Help! My puppy is chewing on EVERYTHING!
“Don’t chew on that!” “What do you have?!” “Mom, the dog destroyed my new backpack!”
Brand new puppy owners know the frustrations of living with a canine land shark. Things get destroyed, hands and feet are scratched and we often wonder if the pup ingested something that could become a medical issue.
We all dream of a dog that only chews on appropriate toys and never the furniture, but that doesn’t happen naturally. Chewing is not “just a phase” your pup will eventually grow out of.
So we want to set our puppies up for success by teaching them how to exist in our human world and abide by a few easy human rules.
Why Do Puppies Chew?
Puppy chewing happens for many reasons! Understanding those reasons might help you have a little more patience with those chewing shenanigans.
Puppies explore the world with their noses and mouths.
Smell is a puppy’s strongest sense, so they naturally use their noses to gain a lot of information about their environment.
And what’s right next to that nose? … The mouth! It’s a natural 1-2 punch: the puppy smells something interesting and then he picks it up in his mouth to explore it more fully.
A puppy chewing on something is much like you picking up a lovely glass vase at the store and examining it from all sides. You are curious and so is your puppy! You and your puppy simply use different body parts to act on that curiosity.
Chewing eases the pain and soreness when a puppy is teething.
When it comes to teething, puppies accomplish more in 5 months than our children accomplish in 20 years!
Puppies have 28 baby teeth (also known as deciduous, primary, or milk teeth) that grow in over a 6-week period. At around 12 weeks, the deciduous teeth begin to fall out and are replaced by 42 permanent teeth (also known as secondary teeth) over the next 5 months.
That’s a lot of teeth, coming and going, in a short period of time! And it can be pretty painful and create sore gums. And one of the only ways they can relieve the soreness is by chewing.
Chewing is a self-soothing behavior.
Dogs often chew to relieve stress or tension. It can be calming for them and most humans like calm dogs! We want our pups to be able to help themselves feel better.
You can help ease separation anxiety or car ride stress and make crate training easier by offering your dog a frozen filled Kong or a Nylabone to help him feel more settled and calm.
Boredom or excess pent-up energy can also cause inappropriate puppy chewing.
Like children, puppies can get bored or develop excess pent-up energy. When this happens, the right kind of walk can be particularly helpful.
That’s why it’s important to understand the difference between a decompression walk, a neighborhood walk and a structured heel walk and observe your dog’s body language to know which type of walk your pup needs.
Think of it like the difference between a leisurely stroll in a quiet forest, a walk down an active pedestrian shopping street or walking with your boss through the office as he’s talking to you about an important project. Each of those walks feels different and accomplishes a different purpose.
This concept is something we talk about a lot in my online course, 30 Days to Puppy Perfection. With the help of our “Become a Puppy Detective” resources and our live Zoom calls with students, we dig deeper into our dog’s behavior and daily activities that might be impacting that behavior – for better or worse.
1 Fun and Easy Solution to Puppy Chewing You Will LOVE
Teach your puppy which things are okay to chew.
Can it really be that simple? Yes, it can!
Dogs do not have complex brains like humans, and they don’t have a lot of complicated motivation for their behaviors. It’s hard for them to simply NOT do something – they don’t see the value in that. It’s far easier to teach our puppies what to do instead – like chewing on an appropriate chew toy. So teaching them the behavior that you DO want is always the best approach.
Here are a few tips for choosing an appropriate chew toy.
Evaluate your puppy’s chew style and preference.
Notice the things your dog is naturally drawn to chew and experiment to find the right dog toy that provides a similar experience. For example, if your puppy prefers chewing items made of fabric, a dog-safe stuffed animal might be best. Other dogs are drawn to more of a rubbery material so a rubber ball or pull toy might be a good choice. Some love the hardness that comes with a toy like antlers.
Knowing how hard your dog chews will also enable you to pick a toy that is safe for your pup.
Make it engaging.
If your dog is more interested in chewing on you than a Nylabone, evaluate what makes you interesting to chew on and try to add that into the chew toy you choose.
For example, you might make noise (“ouch!”) when he’s chewing on you. Because he doesn't speak English, he thinks this is a fun game. So offering your pup a squeaky toy could provide the surprising fun element he craves.
You also move, which dogs love. So you might need to add in some more engaging elements like sounds and movement to the chew toy as well.
Make it smell good.
With 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, our dogs are driven more by smell than anything else. Providing a chew toy that smells good will definitely draw his interest!
One trick I like to share is to put the toy in the dog food bag overnight. Or rub it around with some treats or a tasty human snack.
Novelty is important.
Our dogs like new things just like we do. Rotate the chew toys every few days so he has something new to explore and engage with. This will prevent boredom.
For Maximum Results You’ll Also Want To…
Reinforce the behavior you want to see.
When our dogs are chewing on the appropriate item, we always want to let them know we like that behavior! A few pieces of kibble delivered while Fido is chomping on that doggie toy will send that message nicely.
Manage your puppy’s environment!
This means restricting access to the items that you don't want Fido to chew while you’re teaching him which things are okay to chew.
Why is this so important? If he has easy access to human shoes, table legs or couch cushions, it will be much more difficult to teach him to choose the dog toy instead. So make it easy for your pup to make the right choices by puppy proofing your puppy’s environment and blocking access to things he shouldn’t chew.
After he’s fully managing his impulses and consistently chewing on the things that you want him to chew on, you can slowly introduce those items to your puppy’s environment again.
We want to always set our puppies up for success, not failure. Managing his physical world while he’s working on these new behaviors is part of that.
What NOT To Do
It’s hard to teach our puppies what not to do, but your human brain can handle that complexity so I’ll share a few tips on things you’ll want to avoid when working with your puppy on chewing.
Do not punish.
As I mentioned already, chewing is a natural behavior and is a great way for dogs to help calm themselves down. If you punish your puppy, he’s more likely to do it in secret or engage in other unwanted behaviors to relieve his stress.
Instead, work with your puppy, not against him!
Do not suppress the puppy chewing.
Do not take away everything that he’s chewing on without replacing it with things he CAN chew on. We give pacifiers to our babies as a way to help them satisfy their natural urge to suck. Do the same for your puppy with a chew toy.
Do not use aversive techniques.
Many members of my Facebook group have asked if a bitter spray or smell can help stop a dog’s chewing. Dogs are simple creatures but not that simple. There isn’t just one smell or taste that every dog wants to avoid.
Also, dogs are drawn to new scents and feel compelled to explore them. So you’re actually just creating more enticement instead of deterring him. It’s like putting up a big neon sign that says “chew this thing!”
Even if the bitter spray works for your dog, it will probably only work for a short time before you have to re-apply it.
If you follow the tips I recommend above, you’ll get far better – and long lasting – results.
Do not allow him to chew on a wet washcloth.
I know your best friend’s cousin might have told you this great idea but most vets will agree with me when I tell you not to!
Washcloths are easy for a puppy to tear apart and ingest the pieces which can become lodged in their digestive tract and cause a medical emergency.
Instead, stick to dog-safe toys that are substantially bigger than their mouths to avoid accidental ingestion and choking.
One Final Thought
Your relationship with your puppy will be far better when you and your puppy work in collaboration, not conflict. My training style is all about building a positive relationship with your puppy – not controlling him. I teach my students to understand their puppy’s body language and behaviors to better facilitate a relationship between human and canine.
If you’re thinking, “Gee, this sounds like a lot of work!” you aren't wrong. There is no magic wand that raises and trains your dog for you! However, the more consistent you are with training your puppy, the quicker you will see lasting results! And lasting results mean a harmonious relationship, a peaceful home and the best friend you wanted in a canine companion.