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A Lab sits on a dog bed he has destroyed


It’s normal for puppies and dogs to chew on objects as they explore the world. Chewing accomplishes a number of things for a dog. For young dogs, it’s a way to relieve pain that might be caused by incoming teeth. For older dogs, it’s nature’s way of keeping jaws strong and teeth clean. Chewing also combats boredom and can relieve mild anxiety or frustration.

Rule Out Problems That Can Cause Destructive Chewing

Separation Anxiety

Dogs who chew to relieve the stress of separation anxiety usually only chew when left alone or chew most intensely when left alone. They also display other signs of separation anxiety, such as whining, barking, pacing, restlessness, urination and defecation. To learn more about separation anxiety and how to treat it, please see our article, Separation Anxiety.

Fabric Sucking

Some dogs lick, suck and chew at fabrics. Some experts believe that this behavior results from having been weaned too early (before seven or eight weeks of age). If a dog’s fabric-sucking behavior occurs for lengthy periods of time and it’s difficult to distract him when he attempts to engage in it, it’s possible that the behavior has become compulsive. If you think this might be the case with your dog, please see our article, Finding Professional Help, for information about finding a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) with specialized training and experience in treating compulsive behavior. You can also learn more about compulsive behaviors by reading our article, Compulsive Behavior in Dogs.


A dog on a calorie-restricted diet might chew and destroy objects in an attempt to find additional sources of nutrition. Dogs usually direct this kind of chewing toward objects related to food or that smell like food.

How to Manage or Reduce Your Dog’s Destructive Chewing

Puppy Teething

The desire to investigate interesting objects and the discomfort of teething motivate puppies to chew. Much like human infants, puppies go through a stage when they lose their baby teeth and experience pain as their adult teeth come in. This intensified chewing phase usually ends by six months of age. Some recommend giving puppies ice cubes, special dog toys that can be frozen or frozen wet washcloths to chew, which might help numb teething pain. Although puppies do need to chew on things, gentle guidance can teach your puppy to restrict chewing to appropriate objects, like his own toys. Please see Useful Tips, below, under Normal Chewing Behavior, to channel your puppy’s urge to chew in the right direction.

Normal Chewing Behavior

Chewing is a perfectly normal behavior for dogs of all ages. Both wild and domestic dogs spend hours chewing bones. This activity keeps their jaws strong and their teeth clean. Dogs love to chew on bones, sticks and just about anything else available. They chew for fun, they chew for stimulation, and they chew to relieve anxiety. While chewing behavior is normal, dogs sometimes direct their chewing behavior toward inappropriate items. Both puppies and adult dogs should have a variety of appropriate and attractive chew toys. However, just providing the right things to chew isn’t enough to prevent inappropriate chewing. Dogs need to learn what is okay to chew and what is not. They need to be taught in a gentle, humane manner.

Useful Tips

  1. “Dog-proof” your house. Put valuable objects away until you’re confident that your dog’s chewing behavior is restricted to appropriate items. Keep shoes and clothing in a closed closest, dirty laundry in a hamper and books on shelves. Make it easy for your dog to succeed.
  2. Provide your dog with plenty of his own toys and inedible chew bones. Pay attention to the types of toys that keep him chewing for long periods of time and continue to offer those. Try Nylabones®, Greenies® Smart Chew™ bones, Dental KONGs® and natural bones. It’s ideal to introduce something new or rotate your dog’s chew toys every couple of days so that he doesn’t get bored with the same old toys. (Use caution: Only give your dog natural bones that are sold specifically for chewing. Do not give him cooked bones, like leftover t-bones or chicken wings, as these can splinter and seriously injure your dog. Also keep in mind that some intense chewers may be able to chip small pieces off of natural bones or chip their own teeth while chewing. If you have concerns about what’s safe to give your dog, speak with his veterinarian.)
  3. Offer your dog some edible things to chew, like bully sticks, pig ears, rawhide bones, pig skin rolls, other natural chews, Dentastix®, Dentabones® and Nylabone® Healthy Edibles® bones. Dogs can sometimes choke on edible chews, especially if they bite off and swallow large hunks. If your dog is inclined to do this, make sure he’s separated from other dogs when he chews so he can relax. (If he has to chew in the presence of other dogs, he might feel that he has to compete with them and try to quickly gulp down edible items.) Also be sure to keep an eye on your dog whenever he’s working on an edible chew so that you can intervene if he starts to choke.
  4. Identify times of the day when your dog is most likely to chew and give him a puzzle toy, such as a KONG®, Squirrel Dude™, Twist ‘n Treat™ or Buster® Cube, filled with something delicious. You can include some of your dog’s daily ration of food in the toy.
  5. Discourage chewing inappropriate items by spraying them with chewing deterrents. When you first use a deterrent, apply a small amount to a piece of tissue or cotton wool. Gently place it directly in your dog’s mouth. Allow him to taste it and then spit it out. If your dog finds the taste unpleasant, he might shake his head, drool or retch. He won’t pick up the piece of tissue or wool again. Ideally, he will have learned the connection between the taste and the odor of the deterrent, and he’ll be more likely to avoid chewing items that smell like it. Spray the deterrent on all objects that you don’t want your dog to chew. Reapply the deterrent every day for two to four weeks. Some commonly used deterrents are Grannick’s Bitter Apple® spray or gel, Veterinarian’s Best® Bitter Cherry Spray, Yuk-2e Anti-Lick Gel, Bitter YUCK!™ No Chew Spray, Chew Guard® Spray and Tabasco® sauce. Please realize, however, that successful treatment for destructive chewing will require more than just the use of deterrents. Dogs need to learn what they can chew as well as what they can’t chew. Please see our article, Using Taste Deterrents, for more information.
  6. Do your best to supervise your dog during all waking hours until you feel confident that his chewing behavior is under control. If you see him licking or chewing an item he shouldn’t, say “Uh-oh,” remove the item from your dog’s mouth, and insert something that he CAN chew. Then praise him happily. If you suspect that your dog might react aggressively if you remove an item from his mouth, please see our Finding Professional Help article for information about finding a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or Associate CAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) with specialized training in treating aggression for guidance.
  7. When you can’t supervise your dog, you must find a way to prevent him from chewing on inappropriate things in your absence. For example, if you work during the day, you can leave your dog at home in a confinement area for up to six hours. Use a crate or put your dog in a small room with the door or a baby gate closed. (For help with crate training, please see our article,Weekend Crate Training.) Be sure to remove all things that your dog shouldn’t chew from his confinement area, and give him a variety of appropriate toys and chew things to enjoy instead. Keep in mind that if you confine your dog, you’ll need to give him plenty of exercise and quality time with you when he’s not confined.
  8. Provide your dog with plenty of physical exercise (playtime with you and with other dogs) and mental stimulation (training, social visits, etc.). If you have to leave your dog alone for more than a short period of time, make sure he gets out for a good play session beforehand.
  9. To help your dog learn the difference between things he should and shouldn’t chew, it’s important to avoid confusing him by offering unwanted household items, like old shoes and discarded cushions. It isn’t fair to expect your dog to learn that some shoes are okay to chew and others aren’t.
  10. Some puppies and juvenile dogs like to chew dirty underwear. This problem is most easily resolved by always putting dirty underwear in a closed hamper. Likewise, some puppies and dogs like to raid the garbage and chew up discarded sanitary napkins and tampons. This can be very dangerous. If a dog eats a sanitary item, it can expand while moving through his digestive system. Discard napkins and tampons in a container that’s inaccessible to your dog. Most young dogs grow out of these behaviors as they mature.

Lack of Exercise or Mental Stimulation

Some dogs simply do not get enough physical and mental stimulation. Bored dogs tend look for ways to entertain themselves, and chewing is one option. To prevent destructive chewing, be sure to provide plenty of ways for your dog to exercise his mind and body. Great ways to accomplish this include daily walks and outings, off-leash play with other dogs, tug and fetch games, clicker training classes, dog sports (agility, freestyle, flyball, etc.), and feeding meals in food puzzle toys, like the KONG®, Squirrel Dude™, Twist ‘n Treat™, TreatStik®, Tricky Treat™ Ball or Buster® Cube. You can read our article, How to Stuff a KONG Toy, for information about using puzzle toys. Please see our articles, Enriching Your Dog’s Life and Exercise for Dogs, to learn more about giving your dog the mental and physical exercise he needs.

Stress and Frustration

Sometimes a dog will chew when experiencing something that causes stress, such as being crated near another animal he doesn’t get along with or getting teased by children when confined in a car. To reduce this kind of chewing, try to avoid exposing your dog to situations that make him nervous or upset.

Dogs who are prevented from engaging in exciting activities sometimes direct biting, shaking, tearing and chewing at nearby objects. Shelter dogs and puppies sometimes grab and shake blankets or bowls in their kennels whenever people walk by because they’d like attention. When they don’t get it, their frustration is expressed through destructive behavior. A dog who sees a squirrel or cat run by and wants to chase but is behind a fence might grab and chew at the gate. A dog watching another dog in a training class might become so excited by the sight of his canine classmate having fun that he grabs and chews his leash. (Agility and Flyball dogs are especially prone to this behavior because they watch other dogs racing around and having a great time, and they want to join in the action.) The best intervention for this problem is to anticipate when frustration might happen and give your dog an appropriate toy for shaking and tearing. In a class situation, carry a tug or stuffed toy for your dog to hold and chew. If your dog is frustrated by animals or objects on the other side of a fence or gate at home, tie a rope toy to something sturdy by the gate or barrier. Provide shelter dogs and puppies with toys and chew bones in their kennels. Whenever possible, teach them to approach the front of their kennels and sit quietly to solicit attention from passersby.

What NOT to Do

  1. Do not show your dog the damage he did and spank, scold or punish him after the fact. He cannot connect your punishment with some behavior he did hours or even minutes ago.
  2. Do not use duct tape to hold your dog’s mouth closed around a chewed object for any length of time. This is inhumane, will teach your dog nothing, and dogs have died from this procedure.
  3. Do not tie a damaged object to your dog. This is inhumane and will teach your dog nothing.
  4. Do not leave your dog in a crate for lengthy periods of time (more than six hours) to prevent chewing.
  5. Do not muzzle your dog to prevent chewing.

dog with frisbee resting at feet“Leave it” is a phrase that you can use when you want your dog to leave something alone. After your dog learns what “Leave it” means, you can tell him to avoid things that might hurt him, such as trash or debris on the ground, or things that could get him into trouble in other ways, like unfriendly dogs or people who don’t want to meet him. Teaching your dog this skill can be useful in many situations and could even save his life.

How to Teach “Leave It”

The key to a reliable “Leave it” is to teach your dog that if he leaves something alone when you ask him to, he might score something even better!

Step One: Get the Behavior

Sit down with your dog and show him that you have a treat tucked in your hand.

  1. Say “Leave it,” and then hold out your hand with the treat enclosed in your fist so that he can’t get it. Let your dog lick and sniff your closed hand. He may mouth, paw it or bark. Ignore all this, say and do nothing and just wait.
  2. After several seconds, your dog will stop trying to get the treat. The instant he moves his head away from your fist, say “Yes!” Then immediately give him a treat from your other hand.
  3. Repeat this sequence at least ten times until your dog visibly moves away from your closed fist as soon as you present it to him and say “Leave it.” Some dogs learn this in one session. Others will need more practice over a couple of days.

Step Two: Increase the Difficulty

The next step is to teach your dog to look at you in order to earn the treat.

  1. Hold the treat in your hand, say “Leave it” and wait.
  2. When your dog doesn’t hear “Yes!” he’ll probably look up at you. The instant he looks at you, say “Yes!” and offer the treat to him in your open palm.
  3. Perform at least 40 more repetitions until your dog makes direct eye contact with you when he hears “Leave it.” He’s now learned that the way to get you to give him a treat is to look at you.
  4.  To perfect this behavior even more, you can delay your “Yes!” by a second or so at first so that your dog has to look up at you longer to earn the treat. Over many repetitions, gradually increase the delay until your dog will stare at you for as long as five to ten seconds before earning your “Yes!” and a treat.

Step Three: Practice on the Floor

The next step is to practice with the treat in plain view on the floor. At this stage, use so-so treats for the bait and higher-value treats for rewards. So you might place a piece of kibble or dry dog biscuit on the floor and use pieces of chicken or steak to reward your dog.

  1. Say “Leave it,” place the bait on the floor and then cover the bait with your hand. Just as you did before, wait until your dog stops trying to get at the bait.
  2. The moment your dog looks at you, say “Yes!” remove the bait from the floor, and reward your dog with a really tasty treat from your other hand.
  3. Repeat this exercise at least 40 times until your dog no longer tries to get the bait from the floor but just looks up at you instead.
  4. Now say “Leave it,” place the bait on the floor and then hold your hand an inch or two above the bait. Repeat as above, gradually raising your hand higher over many practice repetitions. It’s important not to let your dog get the bait from the floor! Occasional mistakes happen, though, so if your dog does snatch the boring treat from the floor, say “Oh, too bad,” show him the tasty treat you had for him (you can let him sniff it) and toss it in the sink or eat it yourself! Please note that some dogs may become aggressive over food placed on the floor, as though once it’s on the floor, the dog “owns” it. If you suspect your dog might do this, consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB). Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate one of these experts in your area. If you can’t find a behaviorist, you can hire a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). Just be sure that the trainer is qualified to help you. Determine whether she or he has education and experience in treating aggression, since this expertise isn’t required for CPDT certification.
  5. When your dog is successful at responding when you say “Leave it” with your hand about six inches above the bait, you’re ready to practice standing up. Put your dog on a leash and stand next to the bait. Tell him “Leave it,” and if he tries to snatch the bait, use your foot to cover it.
  6. Wait for your dog to look at you and when he does, say “Yes!” and give him a tasty treat from your hand. With enough repetitions, you should be able to walk your dog up to and past baits on the floor and, when your dog hears “Leave it,” he should look up at you in anticipation of a really yummy treat. Be advised that if your dog is straining at the end of the leash to get at the bait, you need to repeat earlier training steps until your dog thoroughly understands that he should ignore what’s on the floor and look up at you instead.

Step Four: Practice in the Real World

The final step is to practice your dog’s training in the real world. Eventually, you’ll want your dog to be able to respond to your “Leave it” cue when he sees all kinds of things he should leave alone, such as food dropped on the kitchen floor, spilled prescription drugs, dangerous objects on the sidewalk, your neighbor’s cat, etc. It’s not safe to practice with anything that might hurt your dog if he accidentally gets it, but you can practice with a variety of safe objects in many different situations and locations. Practice with food, toys, laundry, interesting objects around your house, tissues and other kinds of safe trash. Practice in all the rooms in your house, at your friends’ houses, in your yard and anywhere else you take your dog. It’s especially useful to practice when on walks:

  1. Place baits in obvious places along your walking route, and then take your dog for a walk.
  2. As you approach a bait, point at it (if necessary), tell him to “Leave it” and keep walking. If he strains at the leash toward the bait, stop out of range of the bait, and wait for him to remember that he’s supposed to look at you.
  3. When he looks at you, say “Yes!” and give a few tasty treats as you move along. Don’t worry that he didn’t respond to your “Leave it” the way you had hoped, and don’t discipline him. Just continue to practice with more bait laid in his path.

Once your dog is responding well when you say “Leave it” on your practice walks, he will likely respond in the same way when you come across real garbage. Always be prepared to reward your dog with praise and treats when he responds to the “Leave it” cue. Your dog will continue to improve as long as you help him practice and keep rewarding him for good behavior.

Final Tips

  1. Carry tasty treats on your walks in case you have to tell your dog to leave it at some point. If you don’t bring goodies, your fodg will respond for a time but will soon learn that “Leave it” only works when he’s at home.
  2. Always try to make sure that your dog doesn’t get whatever you’re asking him to leave alone. You want him to think that when you say “Leave it,” he can NEVER get that thing.
  3. Don’t practice “Leave it” with any object that would be dangerous for your dog to pick up or eat, just in case.
  4. Try to make leave it feel like a fun game. If you say “Leave it” angrily, you could frighten your dog and slow down learning
  5. To learn more about how to teach your dog new things, please see our article, Training Your Dog.
  6. If you’d like help teaching your dog to “Leave it”—or if you’d like to learn how to train additional useful skills—consider contacting a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) in your area. Many CPDTs offer private lessons and group obedience classes that focus on fun, effective training methods. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a CPDT near you.

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