Why do dogs chew furniture?

Eventually every dog owner is going to come home to find their dog has chewed something they shouldn’t have done in their absence. Although dogs have a great sense of smell and vision which they use to explore the world, dogs also really enjoy gaining new information by putting things in their mouths. All dogs have an inbuilt desire to chew. But why the furniture?

Understanding why dogs chew

Puppies, much like infants and toddlers, will explore the world by putting objects in their mouths. Puppies will also teethe for roughly six months, which creates discomfort. This is one of the reasons a puppy will chew, as chewing makes their sore gums feel better, and facilitates teething.

There are many reasons why an adult dog will destructively chew. To deal with this behaviour, you will first need to identify why the dog is chewing. These reasons could include:

  • Not being taught appropriate and inappropriate objects to chew as a puppy
  • Boredom
  • Separation anxiety
  • Fear-related behaviour
  • Attention seeking

Remember, dogs never chew out of spite. You may need to consult a dog behaviour professional for help with fear-related behaviours and separation anxiety.

Teaching your dog what can be chewed and what can’t

Fortunately, you can focus your dog's chewing to appropriate items, so he isn’t destroying the carpet, furniture and other valuable items and risking their own safety.

Until your dog has learned what he is and isn’t allowed to chew, it is your responsibility to manage this situation as much as possible, to make sure your dog does not have the opportunity to chew on objects they are not allowed to.

You will need to prevent access to inappropriate items and make sure they have the appropriate objects to chew. These objects could be a stuffed Kong or put some tasty food on the appropriate toys (e.g. peanut butter).

Another way to manage the situation is to increase the exercise the dog is currently doing – a tired dog will sleep more and be less restless and agitated, leading to less chewing. If the dog holds objects for attention, ignore them (don’t chase them), and give the dog a different command.

Top tips for helping dogs not to chew the home

Take responsibility for your belongings

Keep things such as clothing, shoes, books, rubbish, glasses and remote controls out of your dog’s reach. If you don’t want it in your dog’s mouth, don’t make it available to them.

Give your dog toys that are clearly distinguishable from household goods

If you give your dog an old shoe to distract him from chewing your shoes, it will only confuse your dog and he will be unable to distinguish between his shoe and your shoes.

Supervise your dog until he learns the house rules

You may have to keep your dog on a leash indoors to make sure that they cannot make a mistake out of your sight. When you are not able to keep an eye on them, confine them in a safe place that is dog-proof with fresh water and their appropriate toys. If you have your dog crate trained, you can place him in his crate for short periods of times to confine him.

Give your dog plenty of people-time

If you don’t teach your dog alternatives to inappropriate behaviour, they won’t know how to behave. He can’t learn these behaviours by himself and will need to be shown/trained.

Give your dog plenty of physical and mental exercise

Lack of physical and mental exercise will result in boredom and your dog finding other ways to entertain himself. Make sure your dog gets lots of physical exercise and mental stimulation. The amount of exercise they get should be based on the dog’s age, health and breed characteristics.

Clap to get their attention

If you see your dog chewing on something they shouldn’t, interrupt their behaviour with a loud noise. Give them an appropriate chew toy instead, praising them when they take the toy in their mouth.

Build a toy obsession in your dog

Use their toys to feed them – for example, fill a Kong-type toy with kibble at mealtimes. They will then go to this to chew.

Puppies and chewing the furniture

Try freezing a wet washcloth for your puppy to chew on while they are teething. The cold cloth with soothe your puppy’s gums. Make sure your puppy is supervised with the cloth, so that they don’t chew and swallow any pieces of the cloth.

Make items unpleasant to your dog

You can coat furniture and other items in a taste deterrent (such as Bitter Apple) to prevent your dog from chewing. This will make the coated items unappealing and it’s much less likely that your dog will want to chew them.

Caution: Supervise your dog when you first try these taste deterrents, as some dogs will chew regardless of deterrents. You need to reapply these deterrents to maintain their effectiveness.

Offer your dog a treat in exchange for the item in his mouth

When your dog catches onto this idea, you can add a “Give” command as a cue to release the object in exchange for a yummy treat.

Don’t chase your dog

Never chase your dog if they grab an item and run. You are only giving your dog what they want – being chased by their human is fun! You should instead call them to you and offer them a treat.

Have realistic expectations

At some point your dog will inevitably chew up something of value – this is often part of the transition to a new home. You need to give your dog time to learn the house rules, and you need to remember to keep things out of their reach and take precautions.

Never discipline or punish your dog after the fact

If you discover a chewed item after your dog has chewed it, even by minutes, you are too late. Animals will associate punishment with their current actions and won’t be able to reason “I tore up those socks thirty minutes ago, and that’s why I’m being told off now”. People believe that this is what the dog is thinking because they will run and hide, or “look guilty”.

These “guilty looks” are canine submissive postures that dogs will show when they feel threatened. When you are angry or upset, your dog feels threatened by your facial expression, posture and tone of voice, so he may run and hide or show submissive postures. Punishment after the fact could provoke other undesirable behaviours, and won’t eliminate the chewing.

Written by Amy Pearson

My special knowledge is all around dog training. I love trick training especially and have recently become a Canine Hoopers instructor. I think training shouldn't be about your dog obeying commands, but about your dog having fun learning with you. I've worked with dogs for around 15 years and trained at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. My own two dogs are completely different to each other! I have one little Maltipom called Rascal and a large German Shepherd called Fen - both are adorably daft! My two cats rule the house really though. What's so great about having a pet is that no matter how rubbish your day has been, they are always there to make you feel better! A house isn't a home without them.

Topics: dog training, dog behaviour

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