Are you constantly losing socks and finding them in pieces later? Is your wooden furniture covered in ugly scratch marks? In other words, do you have a puppy who chews? If so, I feel your pain. My beagle/basset puppy, Sophie, doesn’t just chew–she CHEWS. When I adopted her last year, I immediately bought all kinds of cute stuffed animals and dog toys, but only a day or two later I realized what a waste of money that had been: she bit off and ingested pieces of every single one.
Sophie chewed my shoes. She chewed my pillows. She chewed my entertainment center. Basically, anything that came into the house was fair game. It quickly became apparent the only toy she could safely have was a deer antler–and although her dog trainer told me his big black Lab took three months to go through one antler, Sophie whittled each antler down to choke-size within two weeks.
I wasn’t sure if it was really possible to get Sophie to stop chewing, but fast-forward a year later, and it turns out it was. Here are some tried-and-true methods to get your puppy to stop chewing.
Your puppy is adorable when you first bring it home, but when the puppy gets comfortable in your house, he or she will probably start acting up.
Redirect their attention
It’s a simple concept: when your puppy begins gnawing on something that’s not for them, firmly tell them “no.” After correcting them, offer them one of their toys, something that’s meant for chewing. It’s important to correct the behavior first, or the dog may think you’re actually rewarding them for chewing, which is not the message we want to get across. But after the dog understands they’ve done something wrong, give them a positive alternative. If your puppy tends to mouth you, redirecting their attention will work in that situation, too. Giving them an acceptable toy is simply a way to channel their energy into a positive outlet, and most of the time, my puppy Sophie is more than happy to accept her antler from my hand and run off with it. As a puppy parent, it’s your job to teach the puppy what’s acceptable to chew on and what’s not. The first time your puppy chews on the furniture, don’t blame them too much; after all, depending on where you got your puppy from, it may be the first time they’ve ever been in a home. They don’t understand what all these big blocks of wood in the living room are for! By correcting them when they chew and then giving them a toy, you’re teaching them furniture is not okay to chew on; toys are.
Shoes are one of the most common items for puppies to chew on: those long laces just look so tempting, and plus, the shoes smell like you.
If your dog comes back to chew on the same spot time after time–maybe the leg of your bed, or the edge of the couch, or the springy doorstop behind the front door–and you need a deterrent to discourage your dog from chewing that specific spot, try a No Chew Spray such as Bitter Yuck! As Bitter Yuck ended up on my fingers several times throughout our training process–Sophie’s favorite chew spot being the blinds by my back door–I can testify to its disgusting taste. It’s water-based and free of alcohol, meaning it won’t sting skin (animal owners also use this product to stop animals from licking wounds or hot spots) and it won’t stain your furniture. Unfortunately, many reviewers have reported their dogs growing used to the taste and chewing whatever they wanted, so be aware Bitter Yuck may not be a permanent solution–but it could buy you some time as you puppy-proof the house. If you’re looking to DIY and save money, try making homemade bitter apple spray, which should produce the same effects as Bitter Yuck. To make the spray, mix 2 cups of apple cider vinegar (most dogs hate the tart taste) with 1 cup of plain white vinegar and shake vigorously. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, substitute lemon juice; again, the tart taste seems to deter dogs, and lemon juice will make your furniture smell much more pleasant than apple cider vinegar will.
If you have a lemon in your refrigerator, you’re on your way to helping your puppy stop chewing.
Provide ample stimulation
Let’s pause for a moment and talk about why puppies chew. According to the ASPCA, puppies chew primarily to alleviate pain caused by teeth coming in. When you think about a human baby teething–and how there are often many tears involved–you can’t really blame the puppy for needing a release. Before Sophie, I had a Golden Retriever named Charlie, and when he was a puppy he spent his days studiously gnawing on the corner of the kitchen wall. As a dog owner, it’s your job to make sure your puppy has enough stimulation that they don’t feel the need to chew anything they shouldn’t. What do teething puppies need? Give your puppy textured chew toys (typically a soft toy is better than a hard one), a wet washcloth, or an ice cube to ease discomfort.
But if all still seems lost, don’t worry: most puppies have their adult teeth by the time they are six months of age, so just hang on and things will get better. The need for stimulation doesn’t end when your puppy grows up, though: once they’re through teething, they may continue chewing out of boredom, especially if they’re home alone a lot. Continue to make sure your dog has plenty of exciting toys. To really keep your dog on their toes, try a rotation–divide their toys into three groups and give them a different group of toys each day.
Make sure your dog has plenty of exciting toys; Kongs, balls, and bones are always good choices.
Clean up after yourself
It’s a simple concept, really: if your prized possessions are behind a closed door or up high out of your dog’s reach, your dog can’t chew them up. One time Sophie chewed up the handle of my laptop bag–but I couldn’t really blame her, because I had left it in the middle of the living room. Another time she came out of my bedroom chewing a piece of pink paper: a Post-It note that I’d unwittingly tossed on the floor. And the entire first summer I had her, she consistently chewed on every pair of shoes I owned–because before I got a puppy, I had been in the habit of coming home and kicking off my shoes right by the door instead of putting them in the closet.
I’m not trying to justify Sophie’s bad behavior. No, she shouldn’t be chewing on my stuff (and after a very short training period she knew she shouldn’t be chewing on my stuff and yet continued to do it anyway). I am saying, however, that leaving your laptop case in the middle of the floor is just tempting fate–and there’s no reason to do it.
If a room is cluttered or contains expensive furniture, shut the door. If you have a baby gate, put one up. Again, think about treating your puppy the same way you would treat a toddler–you wouldn’t let a toddler loose in a room full of breakable knicknacks, right? So don’t leave your dog unsupervised in a room full of what seem to be larger-than-life chew toys.
For best results, put valuables away and leave your puppy’s toys in plain sight.
“Drop it” is a basic command that’s taught in every puppy school, but it’s probably one of the hardest commands to master, because so many things just look so darn tempting to a puppy’s eyes! I have to admit that neither of my dogs ever fully mastered “drop it.” My Golden Retriever had two expensive surgeries due to things he had eaten. Sophie slinks through the room at least once a day, trying to avoid my attention because she knows she has something she shouldn’t–and when I tell her to “drop it,” she seems to hear “clench your teeth more tightly so Mom can’t take this away.”
That being said, though, both of my dogs had some great trainers who worked very hard to teach them–I just end up with incorrigible dogs. Teaching the command “drop it” (you could also say “give it” or “let go” if you’d like; just be consistent with whatever command you use) requires lots of patience on the human’s part: let your puppy play with a toy, then show them a treat and tell them to “drop it,” speaking quietly but firmly. When your puppy drops the toy in favor of eating the treat, praise them as they enjoy their reward. Since you won’t always have a treat on hand (once my Golden Retriever ate an empty chip bag on a walk), however, your dog also needs to learn “drop it” when there’s no incentive except praise–so once your pup has mastered the command with an edible reward, eliminate the treat from the equation. Simply tell your dog to “drop it” and then reward them with praise. Keep training sessions brief, as puppies have short attention spans (again, just like toddlers).
After a training session, spend a few minutes playing with your puppy as a reward for their hard work.
If your puppy gets something small in its mouth before you can get the item away, firmly tell them to drop it. Theoretically, they’ll obey, and you can avoid the kind of expensive surgeries that would ensue if they swallowed it.
One more note on this command: if possible, don’t pry something out of your dog’s mouth. I know a few kids who will walk up to their dog and, without giving a command, simply yank their dog’s toy out of her mouth–and then they wonder why she growls at them. Obviously, you don’t want to give your dog any excuse to get angry at you. It’s not safe to make a habit of taking things from your dog, and it’s also just not polite. However, if your dog has something harmful in their mouth and “drop it” or the swap-it-for-a-treat ideas aren’t working, in that case you may be obligated to forcibly remove the item from their mouth before it gets swallowed.
Tire out your dog
I have to admit, I don’t take Sophie on walks very much–she has a knee problem, I’m busy working all day, and she’s very unsociable, meaning I spend the whole walk in fear we’ll come across another dog and it will not end well. (Because, believe me, it would not end well.) But when I do take her on a walk, she comes home panting heavily. Instead of tearing around the house like she usually does after dinner, she collapses on the couch and falls asleep–and she usually stays there until it’s time for bed. Chewing can be due to boredom, so making sure your dog is occupied will do wonders for their behavior. If they’re stimulated, and subsequently exhausted, finding something to do will be the last thing on their mind: they’ll just want to sleep. If your dog isn’t into walks, either, a nice long session of fetch in the backyard should do the trick just as well.
Take your dog on a walk or a run so they’ll be tired and less tempted to get into something they shouldn’t.
In addition to tiring out your dog, make sure you’re giving him or her enough attention. Even as puppies get older and all of their adult teeth have come in, they may continue to chew if they’re bored, frustrated, or anxious (lucky me–I have the anxious chewer). So providing your puppy with ample attention to let him or her know they’re loved is a way to head off chewing before it even begins. If you work all day, make it a priority to spend at least 15 minutes of focused one-on-one time with your dog in the morning before you leave and at least 15 minutes when you get home. Petting your dog, playing fetch with them, whatever it is–they’ll eat up the attention and won’t be as tempted to chew.
The thought of teaching your puppy not to chew can be a daunting one–but if I could get my incorrigible Sophie to stop eating everything in sight, I’m confident you can train your puppy, too.