Here’s a question that’ll have most dog owners baffled, horrified and confused in their dog’s lifetime: Why does my dog chew on / eat my underwear?
We all know that dogs love to chew on things – and almost all of us will have frantically chased a dog around the yard to play an unwelcome game of fetch with their pooch and their favorite sock.
Today we’re digging in to take a closer look at this behavior, why dogs do it, and what dog owners can do to discourage it.
About 4 to 7 months into your pooch’s life, they hit the dreaded teething phase; symptoms of a teething dog is much the same as it is for a teething toddler: It’s painful, uncomfortable and they will likely start chewing on anything within reach to relieve it.
For some puppies, they turn to chewing underwear, socks, shoes and anything else they can get their tiny developing teeth on.
What do you do about it? Teeth coming in can be itchy and uncomfortable; the best thing you can do is to give them a more acceptable chew toy to chomp on – some are designed specifically for teething pups.
Could your dog be trying to get your attention?
Licking, chewing and eating objects is part of a range of behaviors commonly exhibited by dogs seeking attention from their owners, continuing with a nervous habit or simply trying to tell their owners something, like “Hey! I don’t like this!”
Your best solution is to find the root cause of your dog’s nervous tick; simply removing the object of their obsession without treating the root cause means they’ll just find something else to chew on instead.
When going a little further than attention-seeking behavior, dogs chewing on (or eating) objects with non-nutritional value is referred to as Pica, a disorder also found in humans.
The objects aren’t just limited to underwear and could be literally anything from rocks to paper: Our recommendation is to take your dog for a visit to the vet, as pica might have a medical (or psychological) root cause to be looked at – nutritional deficiencies, of course, are one, and a simple change of diet could be all that’s needed to fix it.
Pica can also cause a range of gastro-intestinal problems – it’s never good to eat things that, well, aren’t food.
Sometimes older dogs will exhibit behavior resembling teething, often for the same reasons puppies do it: Alleviating discomfort and strengthening what they’ve got.
First, you’ll want to take your dog to the vet and make sure their teeth are OK and that no dental work is needed. Veterinary teeth cleaning can be pricey, which is why it’s best to regularly brush your dog’s teeth to limit intensive cleaning procedures.
Once you’ve ruled out any dental troubles, your best bet is to distract your dog with a more suitable chew toy – many chews are specifically designed to help your dog’s tooth and gum health.
While it’s not as common a cause as the others we’ve listed here, sometimes dogs will take to play-hunting the objects around them – and in some cases this might just happen to be your underwear.
Again, the best remedy is distraction and replacement: Give them something that’s okay to play with instead.
Going back to their more primal roots, dogs – like many other animals – are extremely focused on scent.
When dogs scratch or cats rub themselves lovingly against their owners, they’re just spreading their scent all over you – and vice versa. It’s a way of marking their territory, asserting their dominance to other dogs and re-assuring their owners that everything is cool.
Unfortunately, dogs are prone to go for items like socks and underwear because it carries the strongest marker of their owner’s scent.
Without going into too much detail about scent glands and where they’re found, your animal is likely smelling your pheromones on your clothes – that, in turn, they see as a good thing. This excites your dog, and they will seek out your scent much like a police dog sent out to find someone’s stash.
It’s kind of gross, but they might be after your underwear because they just love you SO much!
Search dogs are trained to search by watching their owner’s reaction when they succeed: A fuss is made, heads are pat with an “attaboy!” and a treat is given.
Your answer for discouraging your dog’s negative behavior lies in the first thing we’ve just mentioned there: A fuss is made. Do you react hysterically when you find your dog chewing on your underwear, grab it out of their mouths and walk away in a huff?
If you do, don’t. Dogs who do this for attention will react accordingly by continuing to do it because it provokes a reaction in their owner – even if it’s not the good kind of attention.
Dogs who do it for other reasons could quickly feel “shamed” and develop other nervous issues, which might exhibit in the same behavior or simply give rise to an entirely new one.
Try these tips if you want to discourage your dog’s underwear-hunt:
Have you recently had to discourage this behavior in your pooch, or are you still at it? Get in touch and let us know.
Alex J. Coyne is a freelance journalist with eight years' experience writing for publications like People Magazine, Re:Fiction, Great Bridge Links and NB Publishers. Sometimes, his three dogs take him for walks around the neighborhood; they offer helpful feedback on his work and offer little to no comment on his singing.