Why Dogs Chew
Why dogs chew… and what you can do about it
By Beth MacLeod, CPDT-KA, Baypath Behavior & Training Coordinator
Chewing is a perfectly normal behavior for dogs of all ages. However, sometimes it can be annoying, expensive or even dangerous. That said, there are lots of ways to work on that behavior. We asked our trainer Beth MacLeod to weigh in on all things chewing!
We know puppies chew a lot… but why?
Puppies chew for a variety of reasons:
- Exploration – Puppies chew things because they are exploring the new world around them. One of the ways dogs do that is with their mouths.
- Teething – Puppies go through various teething stages including early and temporary teeth. During this time puppies may chew to relieve some discomfort.
- Tip: Give puppies a ‘chew’ of sorts that they can get in behind their back teeth where the molars are coming in – for instance, take an old gym sock, get it wet, tie it in a knot and throw it in the freezer.
- They’re bored – Like all sentient beings, they need stimulation.
What about when older dogs chew?
We are usually talking about adolescent dogs here and the answer is simple – they’re bored!
Now, I am not referring to the condition known as Pica, a health condition characterized by the compulsive ingestion of non-food items. For more information on this condition see here. Nor am I talking about dogs who arbitrarily chew sticks or acorns. I’m talking about dogs who run around chewing shoes, furniture and other unnatural/inappropriate items. They love the tactile sensation/experience of all sorts of materials, including plastic, wood, paper and more.
This behavior can be annoying certainly, but it can also be costly if an expensive item is ruined or dangerous if the dog ingests something inappropriate requiring emergency measures.
How can you address it?
No matter the dog’s age, ask yourself the following:
Am I giving my dog adequate physical exercise?
- I recommend at least a half an hour to 45 minutes a day of aerobic exercise. This can be play time or an enrichment walk. And when I say enrichment walk I mean let them sniff – stop and smell the roses! Allow the dog to be a dog on the walk.
- Please note – your dog may require more or less depending on age of dog and the breed.
Am I giving my dog adequate training time?
- Training is great way to stimulate your dog, fortify the bond, and modify and/or manage – preventing the dog from performing behaviors we don’t want to see them practice. See here for my rundown of the ‘Five to Survive’ – these are 5 fun-to-train behaviors you can teach your dog that will allow you to manage a variety of situations.
Am I giving my dog adequate mental stimulation?
- Mental stimulation, otherwise known as ‘enrichment’, are activities that are essential to dogs’ physical and mental well-being — plus they can be fun for your pet and Check out our two great articles on enrichment tips and enrichment toys & resources.
If these needs – or some combination thereof – aren’t being met, your dog may very well resort to chewing inappropriate objects.
What if those needs can’t always be met?
Now, I understand you may not be able to meet all those needs every day – people get busy, weather gets in the way, etc. In those cases, you then need to manage the environment.
- Don’t leave things in their reach
- Use baby gates to protect areas, shut doors, etc.
- Have the pet in a safe place with limited things they can access.
- And the things they can access must be appropriate for them, like Nylabones, Kongs, etc.
Chewing dogs are looking for more stimulation. And there are so many great ways to address that need, thereby cutting down on the undesirable behavior while also strengthening the bond between you and your pet.
Click here for a printable/downloadable version.