, training, enrichment and exercise, they may begin seeking other sources of stimulation — like chewing. This can occur if:

  • They are left alone for long periods without opportunities for human interaction.

  • Their environment is relatively barren, without playmates, toys or enrichment activities.

  • They are a puppy or adolescent (under 3 years old) and don’t have other outlets for their energy.

  • They are a high-energy dog that needs an active lifestyle to be happy.

Proactive solutions:

  • Play with your dog daily in a safe, fenced-in area. If you don’t have a yard, play tug, use a flirt pole or toss kibbles one at a time down the hallway.

  • Go for a walk. Walks should be more than just “bathroom time.” On-leash walks are important opportunities for you and your dog to be together, while also allowing ample time for them to sniff, explore, exercise and practice engaging with you outdoors.

  • Increase your dog’s opportunities for mental stimulation. Teach your dog a few behaviors and/or tricks and practice them daily. Formal training classes will set you both up for success and provide a structured routine. San Diego Humane Society offers over 35 types of classes for dogs and cats, taught in person and/or online. 

  • Provide lots of toys and rotate them to refresh your dog’s interest in them. New toys are always more interesting than old ones. Try different kinds while being mindful to watch your dog to ensure they won’t ingest pieces.

  • There are various types of puzzle toys that can be filled with food. Putting treats or kibble inside a puzzle toy helps your dog get their energy out in a productive way (read this article for Kong Stuffing Pointers and download the PDF guide). You can also dig into our frequently updated Enrichment Resources playlist on YouTube.

  • A good doggie daycare program two or three days a week can help to work off your dog’s excess energy. Make sure your dog gets recovery days in between visits, as going to doggie daycare every day can make your dog overly tired which can result in lower tolerance and less-appropriate play and interactions.

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Some pets experience anxiety when alone, and the resulting behaviors may include destruction along with panting, pacing, vocalizing, vomiting, scratching/pawing at the door, self-harm or overgrooming and elimination in the house when otherwise house-trained. Separation anxiety is a clinical diagnosis that can include conditions such as isolation distress, noise phobias and more (see more on noise phobias below). If you notice these behaviors have started suddenly when you did not notice them before, it could be because of a change in your pet’s environment, such as:

  • A change in the family’s schedule that results in your dog being left alone more often.

  • A move to a new house.

  • The death or loss of a family member or another family pet.

  • A period at a shelter or boarding kennel.

Proactive solutions:

Desensitization techniques can help, and even severe separation anxiety can be managed and modified through training. It is critical that behaviors related to separation anxiety are not punished: your pet is panicking and these behaviors are often out of their control. Learn more by reading this article on separation anxiety and visit San Diego Humane Society’s YouTube playlist on Separation-Related Behaviors. To receive support from a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, search for trainers near you on our Trainer Directory.

Fears and Phobias

Your dog’s destructive behavior may be caused by noise phobias if the destruction occurs when they're exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers or construction sounds, and if the primary damage is to doors, door frames, window coverings, screens or walls.

Proactive solutions:

  • Provide a “safe place” for your dog. Observe where they like to go when they feel anxious, then allow access to that space or create a similar one to use when the noise is present.

  • Close or cover windows or doors to reduce noise if it occurs at predictable times. 

  • If training doesn’t solve the issue, consider seeing a veterinarian or even a veterinary behaviorist, to explore pairing medication with training.

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Without realizing it, we often pay more attention to our dogs when they’re misbehaving. Dogs who don’t receive a lot of attention and reinforcement for appropriate behavior may engage in destructive behavior when their owners are present as a way to attract attention — even if the attention is something we might think of as “punishing,” such as a verbal scolding.

Proactive solutions:

  • Make sure your dog gets a lot of positive attention every day — playing, walking, grooming, enrichment or just petting.

  • Ignore unwanted behavior as much as possible and reward desired behavior. This may look like giving praise and affection when they’re playing quietly with their own toys, or dropping a treat near them when they chew on a bone. Begin to redirect unwanted behaviors to more appropriate outlets. For example, if your dog is chewing on the coffee table, redirect them to a hard toy or chew to gnaw on instead, and, if needed, block off access to the coffee table.

  • Implement training sessions using positive reinforcement methods. These will teach your dog important behaviors while also strengthening the bond between you. This includes teaching your dog the “drop it” cue. This cue can be used when they pick up an “off-limits” object; you’ll say, “drop it,” and praise them for doing so. Teach “drop it” by practicing having them exchange a toy for a special treat.

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The most effective and humane way to teach a dog how to behave is through positive reinforcement. Punishment is rarely effective and can make behavior challenges worse. This means:

  • Never discipline your dog. Show them what to do instead, and reward that. For example, don’t discipline them if they have your new shoe in their mouth. Offer a very tasty treat along with the cue “drop it,” and praise them for trading the shoe for the treat.

  • If you discover an item your dog has chewed minutes, or even seconds, after, it’s too late to respond to the behavior. Just take note of what to do next time and clean up the mess.+R_LChin.jpg

  • Dogs don’t feel guilt. They do try to diffuse tension with their body language — like cowering, running away or hiding — when they feel threatened by an angry tone of voice, body posture or facial expression. Your dog doesn’t know they've done something wrong; they only know that you’re upset.

  • If you catch your dog chewing on something they shouldn’t, invite them to do something entirely different, like go for a walk or play with a different toy, and reward any behaviors that involve them leaving the inappropriate item. By not drawing attention to the unwanted behavior, we don't unintentionally add value to it!


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