Why Do Dogs Like To Chew?
Some chew sticks, some chew rocks, and some hide their pals’ favorite chew-toys under the couch (Sweep, we’re looking at you). Dogs love chewing – and if you’re replacing the TV remote yet again this month, just know you’re not alone. But why do dogs love to chew? Is there a purpose to this destructive, slobbery activity? And if your dog’s chewing is out of control, what can you do about it? Come chew it over with us.
Here’s Why Dogs Love To Chew...
Chewing is second-nature to dogs. So next time you find your slipper tucked beneath their bed, remember it’s an instinct – not misbehavior. There’s no need to reprimand them, although you might want to swap-in a more suitable chew buddy (more on that later!).
Dogs chew for a few key reasons.
1: Young puppies chew because they are teething. Just like babies, puppies have early teeth which drop out – the root is absorbed back into the body, and adult teeth emerge. Chewing puts pressure onto the gums in tender places and can relieve pain. Of course, some pups love to taste everything as part of their day-to-day learning, so that’s fun too!
2: Older dogs chew to maintain dental health. In the wild, wolves chew bones to keep their enamel strong. They’re now domesticated, but dogs maintain several habits from their ancestors – and chewing is one of them. It seems annoying, but chewing has a natural function. When dogs (like humans) chew, they create saliva, which has a natural effect on plaque. It breaks it down and prevents the plaque from hardening into tartar. If this tartar forms on the teeth or gums, it can cause serious issues – see the end of the article for more about this.
3: Anxiety or stress. When dogs feel anxious they can become restless or destructive. If you’ve just returned to the office (as many of us have, post-pandemic), your dog could be suffering from separation anxiety. This causes destructive behavior because chewing relieves a tense, nervous body. Likewise stress: changes in the home or routine can cause canine stress levels to rise and that makes them more active and “busy”. Chewing for these reasons can be difficult to tackle – but you could try some of our ideas below.
4: Boredom. If your dog learns that you’ll chase them to retrieve your best shoe (and even better, it delays you from leaving the house) then a smart dog will continue to initiate that game! Stealing and chewing your things is one way that dogs learn to get extra attention. If you’re out, they might wonder if chewing stuff will get you to return.
How To Stop Your Dog From Chewing Your Stuff...
Tired of coming home to a heap of shredded mail? Here are a few ways to improve the situation.
1: Offer safe alternatives. If your pup’s a committed chewer, make sure they have plenty of appealing chew toys. Include the toys in your training sessions (rewarding your pup when they choose the toy) and play with them – show your pup that grabbing, chewing and wrestling with THOSE toys is fun.
For dogs who think with their stomachs, you could choose a Kong or similar food puzzle toy. Stuff it with treats and your dog will chomp on the toy to squeeze them out.
For dogs who are obsessed with sticks, you can buy rubber “sticks” which are safer options – they won’t splinter and injure your dog’s throat.
For dogs who love to see the results of a chew session, consider an antler chew or yak milk chews that can be slowly destroyed.
For dogs who just love to chase and play, you could try a ball toy – some can be filled with treats or peanut butter for independent play.
2: Don’t reprimand. This one’s difficult.... when your dog has chewed your favorite shoe, it’s natural to scold and send them to their bed. But doing this can actually increase stress levels (theirs and yours) and cause dogs to become more defensive. Experts now say that positive training techniques can halve the time it takes to train a dog. So stay calm – don’t give positive attention either – distract or ignore your dog and then tidy up the mess.
If your dog frequently steals high-value items, take measures to store them away. Keep valuables safely out of your dog’s way and shoes shut in a cupboard or box; if you have a letterbox, you can add a cage to catch the mail.
3: Teach the “Leave It” command. This is a positive training technique that can be practiced. By offering a treat as a swap for the thing in your dog’s mouth, you’re providing an interesting alternative. It’s good for dogs who love tug-o-war ... and those who are a bit stubborn. Eventually your dog will learn to drop items on command, and this enables you to teach them what’s off-limits.
4: Increase your dog’s exercise. This one piece of advice appears in every second article on our blog! If your dog is overactive, chewy, or difficult to train, extra exercise will help to tire them out (so they’re less adventurous at home). Is there any chance that your dog is under-exercised? An interesting walk (maybe to a new place) provides mental as well as physical stimulation; if you are out for long periods, you could hire a dog-walker, or ask a friend to stop by and visit your dog. If you’re home, add a couple of short training sessions to your coffee break – they don’t have to be long, just fun! If you think your dog needs a new challenge, check out some of the canine sports sessions listed on the AKC website.
5: Try an anxiety support supplement. If your dog’s chewing because of stress or anxiety, you need a completely different set of techniques. First, visit your vet to check that there isn’t an underlying health condition (like dental problems or other pain). Your veterinarian might prescribe medication for your dog. But there are also lots of natural remedies that you can try (if you have enough time and couches). For example, plug in a diffuser with a couple of drops of Lavender oil, brew up a chamomile infusion, or give your dog our much-loved Harmony supplement. We’ve formulated it to tackle stress, regulate cortisol and promote peace of mind, and it’s already helped many dogs all over the country.
Wait... Why Has My Dog STOPPED Chewing?
Has your chew-crazy hound stopped leaving shredded sticks in the yard? Or shows no interest in his favorite rubber chicken toy? Maybe your training worked. But if your dog’s stopped chewing suddenly, you’re right to be suspicious. This is an early indicator of dental problems in dogs.
Dental issues are also extremely common. Did you know that 80% of adult dogs suffer from dental problems? But only 50% of owners are aware of them.
Canine dental health has become a major issue.
Now, more than ever before, dogs can get access to enamel-destroying treats like cookies, ice-cream cones and even fruit. Everyone likes giving the end of their ice-cream to the dog on holiday, right?
Don’t be too quick to blame yourself. Teeth are built to withstand small amounts of sugary or acidic food – in fact, full-blown decay only causes 10% of doggy dental visits. 90% of cases are diagnosed with periodontal disease (an infection around the tooth) or a fractured tooth, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. In the early to middle stages, it’s very treatable.
Chewing is your dog’s natural tooth-brushing method. Plaque is mostly removed by your dog’s chewing and saliva, but if a lot remains then it can cause gingivitis – the first stage of periodontal disease. This can be very serious, requiring surgery to remove affected teeth.
If your dog is chewing to soothe periodontal disease, you might be able to see the “root” of the problem. There are some early signs to look for:
- Red, swollen gums
- Bad breath
- Reluctance to let you examine the mouth
- Blood on toys or sticks
- Receding gumline (showing more tooth)
- Eventually, loose teeth.
If your dog’s gingivitis is early and hasn’t caused any tooth decay, your vet might suggest a full dental clean under anesthetic. To prevent periodontal disease, we (and many vet experts) recommend brushing your dog’s teeth.
- Starting when they’re a puppy (if possible), get your dog accustomed to having their teeth gently rubbed. Just do this for one minute daily – those baby teeth don’t really need much cleaning. But you’re letting your dog get used to the idea of having their mouth examined and brushed.
- When they get their first adult dog teeth, introduce a tasty doggy toothpaste. You can add a little bit to their food so they feel good about the taste.
- Choose a toothbrush that suits your dog’s needs, and continue brushing for just a minute or two every day. Focus on the teeth and gum-line.
- Reluctant brusher? You can add dental chews and in-bowl mouthwashes to the daily routine. Many dogs love dental chews and they can be used as post-walk treats!