Dogs explore the world with their mouths. This is normal, especially for 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 direct this behavior where appropriate, making both you and your dog happier.
Consider the tips and tricks below to help prevent your dog from destructive chewing.
Assess Your Environment
- Don’t leave items out or accessible that you don’t want your dog to chew — from clothing to food to trash cans.
- Look at your dog’s toys — do any of them look like something you don’t want him to chew? If you’ve given him an old sock to chew and then wonder why she’s eating the good socks, it’s because you’ve confused her. Your dog’s toys should be obviously different from household goods.
- Keep your dog in a safe space while unsupervised until she learns what’s appropriate for chewing. This may be a dog-proofed room with a baby gate or — if your dog has been properly crate-trained — her crate for short periods of time.
- Your environment includes you. Make sure you have realistic expectations. It’s virtually inevitable that your dog will, at some point, chew up something you value. This is often part of the transition to a new home. Your dog needs time to learn the house rules, and you need to remember to take precautions and keep things out of her reach.
Chewing is normal teething and investigative puppy behavior (read this on Puppy Chewing),
however, dogs will engage in destructive behavior for a variety of reasons. In order to deal with the behavior, you must first determine why your dog is being destructive. Here are some potential reasons and ways to address them:
Boredom or Social Isolation
When dogs do not get enough engagement through play, training and exercise, they may begin seeking other sources of stimulation — like chewing. This can occur if:
- Left alone for long periods without opportunities for human interaction.
- Her environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.
- She is a puppy or adolescent (under 3 years old) and doesn’t have other outlets for her energy.
- She is a particularly active type of dog (like herding or sporting breeds) who needs an active lifestyle to be happy.
- Play with your dog daily in a safe, fenced-in area. This may need to be inside if you don’t have a yard.
- 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 her to sniff, explore, exercise and practice listening to your instruction.
- Increase your dog’s opportunities for mental stimulation. Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks and practice them daily. If you have time, take an obedience class.
- Provide lots of dog toys and rotate them to refresh your dog’s interest in them. “New” toys are always more interesting than old ones.
- Try different kinds of toys, but when you introduce a new toy, watch your dog to make sure she won’t tear it up and ingest the pieces.
- Consider the various types of toys that can be stuffed with food. Putting tidbits of food inside chew toys focuses your dog’s chewing activities on these toys instead of on unacceptable object (read about Kong Stuffing Pointers).
- Consider a good doggie day care program for two or three days a week to work off some of your dog’s excess energy.
Dogs with separation anxiety tend to display behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to their owners. This includes following you from room to room, frantic greetings and reacting anxiously to your preparation to leave the house. This behavior can often be triggered by changes, 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.
- Counter conditioning and desensitization techniques can help, so read this on separation anxiety.
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 “negative,” such as a verbal scolding.
- Make sure your dog gets a lot of positive attention every day — playing, walking, grooming or just petting.
- Ignore bad behavior as much as possible and reward good behavior. This means providing praise and pets when she’s playing quietly with appropriate toys.
- Implement training sessions. These will teach your dog important behaviors while also strengthening the bond between you. This includes teaching your dog the “drop it” command. This command can be used when she picks up an “off-limits” object; you’ll say, “Drop it,” and praise her for complying. Teach “drop it” by practicing having her exchange a toy for a tidbit of food.
Fears and Phobias
Your dog’s destructive behavior may be a response to something she fears. Some dogs are afraid of loud noises (read about Fear and Reactivity). Your dog’s destructive behavior may be caused by fear if the destruction occurs when she’s 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.
- Provide a “safe place” for your dog. Observe where she likes to go when he feels anxious, then allow access to that space or create a similar one to use when the fear stimulus is present.
- Don’t comfort your dog when she’s behaving fearfully, because this sends a message that she’s correct to be fearful. Instead, try to get her to play with you or respond to commands he knows, and give praise and treats when she responds to you instead of to the fear stimulus.
- If training doesn’t solve the issue, consider seeing a veterinarian or even a veterinary behaviorist, to explore pairing medication with training.
What Not to Do
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 her what to do instead, and reward that. For example, don’t discipline if she has your new shoe in her mouth. Offer a very tasty treat along with the command “drop it,” and praise her 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 administer a correction. People often believe their dogs make this connection because they run and hide or “look guilty.” But your dog doesn’t understand, “I chewed those shoes an hour ago and that’s why I’m being scolded now.”
- Dogs don’t feel guilt. They do display submissive postures 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 that she’s done something wrong; she only knows that you’re upset.
- If, and only if, you catch your dog chewing on something she shouldn’t, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise, offer him an acceptable chew toy instead, and praise lavishly when she takes the toy in her mouth.
Additionally, don’t crate your dog unless she’s thoroughly crate-trained and considers the crate her safe place. If you put her in a crate to prevent destruction and she’s not crate-trained, she may injure herself and/or destroy the crate.
Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team
Questions About Public Classes
San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.
Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.
Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-299-7012, ext. 2398.
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