Good Dog Behavior: Destructive Chewing – Causes and Cures

A frustrated dog owner writes in complaining, “I’m at my wits end. My dog is driving me nuts with his destructive chewing. 

I’ve got an out of control dog and I’ve about had it.  He seems to like paper products. While we are away, he’ll chew up magazines, paper towels, greeting cards and has even gotten my address book. Yikes!! That’s really getting personal. He chews nothing else – only paper goods. 

Why does he do this and how can I stop it? If I could fix this I would have the perfect dog.”

My Dog Is Out Of Control
Almost every owner recognizes that dogs and puppies need to chew – it’s what they do. Some dogs are more oral than others. When they begin to explore and chew on other things beyond their normal range of chew toys – you’re stuff – it does get a bit personal – just like the lady above who wrote in with her complaint. 

Let’s take a look at why your dog may be chewing. For most puppies and dogs, chewing appears to be enjoyable so we can’t rule out the “fun angle just yet.” 

The best approach is a “common sense” approach. Ask yourself, “What would I prefer my dog to chew?”  

What I mean is:  prevent inappropriate chewing by directing your dog to acceptable chew toys. 

Preventing chewing also requires taking a look at what you may be doing that might be promoting a more oral puppy that’s prone to more chewing. Here’s a short list of things to think about: 

  • Tug-of-war: When your dog grabs the opposite end of a tug toy, you are helping your dog sharpen his skills of bite, rip and tear. Now don’t get me wrong. The tug-of-war game can be a great game to play with your dog once he’s out of the chewing stage – as long as you have rules to the game. 
  • Giving your dog personal belongings as chew toys: If you are guilty, pick up all sacrificial socks, shoes, T-shirts, etc. and replace them with appropriate dog chew toys. 
  • Punishment for chewing: Do not punish your dog for chewing your personal stuff. If you didn’t catch him in the act – it’s way too late. Keep your cool. Even if you do catch him in the act, punishment may only teach your dog it’s safer to chew when you are gone – and not in your presence. 

What else could be causing your dog to chew?  If you have an excitable dog, nervous dog or one that is very inhibited, then little daily stressors can create tension which could develop into chewing problems.

See if any of the following may be the cause of your dog’s chewing problems: 

  • Excitable departures and arrivals: These excitable times may contrast too sharply with you dog’s alone time when you are gone. It’s better to level out your dog’s emotional highs by ignoring your dog for 5 minutes before departing and after arriving home. 
  • Social isolation: Being isolated from the pack causes stress and can lead to chewing to relieve the stress.
  • Barrier frustration: Being gated or crated too long or just not being properly conditioned to be left alone.
  • Feeding delays: Perhaps you arrive home late because you had a deadline at work. Your dog can anticipate when you usually arrive home. A late arrival is the first stressor. A late mealtime is the second stressor and perhaps his walk is delayed as well.  This could stress your dog. Chewing relieves this stress in your dog.
  • Boredom: It’s not uncommon to notice an increase in destructive chewing to relieve boredom.

 Most folks like yourself do have a “life beyond dogs” – work commitments, social engagements – all taking time away from your dog and his expected routines. The more you engage your dog in daily rituals of dog obedience training – come, sit and down along with regular walks to allow him to take in novel sights, sounds and experiences to process during your absence, the more likely he will be able to tolerate your absence. Do not set or maintain an expectation of constant doting when you are home. Do begin a regimen of earned praise with a sit and down followed by brief affection. 

Here’s a note a lady sent to us on our Facebook page about this exact thing: 

Sandra Fleming Studios:  “Following you on Twitter and FB, I have changed my high-strung dog’s life for the better. Two walks a day help a lot. But a huge eye-opener was having her do the sits and downs. She would whine to go out when she had just been out. She was bored! Now she is relaxed and I can easily brush her teeth. We are both happier.” 

Your dog should know that everything he wants; food, toys and your love and affection is always earned. Rules, boundaries and expectations relieve stress and can, with all the other things mentioned above prevent or minimize chewing issues.

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Jim Burwell is a “thanks for making the impossible, possible” professional dog trainer having trained 20,000+ dogs and counting and serving more than 7,000 clients.  Jim’s easy to follow, common sense, and positive methods have made him the “dog trainer of choice” for 30 years.  One of his clients says it best: There are people who are so good at, and passionate about, what they do, that in their presence, one can’t help thinking that they have found their true calling and are doing exactly what they should be doing on this earth. Jim is one of these rare people. His quiet and understated manner, his effective technique for training dogs (and their families) is something which I feel fortunate to have witnessed and in which to have been an active participant.  Jane Wagner  

(c)Jim Burwell Inc.