Dogs interact with the world with their mouths. They don’t have hands and opposable thumbs. Using their mouths is how they eat, play, explore, pick things up, etc. Not only is chewing natural for dogs, but it has health benefits as well (so long as they’re chewing the right things). Then how do we make sure they don’t chew what they shouldn’t?
- Management: Your dog can’t chew on what it can’t reach. Keep shoes, kids toys, remotes, and other curious and chewable items out of your dog’s reach. If you need to cook dinner, make a phone call, or get involved in some other task that takes your attention away from your dog, have a dog-proof area. This can be a penned-off area or even the dog’s crate. It’s not a punishment, so make sure your dog has plenty of positive things to keep them occupied. (One of the many benefits of crate training is to prevent destructive behaviors like chewing.)
- Redirect: If all we did was prevent and correct, we wouldn’t give our dogs a clear message. We want to teach them what they ARE allowed to chew on, not just the don’ts. If you catch your dog chewing on something they shouldn’t, interrupt them with a neutral (non-praise, but also non-punishment) noise that gets their attention. A mild “eh eh” or “no” or a light clap of your hands are a couple ideas. Offer them an appropriate toy or chew instead as a means of redirecting the chewing behavior. While your dog is in the process of learning these dos and don’ts, offer lots of praise any time your dog picks up something they are allowed to chew.
- Exercise: There is an adage that “a tired dog is a good dog”. Sometimes a dog chews for no other reason than they are bored (as one might chew on the cap of a pen in a dull meeting). It’s important to make sure your dog has not only plenty of physical stimulation, but mental stimulation as well. Mental stimulation can include training games, puzzle toys, even a kong stuffed with tasties. A dog can run around the yard for an hour and still have stores of energy (or at least enough for chewing!), but put that same dog in front of a puzzle toy that takes them fifteen minutes and suddenly you have one pooped pup!