We have had several families adopt a new puppy for their house. We are also about to adopt a new fur-kid! Several people have reached out and asked for strategies to curtail destructive chewing, both for puppies as well as adult dogs. We have read a number of articles, talked with trainers, and have our own experience with this behavior.
First, it is a completely normal behavior for puppies and dogs to chew on objects as they explore the world. As stated in a helpful article from the ASPCA, "Chewing accomplishes a number of things for a dog. For young dogs, it’s a way to relieve pain that might be caused by incoming teeth. For older dogs, it’s nature’s way of keeping jaws strong and teeth clean. Chewing also combats boredom and can relieve mild anxiety or frustration."
Also, you will need to rule out other issues, such as separation anxiety, that may be the root cause of this destructive behavior. Signs of separation anxiety chewing destruction include "...only chew when left alone or chew most intensely when left alone, ...whining, barking, pacing, restlessness, urination and defecation."
A Note on Puppy Teething - Most of us will have to suffer through this phase of our fur-kids development. As the ASPCA says, "The desire to investigate interesting objects and the discomfort of teething motivate puppies to chew." Like our human kids, pups can experience some pain as their adult teeth come in. Some recommendations are "...giving puppies ice cubes, special dog toys that can be frozen or frozen wet washcloths to chew, which might help numb teething pain. Although puppies do need to chew on things, gentle guidance can teach your puppy to restrict chewing to appropriate objects, like his own toys."
Outside of those issues, here are some techniques you can try for different situations:
Set Them Up for Success
We need to manage the environments that our dogs reside in. If we don't want them chewing on shoes, we need to do our best to make them unavailable. As an article from the Humane Society says, "Take responsibility for your own belongings. If you don't want it in your dog's mouth, don't make it available. Keep clothing, shoes, books, trash, eyeglasses and remote controls out of your dog's reach."
When you do have to leave them along, it's best to confine them in a safe, dog-proof area. PetMD says "Confine them when you're unable to keep an eye on them. Choose a "safe place" that's dog-proof... If your dog is crate trained, you may also place them in their crate."
As the old saying goes, "a tired dog is a well behaved dog". We 100% agree! Exercise releases pent up energy and provides great mental stimulation for our fur-kids. An under-exercised, under-stimulated pup is a recipe for problems.An article from DogTime states "Give (them) plenty of exercise. Exercise is vitally important for dogs prone to inappropriate chewing or other destructive behaviors. A tired pup will be less likely to get into things. Exercise also produces endorphins, which have a calming effect. In fact, it is these endorphins that are stimulated by chewing, so if your dog is not getting enough exercise, (they) may unconsciously be seeking to replace needed endorphins by releasing pent-up energy through chewing." Hmmm, seems like a dog walker would be a great idea for this :)
When your dog is caught in the act, you will need to redirect them to an appropriate chew item. "If you catch your dog chewing on something they shouldn't, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise. Offer them an acceptable chew toy instead, and praise them lavishly when they take the toy in their mouth" per the Humane Society.
Inedible and Edible Toys and Chews
Since dogs are going to do some chewing, we need to make sure they have plenty of appropriate items for them. "Pay attention to the types of toys that keep him chewing for long periods of time and continue to offer those. It’s ideal to introduce something new or rotate your dog’s chew toys every couple of days so that he doesn’t get bored with the same old toys" says the ASPCA.
However, we want to be safe when it comes to what stuff we are giving them. Besides the inedible toys, we do use rawhides and bully stick chew toys with our pups. We only let them have these edible chew when they are under our direct supervision. When they get too small, we will remove them to prevent swallowing whole.
"Many dog plush toys have pieces that can fall off or be chewed off and become a choking hazard. A dog can easily chew open many squeaker toys and swallow the squeaker, which will require a trip to the emergency vet. Nylon bones are great because they are durable, safe and non-damaging to the teeth. For rubber toys, make sure they cannot be shredded into pieces that your dog can swallow. These can become choking hazards or cause intestinal upset" says PetMD.
Use a Bad-Tasting Deterrent
We have had mixed success with the deterrent sprays, but it works enough that we will mention it. Bitter Apple or Boundary Dog are two brands. Here is the best way to introduce these products, per the ASPCA article:
"When you first use a deterrent, apply a small amount to a piece of tissue or cotton wool. Gently place it directly in your dog’s mouth. Allow (them) to taste it and then spit it out. If your dog finds the taste unpleasant, (they) might shake (their) head, drool or retch... Ideally, (they) will have learned the connection between the taste and the odor of the deterrent, and (they’ll) be more likely to avoid chewing items that smell like it. Spray the deterrent on all objects that you don’t want your dog to chew. Reapply the deterrent every day for two to four weeks."
Like all pet training, the best results require patience and repetition. It is also a good idea that if you continue to have issues, bring in a trainer or behaviorist to help.