A common question I get asked in training is, "Why is my dog chewing?!" While chewing is a natural dog behavior – remember, they don’t have hands! – it is important to understand the reasoning behind it. Below are the 5 most common reasons dogs chew and how best to handle them.
1. Puppies - Young puppies will explore their world with their mouths. Sometimes, this can include your chair legs, sneakers left on the floor, or even your arms and hands. Even though it is natural for them to explore this way, don't be afraid to let them know it's against the rules. Give them lots of appropriate toys to chew on. Some examples are a Kong, an old rag or towel dipped in chicken broth and frozen, or a toy specifically made for puppies like Nylabone chews. Since chewing is natural, promote it in an acceptable way.
2. Boredom - Dogs of all ages will chew when they are bored or mildly lonely. It's a natural behavior to occupy their mind, just like humans like to fidget with their hands or bounce their leg. Leave lots of appropriate chew items around for these moments.
3. Oral Hygiene - Chewing is a healthy and natural way for dogs to keep their teeth strong and clean. Appropriate chews can help remove loose plaque and keep your dog’s jaws in top shape. There are specific oral chews that you can buy that act like a toothbrush for you dogs to help keep those chompers white!
4. Mild Anxiety - A dog who is feeling slightly anxious will turn to chewing as an outlet for their emotional needs. During times when you feel your dog might be feeling more anxious, such as when the human leaves the house or a scary thunderstorm, don't be afraid to give them appropriate outlets for their chewing. You can help entice them to chew by adding peanut butter or something good and smelly to the chew toy.
5. Attention - Dogs and puppies can learn very quickly what the rules are in the house. Sometimes, however, dogs can get too smart and learn that a naughty behavior gets their human's attention, even if it’s negative attention. When Fido grabs one of your sneakers, boldly lays in front of you to give it a light taste, and then looks up at you waiting for you to give chase, this behavior is most likely a case of your fur friend trying to grab your attention through games. Try not to make these games fun and leave lots of appropriate chews spread around the area for your dog to bring you, instead of your favorite pair of shoes!
Remember that each dog and puppy is a unique individual and may have special needs. If you feel that your dog is acting out of the ordinary, don't be afraid to seek the advice of a Veterinarian. Chewing is an important part of a dog’s life, so try to understand the behavior behind it, and let them know what is ok to chew and what isn't. Your dog with thank you for it – and so will your shoes!