Destructive Chewing – Gnawing on Shoes, Furniture and More

Picture of a dog laying on a leather sofa

If you’ve ever come home from work to find Fido contently gnawing away on your favorite slippers, you know the struggle is real. Undoubtedly, you’ve tried everything you can think of to keep Fido from chewing things that he shouldn’t and without success. There seems to be no end to his destruction. You now are the proud owner of a t-shirt that bears striking resemblance to a colander, a wallet that is missing a back, and a belt that has only a buckle to show for it.  Before you know it, you won’t have anything left to wear!

Is there hope for a destructive chewer?

Why are some Dogs Destructive Chewers?

Because dogs explore their worlds with their mouths, it is a common behavior for dogs to chew. This natural activity is first seen in puppies, particularly when they are teething. Chewing certain materials can provide needed relief from the soreness that results from inflamed gums and loose teeth during the teething stage.

Older dogs sometimes retain this chewing habit as well.  Chewing itself is an activity that provides a natural stress relief for our dogs. The action is very soothing and helps to calm dogs that might otherwise feel anxious. But more than this, it is very healthy for our dogs’ jaws, and depending on what our dogs choose to exercise their chompers on, can be an excellent means for cleaning their teeth.

But while chewing can be a healthy form of release for our dogs, some dogs do tend to take things too far. When their chewing goes from a focus on appropriate items like a bone or a chew toy to your furniture, handbags, shoes, and more, you need help!  This type of thing is a nuisance behavior and one that most pet owners are not prepared to put up with.

Here is a list of reasons why some dogs become destructive chewers:

Let’s face it; we get into trouble too when we are bored.  Some dogs chew because, from their perspective, there isn’t anything else to do!

Since most dog owners need to work to pay for all of the things that make Fido’s house such a great place for him to live, their dogs often have to spend many hours a day cooped up at home. If you come home from work too tired to take Fido for a walk or to burn off some of his excess energy through a rousing game of fetch, Fido will take matters into his own paws. We generally don’t like it when this happens because Fido’s idea of a good way to expend his energy reserves can result in general mayhem for some of our prized possessions!

Separation anxiety
Some dogs suffer from serious separation anxiety. Dogs plagued by this condition are very anxious and experience great stress when their owners are away from them. Since dogs are not conditioned to know how to cope well with stressors that are painful for them, they often resort to destruction. For some dogs, this destruction is not limited to things in your home. Some dogs will scratch at a door obsessively until their paws are bloodied. Others will lick their feet until the hair and skin is worn off while others still will chew their tails. It is a distressing thing for a dog owner to have to deal with, and if it is upsetting to you, you can only begin to imagine how difficult it is for your dog.

Strangely enough; if your dog is hungry, he may destroy things in his attempts to get to what he thinks might be food. This is not as common a motivator as some of the other listed options but is still a possibility to consider.

Compulsive behavior
Some dogs are just wired a little…ahem…differently, and because of this, they are prone to compulsive behavior. Dogs like this typically suffer from chemical imbalances and may require a medication to assist with lowering anxious responses sufficiently for you to be able to begin behavior modification training to counteract the impulse to destroy things.

What can be done if your Dog is Destructive?

If your dog has an appetite for destruction, you know how distressing it can be for both of you.  Once you have been able to pinpoint the motivation behind the action, you can then put a strategy in place to help your dog overcome his desire to “redecorate” your house and closet to suit his own personal tastes.

Among some of the best options are:

Providing a large variety of toys and bones
Dogs are highly intelligent beings who are capable of learning which things are appropriate chew toys and which must be left alone. To best assist Fido with this, it is important to provide a large variety of toys that will stimulate Fido’s mind as well as his jaws. Dogs who are properly mentally engaged are far less likely to engage in destructive chewing behaviors.

It is not necessary to spend a great deal of money to build your repertoire of toys. Simply head to the pet store with Fido in tow and let him help you choose a variety of different toys that you can purchase then rotate out on a daily basis to keep his interest at an all time high. Be certain to choose toys that vary in shape, texture, and function for the utmost in exercising your dog’s creative mind.

You can also purchase puzzle games or items such as Kongs that can be stuffed with tasty things like Cheese Whiz, liverwurst, or peanut butter. Raw bones, bully sticks, and chews are also other great things to keep your dog’s jaws productively entertained, and your furniture and clothes safe from attack.

Removing items of great sentimental value or high cost
Sometimes avoidance is a valuable strategy.  If you have items in your home that it would upset you to lose, it is best to move them to a place that is inaccessible to Fido. Over time and with consistent training, it may be possible for those things to regain pride of place in their original spots, but for the time being, restricting to them to a location that ensures their safety will greatly reduce your stress level and keep Fido out of trouble.

Crating your dog if you are unable to supervise him
As much as we would love to spend all day, every day with Fido, we do have things that we must do. This means that we are not always able to supervise our dogs as well as we would like. If Fido tends to get himself into trouble if you are not actively able to be with him, then it is best to make use of a crate or some form of containment to thwart his penchant for destruction.

Crates don’t have to be something your dog hates. Make use of a program like Susan Garrett’s Crate Training Games to teach your dog that his crate can be lots of fun.

Also, always make certain that your dog has something to do while in his crate.  Including a toy that is not prone to easy destruction, a Kong stuffed with a favorite frozen treat, or even a sturdy, raw, meaty bone are all sufficient options to keep Fido’s mind and mouth busy while you complete your household tasks.

Ensuring your dog receives adequate daily physical exercise
All dogs have daily exercise requirements, and if they are not met, they will lead to nuisance behaviors. Obviously, the best option is for you to lace up your running shoes and hit the open road with Fido, but sometimes that is simply not practical. If not, there are other options to ensure that your dog gets his exercise needs met.

Consider a reputable day care where your dog can enjoy the benefit of socialization with other appropriate dogs while burning off some energy.  If there is not a day care in your area, you might hire a dog walker to come and take Fido for a daily walk to help provide a needed release for him.

Seeking veterinary assistance
Some dogs do need veterinary assistance to curb their tendency towards destruction.  These dogs are functioning at such a high level of anxiousness that they are rendered incapable of regulating their own behavior. They ARE suffering and may require medication to help reduce their stresses and compulsive behavior.

It is important to note that medication is rarely the answer on its own. Medication is generally prescribed to give the dog sufficient focus to concentrate on behavior modification training. This training can assist in teaching the dog to respond more calmly in the face of different upsetting stimuli.  Two important techniques to consider are desensitization and counterconditioning. Both have their place in assisting dogs suffering with compulsive destructive behavior and are extremely effective tools.

Dogs suffering to this extreme would also benefit from sessions with an experienced professional dog trainer with expertise in canine behaviors.

Fido got an appetite for destruction? Don’t despair. Many dogs do!  By following these simple tips, you can help Fido learn productive ways to exercise this very natural dog behavior and save your precious furniture all at the same time.  A win win for you and for Fido!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Table of Contents