A Step-By-Step Guide: Stop Destructive Chewing When Left Alone
By Alli Wittbold
Dogs and chewing. It may not be entirely possible to have one without the other. But the good news is, your dog’s chewing doesn’t have to be destructive! I still mourn the loss of my expensive slippers to our lab’s puppy chewing and my prescription sunglasses that were destroyed by our 4-year-old husky.
But you know what I learned? In both of those cases, it really wasn’t the fault of my dogs. We weren’t giving our dogs what they needed, and they made that clear.
Today let’s take a step-by-step look at how to stop your dog’s destructive chewing when left alone. Let’s tackle the age old dilemma of destructive chewing that many dog owner’s face by:
Understanding WHY your dog is chewing when left alone
Meeting your dog’s mental and physical stimulation needs
Setting your dog up for success while you are away
Investing in items that are safe for your dog to chew
Working with your dog on their destructive chewing when you are home
With this guide to stopping destructive chewing, you can set your dog up for success and curb their unwanted behavior. Most importantly, you’ll have peace of mind when you need to leave your pup unattended at home for a few hours that your home will be intact when you return.
A step-by-step guide to stop destructive chewing when left alone
1. Understand WHY your dog is chewing when left alone
While chewing is a natural instinct and activity for your dog to exercise their jaw and stimulate their mind, destructive chewing is usually indicative of a larger problem at play. Understanding the “why” of your problem will make it a lot easier to fix.
If you are reading this article, and your dog is between 0-6 months of age, their chewing (in part) could be fueled by teething and exploration. Just like human babies explore the world with their mouths and look for teething relief via chewing, so do canines!
The good news is that you don’t have any bad habits to break. Now is the perfect time to set your puppy up for success by teaching them what’s okay to chew. They should be given lots of opportunity to chew, and you can take control of what that will be. What do you need? My other article, How to Survive the Puppy Chewing Phase.
If you have an older puppy, young adult dog, or older dog that is suddenly destructive chewing out of nowhere, it’s often caused by boredom. When you decided to bring your furry love home you made a commitment to meeting their mental and physical exercise needs.
If your dog’s need for exercise and mental stimulation aren’t being met, they are going to take matters into their own hands. Destructive chewing is often a dog’s way of keeping themselves occupied.
This never rang truer in our home than when we fostered a young German Shepherd. My husband and I are no stranger to large, working breed dogs, but the stimulation needs of this guy were far more intense than those of our field lab and even our Siberian Husky.
If you were not your dog’s first home, or your dog rarely needed to be alone and suddenly is, separation anxiety or fear could be at the root of your dog’s destructive chewing. In addition to destructive chewing, signs of separation anxiety in your dog include:
Excessive barking, howling, or whining when you leave
Escaping, or signs of attempted escape
Bathroom accidents in the house
Separation anxiety can also be brought on by a sudden change in schedule, a change in owner or caregiver, or a major change in the home (like the birth of a baby or death in the family). In this case, patience and setting your dog up for success with a chew-proof environment when you are away will be most important for curbing destructive chewing.
Extreme separation anxiety in your dog shouldn’t go untreated. Working with a professional trainer can be highly beneficial. Additionally, be sure to mention your dog’s separation anxiety to your vet. They will have suggestions and can evaluate if medication is needed.
Hunger or Malnourishment
Some dogs will engage in destructive chewing if they are extremely hungry or their nutritional needs are not being met. It may even be the case that they are not currently hungry or malnourished, but a history of starvation has left them with an eating disorder in which they seek nourishment from non-food items.
This would likely be most common in adopted, fostered, or re-homed dogs. However, if there is a chance you are underfeeding your dog, be sure to address the issue right away. Consider rehoming your dog if you cannot afford to provide them with proper nourishment.
2. Meet your dog’s mental and physical stimulation needs
Like I mentioned above, a lack of mental and physical exercise is so commonly the issue behind destructive chewing. Your dog is bored all day and turns to chewing to get their wiggles out and stimulate their mind.
It’s no secret that there is a direct correlation between good behavior in dogs and proper exercise. It’s unfair to expect your dog to behave while alone all day without a good walk, run, or play session before you are leaving them for any length of time.
A key aspect to curbing your dog’s destructive chewing is changing your own schedule (or hiring help) to ensure they are properly exercised before your leave each day. A long hike or play session when you return home from work is wonderful, but cannot take the place of stimulation first thing in the morning.
In addition to ensuring proper exercise before leaving your dog, consider leaving them with some mentally stimulating puzzles and chew toys which we’ll discuss in step 4.
3. Set your dog up for success while you are away
Once you’re confident your dog is getting the exercise and mental stimulation they need, it’s time to look at their environment. If you have done crate training in the past, using a crate while away can be a great solution. This can be effective with puppies and young adult dogs who need some training around chewing while you’re home in addition to simply being exercised enough.
If you don’t want to use a crate, set your dog up for success against destructive chewing by:
Confining them to a chew-proofed room or area
Removing items from the room that could turn into chew toys (shoes, blankets, pillows, books, remotes, etc.)
Spraying furniture, doors, windowsills etc. with a chewing deterrent spray (be sure to try this under your supervision before doing it when leaving your dog alone)
Supply your dog’s space with things that are okay to chew
4. Invest in items that are safe and okay for your dog to chew
Alright, so remember in the very beginning when I said that chewing and dogs just go together? Well they do! And it’s okay for your dog to chew, as long it’s something you are okay with them chewing.
Chewing can help dogs relieve mild stress, stimulate their mind, and exercise their jaw. So what toys are safe for your dog to chew?
Toys that are made from natural rubber, like Monster K9 Dog Toys, because of their extreme durability against chewing and safety for dogs
Toys with soft edges that can’t splinter. In the event that these are ingested, they will be much less harmful when they are passed
Antlers are the go-to in our family. Deer and elk antlers are extremely hard, don’t splinter and take FOREVER to wear down. While a little pricey, antlers last and last for our large breed dogs while other bones and rawhides seem to disappear in a few days
Rubber toys that you can fill with peanut butter, treats, or kibble add an extra element of stimulation
Avoid giving your dog toys that resemble objects that you don’t want them chewing. You can’t expect your dog to understand why it’s okay to chew this slipper but not that one.
For us, it’s especially important not to give our dogs toys that look like stuffed animals because we don’t want them taking and chewing our daughter’s toys (and let’s face it, stuffed dog toys last about 2.5 seconds anyways).
5. Work with your dog on their destructive chewing when you are home
You didn’t think we’d make it through this step-by-step guide to stop destructive chewing without a little training, right? The thing is, this isn’t complicated.
When your dog is chewing an unwanted item, firmly tell them no while they are doing it
Take it away and immediately put something in their mouth that is okay to chew
Praise them extensively when the desired chew toy is in their mouth
Be sure to catch them being good as well. If you see your dog chewing a toy that’s meant for them let them know how awesome they’re being!
You CAN stop destructive chewing
With a commitment to these five steps you will get your dog’s destructive chewing under control. Remember that often all it takes is a little more stimulation before you leave them, a space that sets them up for success, investment in some toys they can chew, and positive reinforcement when you’re around.
Have an additional tip to help with destructive chewing? Leave a comment below! We love to hear from our readers.
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