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Welcoming a new puppy or dog into the home is always an exciting time for a pet parent. A puppy brings a lot of joy to each new family. However, many pet parents find themselves trying to figure out how to stop their dog from eating things in the house. This can be very frustrating, and many dogs are surrendered to animal shelters for their destructive behavior.
Dogs don’t chew on things for no reason. Understanding why they’re being destructive is the first step to get them to stop chewing what they aren’t supposed to. Here’s a list of some reasons why dogs destroy things:
Puppy Teething: Getting new teeth is uncomfortable and painful for a puppy, just like when human babies get their teeth, and it’s a normal instinct for them to chew on things to help ease the discomfort. This is the most common reason for a puppy to start chewing.
Chewing behavior: Dogs chew normally and instinctively. It helps them maintain a strong, healthy jaw and it helps keep their teeth clean.
Hunger: A hungry dog will eat things that aren’t food in an attempt to relieve their hunger.
Anxiety: Dogs are pack animals and don’t like to be alone for long periods of time. Dogs bond with their pet parent. Even if they live in a multi-dog household, they can get separation anxiety when their pet parent leaves them for too long.
Stress: Many things can trigger stress in a dog - children, other animals, confinement, isolation, new environments, bad weather - and stress can cause a dog to act out by chewing and being generally destructive.
Lack of stimulation: A bored dog is a destructive dog. Dogs need a stimulating environment to keep them mentally and physically active.
Attention: When a dog wants attention, they can be destructive to get it. They will chew and do things they know are wrong because, to a dog, even negative attention is still attention.
Fabric sucking: This behavior seems to stem from being weaned too early as a puppy. It can be a difficult behavior to stop, because it’s compulsive. Pet parents may need to seek out a canine behavior specialist to help stop this behavior.
For some dogs, stopping destructive chewing can be easy. Others can take more time and patience. One of the first things a pet parent can do is to puppy-proof or dog-proof their home. Keep the house clean, so that they don’t chew things on the ground, and keep doors closed to bedrooms and bathrooms. It’s a natural behavior for puppies and dogs to explore their home, and, because they don’t have hands, they tend to use their mouths to do their exploring. You can also give them:
Training: Training is an incredibly important step for preventing destructive dog behaviors. It is a natural instinct for dogs to make a “den”, so crate training can provide a puppy or adult dog with a place that makes them feel safe and secure. The crate should never be used for punishment, and they shouldn’t be left in it for frequent long periods of time.
Pet parent time: Dogs love spending time with their families and don’t like being left alone. They need the stimulation that comes from being in a group. Being left alone causes dogs stress and anxiety. A pet parent should limit how often they leave their dog alone, or hire a pet-sitter to keep their dog happy if they’re going away for a long period of time.
Chew toys: Dogs need things to chew on. A pet parent can’t stop their dog from chewing, but they can help control what they chew on. Use toys to keep them busy and stimulated. The more toys you can offer them, the more access to variety they’ll have, and the busier they’ll stay. For a nice surprise, use toys that have compartments for treats. There are many good dog subscription boxes that ship new toys monthly and save the time and hassle of going to the store.
Positive reinforcement training: Dogs love to be praised, just like humans. Praising them and giving them pets or treats for chewing on their chew toys will motivate them to leave household items alone.
A consistent feeding schedule: Create and stick to a feeding schedule to avoid hunger chewing, or purchase an automatic feeder to make it easy. Dogs on a calorie-restrictive diet tend to seek out additional food sources, so chew toys that smell like food will help occupy them until their next feeding.
Exercise: Most dogs have a lot of energy, especially puppies and young adults, and need to use up their energy in some way. Providing an area for them to run is an easy way to give them some exercise, but they can get bored when they’re limited to the same space. Taking them for walks or other places where they can run freely is more stimulating, both physically and mentally. Most dogs prefer exercise time with their pet parent over running alone, and training can be incorporated into their play and exercise.
Medication: Sometimes a dog's destructive behavior stems from a medical problem. Some dogs may need medication to help with psychological conditions, such as fabric sucking. A veterinarian can help identify any underlying health concern and recommend solutions as needed, like dog anti-anxiety medications. There are also several over-the-counter herbal remedies available, but make sure to research the ingredients.
Every breed has different needs, so pet parents-to-be should research the needs of the breed they’re hoping to bring home. Some dog breeds require lots of space, exercise, and attention. Veterinarians and professional animal trainers can offer advice about what type of dog is best suited for the specific layout and space of a home. Finally, by providing an enriching and positive environment from the beginning, pet parents will be able to prevent many destructive behaviors before they start.