How to stop a dog chewing in order to save your home furniture? Are you constantly losing socks and finding them in pieces later? Is your wooden furniture covered in ugly scratch marks? In other words, do you have a puppy who chews? If so, I feel your pain. My beagle/basset puppy, Sophie, doesn’t just chew–she CHEWS. When I adopted her last year, I immediately bought all kinds of cute stuffed animals and dog toys, but only a day or two later I realized what a waste of money that had been: she bit off and ingested pieces of every single one.
Sophie chewed my shoes. She chewed my pillows. She chewed my entertainment center. Basically, anything that came into the house was fair game. It quickly became apparent the only toy she could safely have was a deer antler–and although her dog trainer told me his big black Lab took three months to go through one antler, Sophie whittled each antler down to choke-size within two weeks. I wasn’t sure if it was really possible to get Sophie to stop chewing, but fast-forward a year later, and it turns out it was. Here are some tried-and-true methods to get your puppy to stop chewing.
Regular Chewing vs. Destructive Chewing
Although it’s perfectly normal for dogs and puppies to chew on objects as they explore, there’s a fine line between destructive chewing and normal chewing. Chewing can help your dog with a number of things. For example, a younger dog may chew to help relieve any pain that new teeth coming in could cause. For an older dog, chewing helps them keep their teeth clean and their jaws strong. It can also help relieve boredom, frustration, or mild anxiety.
Puppies, and some older dogs, are very curious and playful. Playing with other dogs and people is an important part of their socialization, object play and exploration are very important ways for your dog to learn about their surrounding environment. So, it’s very normal for your puppy to investigate your home, yard, or garden by tasting, sniffing, and chewing on anything they can reach.
Dogs that chew can also have an issue with raiding the garbage for food, playing by chewing apart the leg of your couch or a book, teething between three and six months, or trying to satisfy a natural urge to gnaw to try and keep their gums and teeth healthy. Some dogs can also chew because you give them attention when you catch them, even if it is negative attention. Owners may also treat their dog when they chew, and this can accidentally reward and reinforce this behavior.
Destructive chewing or other unwanted behaviors can also stem from the feeling of anxiety. If you confine your dog to an area where they don’t feel secure, the dog can react by attempting to escape by chewing on items. Dogs that are in an extended period of arousal, conflict, or anxiety can try to find an outlet by performing destructive behaviors like digging or chewing too. This is why it’s important to rule out what the root cause of your dog’s chewing obsession is to help treat it.
Rule Out Problems That Can Cause Destructive Chewing
If you think that your dog is engaged in destructive chewing like mine was, it’s important that you start considering why they’re chewing in the first place. In turn, this will give you a starting point to help treat the problem and save your items.
Boredom is very common in dogs and puppies if you leave them alone for long periods of time without any interactions with other family members. They can also get board if their play area is barren and doesn’t have toys or playmates lying around, or if he’s under three years old and doesn’t have viable outlets for his energy levels. Also, the dog’s breed can also play into the boredom factor, particularly if they’re an active breed like a border collie and they require a lot of stimulation to remain happy.
Some dogs can chew, suck, or lick at fabrics. Some people think that this results from your dog having been weaned too early, generally before seven or eight weeks old. If your dog sucks on fabric for a large period of time and it’s challenging to try and distract them from what they’re doing, your dog could have developed a compulsion to suck on the fabric. If you think this might be the problem with your dog, it’s a good idea to contact a professional like a local Certified Professional Dog Trainer, a Board-Based Veterinary Behaviorist, or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. These people will have the necessary training to help treat compulsive behavior like fabric suckling in dogs.
Obesity is a big problem with some dogs, and this could result in you putting your dog on a strict calorie-restricted diet. Your dog could turn to chewing in an attempt to find other sources of nutrition, vitamins, and minerals. Dogs typically start chewing on objects that are related to food, or the objects smell like food. So, they could raid your garbage can, start chewing on your table legs, or shred dish towels that have the lingering scent of food on them.
One of the first things you have to do is to make sure your dog doesn’t have any serious medical problems when you start trying to figure out how to stop your dog from chewing. Nutritional deficiencies caused by intestinal parasitism or nutritional deficiencies can lead to pica. You could easily mistake this as destructive chewing. A range of gastrointestinal issues can make your dog nauseous, and this can trigger chewing to help your dog cope. So, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your vet to help rule out any underlying medical problems because this can make treatment easier.
If you think that your dog chews to relieve separation anxiety and stress like mine was, you’ll notice that they only chew most intensely when you leave them alone. Your dog could also display other signs that they’re anxious like pacing, barking, urination, restlessness, and defecation. You’ll need a vet or dog behaviourist to help treat this problem.
How to Stop Your Dog from Chewing – 12 Ways
Usually, it’ll take a few guesses on your part to find the trick that makes your dog stop chewing. I know for my dogs, they were both different. What worked well for one didn’t work as well for the other, so I had to cycle through a few items to see what worked.
Redirect Their Attention
It’s a simple concept: when your puppy begins gnawing on something that’s not for them, firmly tell them “no.” After correcting them, offer them one of their toys, something that’s meant for chewing. It’s important to correct the behavior first, or the dog may think you’re actually rewarding them for chewing, which is not the message we want to get across. But after the dog understands they’ve done something wrong, give them a positive alternative.
If your puppy tends to mouth you, redirecting their attention will work in that situation, too. Giving them an acceptable toy is simply a way to channel their energy into a positive outlet, and most of the time, my puppy Sophie is more than happy to accept her antler from my hand and run off with it. As a puppy parent, it’s your job to teach the puppy what’s acceptable to chew on and what’s not.
If your dog comes back to chew on the same spot time after time–maybe the leg of your bed, or the edge of the couch, or the springy doorstop behind the front door–and you need a deterrent to discourage your dog from chewing that specific spot, try a No Chew Spray such as Bitter Yuck! As Bitter Yuck ended up on my fingers several times throughout our training process–Sophie’s favorite chew spot being the blinds by my back door–I can testify to its disgusting taste. It’s water-based and free of alcohol, meaning it won’t sting skin (animal owners also use this product to stop animals from licking wounds or hot spots) and it won’t stain your furniture.
If you’re looking to DIY and save money, try making homemade bitter apple spray, which should produce the same effects as Bitter Yuck. To make the spray, mix 2 cups of apple cider vinegar (most dogs hate the tart taste) with 1 cup of plain white vinegar and shake vigorously. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, substitute lemon juice; again, the tart taste seems to deter dogs, and lemon juice will make your furniture smell much more pleasant than apple cider vinegar will.
Provide Ample Stimulation
Let’s pause for a moment and talk about why puppies chew. According to the ASPCA, puppies chew primarily to alleviate pain caused by teeth coming in. When you think about a human baby teething–and how there are often many tears involved–you can’t really blame the puppy for needing a release. What do teething puppies need? Give your puppy textured chew toys (typically a soft toy is better than a hard one), a wet washcloth, or an ice cube to ease discomfort.
But if all still seems lost, don’t worry: most puppies have their adult teeth by the time they are six months of age, so just hang on and things will get better. The need for stimulation doesn’t end when your puppy grows up, though: once they’re through teething, they may continue chewing out of boredom, especially if they’re home alone a lot. Continue to make sure your dog has plenty of exciting toys. To really keep your dog on their toes, try a rotation–divide their toys into three groups and give them a different group of toys each day. Also, have a variety of toys like:
- Squeaky Toys – This is a teething and interactive toy that your dog will like to chew on before their adult teeth come in.
- Nylabones – Nylabones are interactive and chewy, so they can stimulate your dog and help strengthen their jaws.
- Fluffy Toys – A nice fluffy toy can act like a faux littermate for your dog, and they work well when you position them in a confined space or crate for your dog to snuggle.
- Balls – Balls fall into the category of interactive toys, unless it’s a Kong or rubber ball. Tennis balls don’t make good chew toys since they’re easy to pull apart.
- Rope Toys – Many puppies love rope toys because they act like a teething chew that can help massage your dog’s gums. When the adult teeth come in, this toy switches to interactive.
- Marrow or Antlers – Larger marrow bones from your local butcher are chew toys, as are antlers because they’re not stimulating your dog. They’re just giving them something to do.
Clean up After Yourself
It’s a simple concept, really: if your prized possessions are behind a closed door or up high out of your dog’s reach, your dog can’t chew them up. One time Sophie chewed up the handle of my laptop bag–but I couldn’t really blame her, because I had left it in the middle of the living room. Another time she came out of my bedroom chewing a piece of pink paper: a Post-It note that I’d unwittingly tossed on the floor. And the entire first summer I had her, she consistently chewed on every pair of shoes I owned–because before I got a puppy, I had been in the habit of coming home and kicking off my shoes right by the door instead of putting them in the closet.
If a room is cluttered or contains expensive furniture, shut the door. If you have a baby gate, put one up. Again, think about treating your puppy the same way you would treat a toddler–you wouldn’t let a toddler loose in a room full of breakable knicknacks, right? So don’t leave your dog unsupervised in a room full of what seem to be larger-than-life chew toys.
“Drop it” is a basic command that’s taught in every puppy school, but it’s probably one of the hardest commands to master, because so many things just look so darn tempting to a puppy’s eyes! I have to admit that neither of my dogs ever fully mastered “drop it.” My Golden Retriever had two expensive surgeries due to things he had eaten. Sophie slinks through the room at least once a day, trying to avoid my attention because she knows she has something she shouldn’t–and when I tell her to “drop it,” she seems to hear “clench your teeth more tightly so Mom can’t take this away.”
That being said, though, both of my dogs had some great trainers who worked very hard to teach them–I just end up with incorrigible dogs. Teaching the command “drop it” (you could also say “give it” or “let go” if you’d like; just be consistent with whatever command you use) requires lots of patience on the human’s part: let your puppy play with a toy, then show them a treat and tell them to “drop it,” speaking quietly but firmly. When your puppy drops the toy in favor of eating the treat, praise them as they enjoy their reward.
Since you won’t always have a treat on hand (once my Golden Retriever ate an empty chip bag on a walk), however, your dog also needs to learn “drop it” when there’s no incentive except praise–so once your pup has mastered the command with an edible reward, eliminate the treat from the equation. Simply tell your dog to “drop it” and then reward them with praise. Keep training sessions brief, as puppies have short attention spans (again, just like toddlers).
Tire Out Your Dog
I have to admit, I don’t take Sophie on walks very much–she has a knee problem, I’m busy working all day, and she’s very unsociable, meaning I spend the whole walk in fear we’ll come across another dog and it will not end well. (Because, believe me, it would not end well.) But when I do take her on a walk, she comes home panting heavily. Instead of tearing around the house like she usually does after dinner, she collapses on the couch and falls asleep–and she usually stays there until it’s time for bed.
In addition to tiring out your dog, make sure you’re giving him or her enough attention. Even as puppies get older and all of their adult teeth have come in, they may continue to chew if they’re bored, frustrated, or anxious (lucky me–I have the anxious chewer). So providing your puppy with ample attention to let him or her know they’re loved is a way to head off chewing before it even begins.
Contain Your Dog
If you’re someone who has to leave your dog alone, make a point to keep them contained. It doesn’t matter if it’s for small blocks of time or for a larger portion of your day, use a dog crate. If you’re unable to crate your puppy, you can section off a room in your home using a dog gate. This will limit how far your dog or puppy can roam to find chewing targets like your indoor plants, and it can also help them stay on track with the potty training routine.
Keep in mind that your puppy only has a limited time that they can hold their bladders. The dog’s age in months usually dictates how long they can safely hold it and be crated. So, a puppy that is four months old can hold it four up to four hours. Puppies can start chewing because they’re bored and alone. Since they can’t discriminate between items that they can and can’t chew, an uncontained dog can get into a lot of trouble. They could also injure themself as they roam around. Make sure to keep the area that you’ll have your puppy in free of objects that they could chew, except for their toys.
Pick a Variety of Toys
Ideally, you’ll only purchase dog toys that come specially designed with your dog’s safety in mind. You may be tempted to buy them all plush toys, but these toys have pieces that your dog can chew off and turn into a choking hazard. It’s easy for your dog to chew open squeaker toys and swallow the squeaker, and this could result in emergency surgery. Nylon bones are excellent options because they’re safe, durable, and they won’t damage your dog’s teeth.
Rubber toys shouldn’t be flimsy enough for your dog to shred into smaller pieces that they can then swallow. If they do, they’re choking hazards because of the risk of upsetting your dog’s stomach. Pick out an appropriate and durable toy for your chewer. Once the toy starts to fall apart or gets too small for your dog, switch it out. I know my puppies grew like weeds, so I was constantly upgrading their toys.
Leave Your Scent with Your Dog
Maybe you plan or have to leave your dog for a length of time. If so, you could roll your dog’s favorite toy between your hands to help transfer your scent over. In turn, this could soothe them. You also want to avoid having a very emotional farewell when you leave to stop your dog from having anxiety about you stepping out the door. If you don’t, this could lead to barking, whining, or chewing. You could also leave the radio or TV on at a low volume so your puppy has some stimulation.
Make a Point to be Attentive
Always keep a sharp eye on your dog or puppy to protect them from their desire to put everything in their mouths or their own curiosity. Try to supervise your dog during every waking hour until you feel confident that their chewing behavior is well under control. If you see your dog chewing or licking at an item they shouldn’t be like your succulent pots, remove the item from your dog’s mouth and give them something they can chew on. You could even praise them when you give them the acceptable item.
Obedience Training Classes
A lot of dog owners need professional-grade help to train their pets. If you’re finding it difficult to break your dog’s chewing habit, consider enrolling in obedience training classes. Even taking a few classes can help provide both your dog and yourself with the tools you need to curb their chewing habit and protect both your belongings and yourself.
You have to mentally stimulate your puppy by tricks and training. So, try to set up obedience cues and games like teaching your puppy what down, come, stay, and sit are. The second you bring your puppy home, you should set up a teaching routine. If you leave your dog alone inside or outside without the proper training, this can easily lead to chewing, digging, or destroying furniture or items. Giving your dog zero stimulation choices or guidance can result in destructive chewing.
You’ll end up with a tired and satisfied puppy if you offer general exposure to the world and enrichment activities. Ideally, your puppy will meet around 100 faces in the first 100 days, and it should include people and animals of all sizes and ages. This is the critical stage for socialization for your puppy, especially before they hit four months old. Socialize your puppy with friends or family because this lowers the chances of your puppy contracting a disease or running into an unfriendly dog.
Be Realistic and Patient with Your Puppy
Even if your dog has the best training possible, they can have bad moments now and again. Chances are, your dog is going to chew something at least once or twice that they know they’re not supposed to. When they do, take a step back to the beginning to try and reinforce good chewing habits. This patience can really pay off and make your dog happier and healthier while saving your items.
What Not To Do
There are also a few things you should never do when you’re training your puppy not to chew. To start, never punish or discipline your puppy after the fact. This includes minutes after they finish chewing on your gardening tools. It’s too late to administer a correction. Dogs and other animals associate correction with something they’re doing as soon as you punish them. So, a puppy won’t know that the shoe they chewed an hour ago is the reason you’re not happy with them right now.
Some people think that this is what your dog is thinking when they punish them after the fact because they “look guilty” or runs off and hides. The “guilty looks” you’re seeing are appeasement postures that your dog will show when they feel threatened. WHen you’re upset and angry, your puppy can feel threatened by your body postures, loud tone, or your facial expressions. In turn, they can show submissive postures or hide. Punishment won’t help to stop the undesirable behaviors, and it can also provoke your dog into displaying other unwanted behaviors.
Avoid Confusing Your Puppy
Avoid giving your dog or puppy objects to play with like old shoes, old socks, or old children’s toys that look like the items you don’t want your dog to chew. They can’t tell the difference, and this can lead them to believing all of your shoes or socks are fair game when the urge to chew strikes.
Don’t Chase Your Dog
You want to catch your dog in the middle of a destructive chewing session and reprimand them right then and there before you take the item away. If the dog takes the object and runs away, refuse to chase them. When you chase your dog around, the whole process becomes a fun game, and this can muddle your message. Instead, turn away, sit down on the ground, and let the dog come to you. They want your attention and will come over to see what you’re doing.
The thought of teaching your puppy not to chew can be a daunting one–but if I could get my incorrigible Sophie to stop eating everything in sight, I’m confident you can train your puppy, too.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.