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Destructive Chewing 101: Why Is My Dog Chewing EVERYTHING?

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Dog Behavior By Kayla Fratt 15 min read November 12, 2021

destructive chewing in dogs

There’s no doubt about it: Dogs chew — especially when they’re still puppies

And in many cases, that’s OK! Chewing is a natural behavior that’s an important part of your doggo’s life. 

But when chewing becomes destructive, ignoring this natural behavior stops being a good option! 

This kind of destructive chewing — aside from being flat-out annoying — can also be dangerous for your pup (and expensive for you if you end up at the pet emergency room). 

So, let’s explore why dogs chew and talk about some of the best ways to handle destructive chewing below!

Destructive Chewing in Dogs: Key Takeaways

  • Chewing is a natural behavior in dogs, which they should be allowed to express. However, you’ll want your dog to chew appropriate and safe items, rather than whatever is laying out on the floor.
  • A variety of motivations can lead a dog to chew. A few of the most common reasons your canine will chomp away include teething, boredom, hunger, and anxiety.
  • There are a variety of strategies that can help you eliminate your dog’s destructive chewing habits. This includes things ranging from providing more supervision to giving your dog better, safer, more appealing things to nom.

First Things First: Chewing is a Natural, Important Canine Behavior

dog chewing is natural

Dogs naturally like to chew — it’s an instinctive urge for them that serves several important purposes

The ancestors of modern dogs needed to chew to break open bones for marrow or to access other tasty parts of their meals. Chewing can also help clean a dog’s teeth and soothe the aching gums of puppies who’re teething. And since dogs don’t have hands, they also tend to explore the world with their mouths. 

And many of these ancestral impulses still manifest in modern four-footers.

So, even though your dog gets regular dental care and enjoys dog food that doesn’t require deconstruction, he still has the urge to chew.

This is important to remember because there was a time when trainers would recommend using punishment or scolding to stop a dog from chewing. While that may keep your precious shoes safe, it doesn’t help your dog meet his needs. 

Remembering that your dog needs to chew will help you remember to provide good chewing options and stay patient if you or your pup slips up!

7 Common Causes of Destructive Dog Chewing: Why is My Dog Chewing Everything?

destructive dog chewing

As we’ve already covered, dogs like to chew as a natural part of their behavior. Asking a dog not to chew anything ever is like asking a human child never to climb things — it’s just not realistic! 

So, if you’re finding that your dog is chewing inappropriate items like shoes, books, or the TV remote control, it’s probably because your dog doesn’t know a better way to meet his needs

We’ll cover the most common causes of destructive chewing in more detail below, but regardless of the reason, you’ll need to help your dog satisfy this instinctual need to chew in a safe and non-destructive manner.

Canine Behaviorist Pro Tip

If you’re not sure which reason discussed below explains your dog’s reasoning, you can try to video your dog using a remote camera to observe his body language and provide further clues.

If you’re still unsure, simply follow our instructions for management and enrichment and you should see results regardless of cause!

Cause of Destructive Chewing #1: Boredom

boredom can cause destructive chewing

Let’s face it: Many dogs live pretty dull lives

Whether they stay home while we’re at work or are expected to chill while we type and video chat the day away, our dogs spend most of the day doing not much at all! If you’ve got a young or active dog, your daily walks might not cut it. 

The takeaway? If your dog is most likely to chew or destroy things when he’s been home or alone for a while, boredom might be the culprit.

Cause of Destructive Chewing #2: Anxiety

Anxious dogs sometimes try to soothe themselves by chewing on things. This might seem odd to us, but chewing can be similar to nervous fidgeting for some dogs. 

So, if your dog is most likely to chew or destroy things when something upsetting is going on, anxiety might be the cause. You may even notice that anxiety-based chewing peaks during stressful events such as visitors coming over or thunderstorms.

You can also watch your dog’s body language to see if he is showing signs of stress. Assess if he appears anxious, unsettled, nervous, or upset — if he generally seems really relaxed, anxiety probably isn’t the cause for his destructive chewing! 

Cause of Destructive Chewing #3: Frustration

Frustration can cause destructive chewing

Sometimes dogs really want to access something — like a favorite playmate or some tasty treats — and they may take their frustration out by chewing. 

This kind of frustration-based chewing is usually pretty easy to recognize, as it is often directed at the area that’s causing the frustration (like a cupboard holding treats). 

You will generally notice that your dog appears upset and is pacing or whining or pawing at the area too. A frustrated dog generally won’t appear scared (like the anxious dog discussed above), but he may appear frantic.

Cause of Destructive Chewing #4: Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety — the tendency for some dogs to completely freak out when left alone — can be a very serious welfare issue for dogs. And destructive chewing is one of the most common ways dogs act out when suffering from separation anxiety. 

Dogs who panic when left alone generally direct their chewing or destruction towards exits to the home, window blinds, or the door of a crate or other containment space.

Treating the root of your dog’s separation anxiety with an in-depth training plan is extremely important. Simply putting your dog in an escape-proof crate or otherwise preventing him from destroying things is not an adequate solution, because your dog will still be upset when left alone.

Cause of Destructive Chewing #5: Teething 

how to stop chewing in dogs

Young dogs, like young people, go through phases of teething. And as your puppy loses his baby teeth and gets adult teeth, you’ll generally see a big increase in chewing as he tries to relieve the pain and discomfort he’s feeling

For many dogs, this will be at its worst around 4 to 6 months of age, but you’ll often experience lots of chewing in puppies up to about 18 months old. 

You don’t really want to stop this kind of chewing (it really wouldn’t be fair to do so) — you just want to redirect it so that your pooch noms on something safe and appropriate. 

Cause of Destructive Chewing #6: Hunger

Hungry dogs might try to quiet their rumbling tummies by chewing on all sorts of things

You may see this behavior increase prior to mealtimes. Generally, a hungry dog will also direct his chewing toward food-like items, like leather. A hungry chewer may also ingest the things he chews on, which presents obvious safety concerns!

Cause of Destructive Chewing #7: Fabric Sucking

Some dogs display a stereotypic behavior (which is just a ritualistic, repetitive behavior that interrupts normal behavior that doesn’t serve a clear purpose) known as fabric sucking.

While at first glance this is similar to destructive chewing, it is actually a separate problem that generally requires intensive behavior modification and, potentially, behavioral medications

If your dog’s behavior appears compulsive — in other words, it’s hard to redirect them to another activity — and is directed towards sucking on fabric, licking fabric, or licking or sucking their own body parts, you are best served by treating it as a stereotypic behavior rather than “plain old” destructive chewing.

8 Helpful Strategies for Ending Destructive Chewing: How Do I Stop My Dog From Chewing Everything?

how to stop dog chewing

Luckily, reducing your dog’s problematic chewing behavior is often quite straightforward

The best approach is to combine the tips below. Your general job is two-pronged: You need to prevent your dog from accessing inappropriate chews and to provide appropriate outlets for their chewing and energy needs

If you catch your pup red-pawed in the middle of chewing something, gently redirect him by calling him to you, giving him a treat, and removing the chew item. Then give him some exercise or a different chew item. 

Canine Behaviorist Pro Tip

You may want to keep track of times of day that your dog is most likely to chew.

Does your dog get riled up in the middle of the afternoon and start getting naughty? Prevent that by giving your dog a suitable edible chew before he gets into trouble. Noticing patterns goes a long way towards prevention and mitigation!

Chew-Stopping Strategy #1: Provide More Supervision

If your pup is getting into items he shouldn’t, a lack of supervision is part of the problem! 

Use the management strategies outlined below to help reduce your dog’s desire to chew and teach him what to chew instead. But in the meantime, use physical barriers and supervision to keep your dog and your stuff safe.

If you catch your pup chewing while you supervise, gently redirect him as described earlier.

Chew-Stopping Strategy #2: Keep Your Dog More Stimulated

Boredom is an extremely common reason for dogs to chew, so try to make sure you keep your buddy’s brain buzzing by providing more mental and physical stimulation. Extra stimulation can also help alleviate anxiety, frustration, and even the pain and stress of teething! 

Different kinds of canine enrichment — such as giving your dog paper recycling to shred, playing nosework games, lickimats, puzzle toys, snuffle mat games, cuddling, and any other games — can all help provide more stimulation.

If you’re short on time, scattering kibble in an egg carton or pouring treats into an old milk jug (without its lid) can provide entertainment while you take care of your own tasks.

Chew-Stopping Strategy #3: Provide More Exercise

Many dogs need more than just mental enrichment — they need lots of physical activity too!

Hiking, running, canicross, skijoring, bikejoring, and other intense physical activities can help meet your dog’s needs in this regard. And once your dog’s physical needs are met, his destructive chewing behavior is likely to decrease

Just be sure to check with your vet to ensure that your dog is fit enough for any intense physical programs — dogs need a “couch to 5k” plan, too!

Chew-Stopping Strategy #4: Use a Crate, Tether, or Puppy Gate When You Can’t Supervise Your Pet

As mentioned above, physically containing your dog is part of treating destructive chewing. Use baby gates to keep your dog out of the kids’ playroom or a tether to prevent your dog from sneaking into the kitchen. 

If your house is a real mess and you’ve just gotta go without cleaning, a crate can help keep your things safe. However, it’s best not to over-rely on small confinement like a crate if you can give your dog a safe space that’s a bit larger.

While using physical barriers won’t teach your dog not to chew, it can keep your possessions safe while you work on meeting your dog’s needs and getting him addicted to proper chew toys.

Chew-Stopping Strategy #5: Provide More Frequent Meals If Hunger is the Cause

feed dogs who chew because of hunger

If you only feed your dog once a day, consider giving your dog more snacks. You can split up his daily calories into puzzle toys to both reduce his hunger and help meet his enrichment needs. 

Also, consider using snuffle mats, Kongs, or other puzzle toys to simultaneously increase the amount of enrichment you’re providing while reducing his hunger too.

Chew-Stopping Strategy #6: Dog-Proof Your Home

If your dog is destroying things, a central problem is that your dog has access to things he can’t be trusted with yet! Of course, eventually, you want to be able to trust your dog to ignore your sneakers and remotes. But right now, your dog can’t be trusted.

So, create a “puppy palace” for your dog if possible. Use a pet gate (I like the gate from Carlson Pet Products) to create a happy zone for your dog where he has access to a sleeping spot, toys, chews, and water. You can see some of my favorite puppy palaces here.  

This option is easy because you don’t have to clean up most of the house — just the puppy palace. This is easy for small dogs or busy households, but isn’t always a great option for large dogs!

If a puppy palace isn’t a good fit for you (or you’re ready to graduate your dog away from his puppy palace), then you’ll need to find other ways to prevent your dog from accessing tempting chewies. Put your shoes in the closet, block your bookcase with a gate, and put your remote on top of the TV. 

Keep track of what else your dog is drawn to chewing on and try to prevent accidents by removing access to those items (and similar items). 

For example, a dog who likes to chew on books is also likely to enjoy shredding magazines; a dog who gnaws on shoes may also be tempted by leather handbags.

Chew-Stopping Strategy #7: Give Your Dog Safe Things to Chew

dog natural chewing behavior

Giving your dog something safe and appropriate to chew on is one of the most important things you can do to reduce destructive chewing

Remember, your dog needs to chew! 

We’ll cover a variety of options for safe chewing below, but my go-tos are animal-based products from reputable companies like Pawstruck or Farm Hounds. Dogs love things like bully sticks, tracheas, pig’s ears, fish jerky, duck jerky, and all sorts of interesting options!

Just note that if your dog is teething or really overweight, edible chews might not be the best bet. In these cases, consider teething rings, Benebones, West Paw Zogoflex toys, or buffalo horns.

If your dog has lots of tasty options to chew on, he’s less likely to try chewing on other items. Why chew on shoes if you’ve got a tasty bully stick?

Chew-Stopping Strategy #8: Consider Deterrents

Sometimes a dog is simply magnetized to inappropriate chew items. If this is your dog, your first line of defense is to dog-proof your home. But what if your dog is chewing on your trim or coffee table or something else you can’t put in a closet?

Chewing spray deterrents like Bitter Apple Spray can help keep your items safe from chewing when management isn’t a good option. After providing your dog with plenty of appropriate chew items, you can also spray down the target area to make it taste bad.

Unfortunately, not all dogs think that these taste deterrents actually taste that bad! You may need to experiment with a few different deterrents before finding one that your dog dislikes enough that it’s functional.

One More Thing: Avoid Punishing or Scolding Your Dog When He Does Chew

When a puppy or dog is chewing on something inappropriate, redirect him by calling him over to you. Then, give him a treat to distract him while you pick up the inappropriate chew item. 

dont scold dog for chewing

But whatever you do, avoid chasing your dog down — this can create a fun-for-dog game of keep away that is really frustrating! After removing the item, give your dog something else to chew on.

If your dog is repeatedly targeting a non-chew item and you’re getting angry, remember to give him a better option and prevent him from accessing the non-chew item rather than punishing your dog.

Also, be sure to avoid punishing or scolding your dog when he chews on inappropriate items

This can scare or startle him, harming your relationship. While you can interrupt your dog from chewing with noise, don’t aim to scare him! Simply get his attention and redirect him to chew on something appropriate. 

With my puppy Niffler, I started clapping when I’d catch him chewing inappropriate things. And as he got more responsive I taught him to come to me when I called his name.

Scolding or punishing can also teach your dog to eat things faster or hide his chewing better. This is counterproductive to training.

What Kinds of Things Should I Give My Dog to Chew?

There are many chews that are excellent to help your dog fall in love with chewing the right things rather than your shoes. Here are a few of my favorites:

carrots for dogs
  • Himalayan Yak Chews: These edible dog chews are made from hard smoked yak cheese and often very appealing to pupper palates.
  • Bully Sticks: These admittedly odd chews may  sound gross (and they can smell a bit strong), but they are delicious to doggos and will help your dog chew happily!
  • Animal Ears: Pig ears, lamb ears, and cow ears are quite popular with owners and dogs alike. They are also dehydrated and tasty, which makes them fun to chew. They’re generally much cheaper than bully sticks but also a bit softer.
  • Noses, Tracheas, and Other Anatomical Oddities:  Everything from pig snouts to beef tracheas can keep your dog happily gnawing away! These byproducts are often pretty affordable compared to bully sticks.
  • Kongs: Stuff a Kong or other puzzle toy with tastiness like yogurt, wet dog food, or peanut butter. For an extra challenge, freeze the Kong into a pupsicle!
  • Dog-Safe Veggies: Want a cheap, low-calorie option? Many dogs will chew on carrots, broccoli stems, cucumbers, or zucchini like they’re bones. Not all dogs will enjoy this, but the crunch is satisfying for some. Give ‘em a try — you might be surprised!
  • Puppy Teething Rings: Rubbery plastic can really help soothe the pain of teething for puppies. These products aren’t usually tempting for older dogs but are great for pups.
  • Dental Chews: There are a wide variety of dental treats that may work well for your pooch. These are often too soft for really heavy chewers, but they can be great if your dog has a tender mouth or isn’t a heavy chewer.
  • Nylabones and Benebones: Like teething rings, Nylabones and Benebones are made from plastic. They are harder and infused with flavor to keep your pup’s interest. 

Marrow bones and antlers are not always safe options for heavy chewers because they can break teeth. Only use them with extreme caution!

Pet-Care Pro-Tip: The Fingernail Test

Most veterinarians recommend applying the “fingernail test” before giving your dog something to chew. In a nutshell, you’ll just want to try to indent the chew with your fingernail.

If the item is soft enough that you can leave a mark, it’s probably soft enough to be safe. Conversely, if you can’t indent it with your thumbnail, you may want to opt for something softer instead.

Common Things Dogs Like to Chew

If you’re trying to be proactive, here is a list of items you’ll want to consider protecting from your chewy pup. 

Pick these kinds of things up or put them away and you’ll go a long way towards protecting your stuff! 

  • Shoes
  • Clothes (especially dirty socks and underwear)
  • Trash or recycling
  • Remote controls
  • Wooden items, especially untreated wood
  • Kids toys

***

Remember that chewing is a natural part of your dog’s behvaior! Chewing keeps his teeth clean, jaws strong, and brain engaged. Keep your stuff safe from a destructive chewer by practicing good supervision and puppy-proofing while also offering your pup lots of appropriate outlets for chewing.

Did we miss one of your favorite chew items? Mention it in the comments below! We’d love to hear about it.

training dog with punishment
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Written by

Kayla Fratt

Kayla Fratt is a conservation detection dog trainer and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a member of the American Society for K9 Trainers, and is a member of Dog Writer’s Association of America. She lives in her van with her two border collies traveling the country to help biologists detect data with her nonprofit, K9 Conservationists. Before coming to K9 of Mine, Kayla worked at Denver Dumb Friends League and Humane Society of Western Montana as a Behavior Technician. She owns her own dog training business, Journey Dog Training and holds a degree in biology from Colorado College. When she’s not writing or training Barley and Niffler, Kayla enjoys cross-country skiing, eating sushi, drinking cocktails, and going backpacking.

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