At one time or another, most dog owners need to learn how to stop a dog from chewing. Many will have tales to tell about something a beloved canine companion has destroyed with their chewing.
Chewing, in fact, is a natural behavior for dogs. Dr. Lori Teller of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences describes dogs as “innate chewers” who enjoy having something to sink their teeth into.
In other words, a dog’s gotta chew what a dog’s gotta chew.
But you can train your dog to chew only on things you approve of. If you need to learn how to stop a dog from destructive chewing, we have plenty of tips for you.
But first, the question we know you’re all asking…
Why Does My Dog Chew?
There are several reasons why your dog might be chewing. They include:
Your puppy may be chewing because she’s teething, and chewing helps to soothe her sore gums.
Puppies also chew to explore their world. Just like human babies, puppies learn a lot about objects by mouthing them.
Lack of Exercise or Mental Stimulation
Dogs of any age can chew because they’re bored. Dogs that don’t get enough exercise or have enough to do will make their own fun. You won't always like what they come up with!
Some dogs chew to self-soothe like a child with a “binky.” Sometimes this can become obsessive and warrant a vet check.
If your dog’s chewing is directed mostly toward items that are related to food or smell like food, she may simply be hungry.
Hunger chewing is especially common in dogs who are on a calorie-restricted diet.
In the case of a newly adopted rescue or shelter dog, even as adults, they may be confused and stressed. Or they may not have been trained at their earlier home as to what they could chew and what they couldn’t.
Possible Reasons for Concern
If your dog is chewing, licking, and sucking on fabrics, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), she may have been weaned prematurely (before seven or eights weeks old).
If she does this for long periods or is difficult to distract from it, her habit may be compulsive. You should consult a certified trainer or behavioralist for advice on how to deal with this.
When It Looks Punishment
Owners often believe that their dogs use destructive chewing to punish their owners.
Could your dog be punishing you?
You come home later than expected one day to find your dog chewed your favorite slippers. The thought crosses your mind that she did it to get back at you for leaving her alone for too long.
It’s pretty obvious that she’s punishing you, isn’t it?
Not so much. In reality, it’s unlikely that your dog understands the concepts of revenge or spitefulness.
It’s much more likely that she chewed those slippers (or shredded four rolls of toilet paper) out of boredom or separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety can cause very destructive chewing behavior in dogs of all ages. If she does most of her chewing while no one is home, she could be doing it out of anxiety.
If she is showing behaviors such as barking or whining more than usual, restlessness, pacing, or housebreaking accidents when she’s fully trained, it’s even more likely that separation anxiety is the real issue.
Separation anxiety can be very distressing for dogs. For tips on how to deal with it, see Training Tips to Eliminate Separation Anxiety in Dogs.
Serious Consequences of Chewing
Many dog owners consider chewing a minor inconvenience. But inappropriate chewing behaviors can be hazardous for your dog.
Inappropriate chewing can land your dog in the hospital.
If she chews on electrical cords, she could severely burn her tongue and mouth. Chewing hard objects can break her teeth. Swallowing large pieces or foreign bodies can cause an intestinal obstruction that could require surgery.
So, for their safety (and your peace of mind!), you must learn how to stop a dog from chewing things.
How to Stop a Dog from Chewing
So, how to stop a dog from chewing up stuff? There are many things you can try to stop chewing, but you may need to experiment. You will find that some will work better for your dog than others.
Dog-proof your home.
It makes sense that if your dog can't get to the trash or your favorite shoes, she isn't going to chew them. This can take a little effort on your part, but it's worth doing.
Note that dogs especially love to chew things that smell like their family members. This includes dirty socks and underwear (be sure to put your dirties in the hamper!) and household items.
Remote controls are very popular with dogs who chew for this reason. Get in the habit of putting them out of your dog's reach when you're not using them.
Supervise your dog until she learns the house rules.
Keep her with you on a leash in the house, just as you would when housebreaking. (If you are training a puppy, this will help with that, too.)
The best way to stop a dog from chewing everything? Make it hard for her to make a mistake.
Confine her when you're unable to keep an eye on her. Choose a safe place that's dog-proof and provide fresh water and safe toys.
If your dog is crate trained, you can also place her in her crate for a short time if you can’t have eyes directly on her.
Use the crate when you’re not home.
Note, however, that experts recommend crating a dog for no more than six hours.
If you do have to crate your dog for long periods, be sure to give her extra attention and exercise when you return.
Teach the “leave it” and “drop it” commands.
You will still need to supervise until she’s trustworthy, but these two commands may help prevent accidents.
Provide approved chewing toys.
The best way to stop a dog from chewing up everything is to provide plenty of approved alternatives. If she has enough fun things that she is allowed to chew, then she should be less interested in shoes or furniture.
Try putting her kibble into a Kong or puzzle toy. This will give her the opportunity to gnaw for quite a while.
In addition to satisfying her urge to chew, these toys also offer plenty of mental stimulation.
The ASPCA offers the following additional suggestions for using chew toys:
- Note which chew toys your dog spends the most chewing time with and offer those more often.
- Try rotating chew toys every few days to keep them interesting to your dog.
- Note if there are times of day when your dog especially likes to chew. Give her puzzle toys with her favorite treats during that time to keep her occupied for a while.
- Alternatively, you could make that time a regular mealtime and fill the toy from her daily ration of kibble.
- If you have more than one dog, separate them when you give them edible chews. This will prevent them from eating their chewies too quickly for fear another dog might take it from them.
Make sure toys are dissimilar from personal items.
If you’re wondering how to stop a dog from chewing shoes or other personal items, one solution is to make sure your dog's toys don't look anything like your belongings.
If you give her a squeaky toy shaped like a shoe to play with, it's not fair to get angry if she then chews a real one.
If you play tug of war with a sock, she can't be expected to tell the difference between her play sock and the smart new socks you wear to work.
Give teething puppies special attention.
It's a little harder to stop a puppy from chewing things. A teething pup chews not only as an instinctive behavior but also because it eases teething pain.
Offering her something cold as a substitute may do the trick. She will appreciate something that will soothe her tender gums. Teething rings that are made to be frozen are great options.
Try freezing a small Kong or an ice cube tray with a mixture of yogurt and banana. You can find many recipes online for frozen doggie treats that are both healthy and soothing.
Keep a supply of treats handy at all times. When you find your dog chewing something inappropriate, offer a trade for a treat that she loves. This technique can work surprisingly well.
Remember the Aesop’s fable where a dog lost the bone in his mouth because he let it go so he could grab the one he saw in his reflection in the water? It’s like that.
Reward, reward, reward.
Positive reinforcement is the best way to teach your dog what she can chew. Every time you “catch” her chewing on an acceptable chew toy, praise and reward.
Dr. Marty Becker of VetStreet.com recommends that when your dog chews on something she shouldn’t, don’t comment. Just take the object away gently and offer her a chew toy. When she takes it, reward her.
(The ASPCA recommends saying something like “uh-oh” rather than silence. Use whichever works better for your dog.)
Provide physical and mental stimulation.
Training and exercise will keep her mind and body stimulated, and she is less likely to engage in boredom-related behaviors such as chewing.
They will also help to alleviate any symptoms of separation anxiety. Your dog will enjoy the interaction with you.
Many dog owners want to know how to stop a dog from chewing on furniture. For many dogs, chewing deterrents can be the answer.
Deterrent sprays are harmless substances designed to taste awful to dogs. They can stop a dog from chewing on wood, furniture, carpet, electrical cords, and more.
There are two basic types of anti-chew spray to stop a dog from chewing—bitter and spicy-hot. The most common flavor is bitter apple.
Most dogs don’t like bitter flavors, so these sprays work well for some dogs. A few dogs like the flavor, though.
Observe your dog's reaction. If she’s the rare dog that likes bitter apple, she will likely chew the forbidden item more rather than less.
For these dogs, you may want to try the hot pepper spray. Consider making that your last resort, though. It won’t harm your dog, but it will irritate her nose, throat, and eyes.
Whichever product you choose, test the spray first on a small area to be sure it won’t stain your furniture.
Chew deterrents are easy and inexpensive to make with everyday ingredients.
There are many “recipes” available online for natural remedies that can work well for many dogs. You can use citrus peels, lemon juice, vinegar, cayenne peppers, and cayenne powder for this purpose.
Most are made by simply mixing water with another ingredient in a spray bottle.
Note that no one flavor is going to work for all dogs. You may need to try a few to find one that will deter yours.
Other Natural Options
Some dog owners swear by other natural ingredients such as citronella, lavender, or garlic oil, which can either taste bad or smell horrible to dogs.
Suggestions for Use
Introduce the spray to your dog
The ASPCA recommends that before you use a deterrent, you first present it to your dog.
Spray a small amount on a piece of cotton wool or tissue. Place it in her mouth gently and let her taste it. She will probably spit it out and let you know right away that she doesn’t like it.
She now knows that she dislikes that taste and smell. She’s not likely to want to taste it again, no matter how attractive a chewable item is to her.
If she doesn’t show dislike of the taste, try something else until you find one that works for your dog.
If using pepper spray…
If you’re using pepper spray, you should remove the dog’s immediate access to water.
You don’t want her to learn that she can get fast relief from the discomfort. She may then decide that the crime is worth the punishment.
Be sure to replace her water source no more than an hour later.
You will want to reapply the deterrent spray every day for two to four weeks.
What Not to Do to Stop a Dog from Chewing
- Don’t have unreasonably high expectations. At some point, your dog will inevitably 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. You need to remember to take precautions and keep things out of her reach.
- Don’t chase your dog. If you run after your dog to try to get an object away from her, she will think you’re playing a game. This will reinforce the chewing behavior.
Call her to you instead or offer her a treat so she will come to you. (If she doesn’t come, it may be time to train the recall command.)
Reward her when she gives up the object.
- Don’t punish your dog. If you don’t catch your dog in the act of chewing, trying to correct her when you discover the damage will not accomplish anything.
According to the Humane Society, your dog won't know why you're disciplining her. She won’t connect your anger with something she did even a short time before.
- Don’t assume your dog knows what she did wrong because she looks “guilty.” We all know that look, head hung down in what we think is shame.
The truth is, your dog isn’t displaying guilt. She’s reacting to your body language, tone, and facial expressions. What you’re likely seeing is anxiety, fear, or submissive gestures.
Punishment only makes a dog’s anxiety or fear worse and does nothing to solve the problem.
For more on punishment and fear and how they can lead to aggression, see How to Deal with Aggressive Dog Behavior.
- Don’t muzzle your dog to prevent chewing. Muzzling for this purpose is cruel and doesn’t teach her anything.
All About Chew Toys
By now, we probably all agree that dogs need something to chew on. But there are so many choices available. How do we know which ones are the best to stop your dog from chewing?
The following are some of the many options available to stop a dog from chewing stuff they shouldn’t.
There are some great benefits to rawhide chews, but there are also drawbacks. Some dogs find it hard to digest. It can be a choking or obstruction hazard as your dog breaks small pieces off.
For safety’s sake, be sure to get chews that are the appropriate size for your dog.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: A bully stick is a dried bull penis (also called a pizzle).
They are a one-ingredient, natural treat that most dogs seem to love.
As unappetizing as that sounds to us, they are a longer-lasting, safer alternative to rawhide. The American Kennel Club (AKC) even appears to endorse them (through sponsored content on their website).
They are high in calories, though, so they’re not appropriate for all dogs.
Dental chews and toys.
There are many dental chews on the market that claim to reduce plaque and tartar buildup. The Veterinary Oral Health Council publishes a list of tested and approved dental health products for dogs on their web site.
Dental toys are another option. These are marketed as a way for your dog to self-brush. The VOHC does not evaluate these.
Antlers and hooves.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend giving antlers or hooves to dogs. They can splinter and cause obstructions and puncture wounds. They can also fracture teeth.
Nearly everyone agrees that cooked bones are dangerous because of splintering and the potential for puncture wounds.
As for raw bones, the AKC points out that some experts recommend them, and some don't. But they do warn that raw bones can carry bacteria if not eaten right away. They also point out that any bone can cause stomach upset in dogs.
Bone treats are bones that are processed and packaged as treats. They can be baked or smoked. They may have additives such as flavoring or preservatives.
The FDA warns against these bone treats. They warn that bone treats can produce illness, injury, and even death.
Nylon or rubber toys.
These toys can be good choices, but again, small pieces can break off and cause gastrointestinal obstructions.
Rubber toys (like Kongs) are more durable, but large dogs and aggressive chewers can destroy them. Just be sure to get the right size for your dog.
Most dogs love a good tug of war, and they learn that the texture of rope makes it a great chew toy.
Your dog needs to be supervised with these, as well, because rope will fray. As it does, be sure to remove the loose strings to prevent choking.
Himalayan cheese chews are a newer, eco-friendly option that’s quickly gaining in popularity. They’re long-lasting, hard cheese chews that are made in the Himalayas.
They are so hard that your dog will have a hard time breaking a piece off.
As the chew gets smaller (which can take days!), pop it in the microwave. It will puff up into a soft cheese snack that your dog can finish off without risk of choking or obstruction.
One note of caution: Because cheese chews are very hard, they aren’t suitable for puppies who still have baby teeth.
What about Stuffed Animals and Squeaky Toys?
Many dogs love stuffed animals. Some like to shred or shake them “to death.” Others have a favorite stuffie that they carry around like a comfort toy.
Some dogs love anything that squeaks. But like most other chew toys, these can be dangerous and should be supervised.
If your dog is one that tears a squeaky toy apart to get to the squeaker inside, that squeaker becomes a choking hazard.
If he’s a stuffie shredder, again, he could tear off pieces large enough to choke on.
Your best bet is to buy the most durable “stuffies” and squeaky toys you can find and supervise until you are certain how your dog is going to play with these items.
What to Watch for with Chew Toys
If your dog swallows something when chewing on a toy, don’t ignore it. According to Dr. Becker, many items will “pass” through without harm. (And yes, he advises, you do have to check her stools to be sure.)
In the meantime, you need to be on the lookout for signs your dog is in distress. If she stops eating or begins to vomit, call your vet right away.
Your vet will probably get an x-ray. If they don’t see anything but suspect an obstruction, they may suggest exploratory surgery. This may be necessary because dogs sometimes swallow things—such as socks—that won’t show up on an x-ray.
Chewing is a natural, healthy activity for dogs. If your dog’s chewing is problematic, the question shouldn’t be “How do I stop my dog from chewing?” but rather, “How do I train my dog to chew only appropriate items?”
You’ll need a little patience, good supervision, and proper training techniques to stop dog chewing.
Be sure to give her lots of chewies that she loves, and your dog will learn that she can enjoy chewing to her heart’s content—as long as she follows the rules.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
- American Kennel Club (AKC). Why bully sticks are great dog treats. May 7, 2016.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Destructive chewing.
- Becker, Marty, DVM. VetStreet. Our dog chews on everything. How can we make him stop? April 9, 2012.
- Humane Society of the United States. Chewing: How to stop your dog's gnawing problem.
- Teller, Lori. Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. How to “chews” the best chews. July 25, 2019.
- US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). No bones (or bone treats) about it: Reasons not to give your dog bones. November 21, 2017.
- Veterinary Oral Health Council. Accepted products for dogs.