Does your puppy destroy everything in her path?
Is coming home from work a time of suspense and trepidation because you never know what expensive item your shepherd/husky mix has eaten?
I’ve got ya covered. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to get the destruction to stop.
Chewing is important for dogs. It’s their primary source of entertainment when you’re not around. It’s a stress-reliever. It keeps their teeth healthy. So we don’t want to squash the behavior completely, just channel it into appropriate… channels.
So here’s how to get your dog to develop a strong habit of chewing on dog toys, and eliminate the habit of chewing on everything else.
If you want a good understanding of why this strategy works, read this: How to Solve Practically Any Annoying Dog Behavior Problem.
Otherwise, on to the tactics!
1. Prevent the problem from happening
Want your dog to stop chewing up your stuff? Don’t let him chew up your stuff. It’s that easy. And that hard.
Use supervision, management and dog-proofing to prevent the dog from accessing things he shouldn’t have. This may seem obvious, but you would not believe how many people get a dog, give it the run of the place on day one, and then wonder why their house looks like it was hit by a pack of vengeful wolverines.
You know how, in horror movies, someone always goes into the dark scary basement? And how you shout in vain “no! Don’t do it! You’re gonna DIEEEEE?”
That’s how I feel about people not supervising and managing their untrained dogs.
I don’t know if my poor nerves can take another dog owner telling me that their six-month-old lab is allowed to wander the house by himself. I do declare! That pup will surely develop some awful habits! Fetch my smelling salts, Mr. Bennet. I feel another fainting spell coming on.
IMHO, free-run of the house or yard is a privilege that dogs must earn with good behavior.
Dog-proof the area(s) the dog spends his time. Pick up shoes, kids’ toys, wires, etc. If you don’t want it eaten, get it off the floor. Use Bitter Apple spray on immovable objects.
When you’re home, keep dear little Diesel where you can see him. I like using baby gates and closed doors. Some people like “umbilical cording:” keeping the dog on a leash tethered around your waist. This works well with puppies and little dogs.
For when you’re not home, create a 100% dog-proofed pen. The laundry room, bathroom, or kitchen work well. You can also get an exercise pen. If you won’t be gone too long, use a crate.
If you have a puppy under five months old, he should always be with you or in his crate or pen.
Learn more: Mischief Managed
2. Cover your exercise and mental stimulation bases
A bored dog is
an a**hole a destructive dog. Make sure Pandora gets plenty of physical exercise. Choose your own adventure: walks, hikes, fetch, tug-of-war, flirt-poles, etc. And don’t forget brain work. Backyard agility, manners classes, freestyle canine disc, trick training, obedience training, and training games are all good.
Learn more: How to Live with a High-Energy Dog Without Losing Your Mind
9 Ways to Exercise Your Dog Without Walking Him
Leash-Puller to Urban Musher: When Behavior Problems Are Opportunities in Disguise
3. Retire your dog’s food bowl
And replace it with food-dispensing puzzle toys. This gives Diesel a way to exercise his brain and stay occupied. The more time it takes to eat, the less time he has to get into trouble. I could extol the virtues of food-dispensers all day, but you should probably just read this: Puzzle Toys: a Beginner’s Guide to the Most Useful Dog Toy Ever
Do you like things to be simple? Try this!
I just wrote an article that explains how to combine steps two and three. It should help your dog become calmer and more manageable. Check it out: A Simple Daily Routine to Help Calm Hyper Dogs and Solve Behavior Problems
4. Get a variety of really good chew toys and long-lasting snacks
(note: product links coming up. I am not affiliated with these products in any way, I just like ‘em)
You will need:
- At least one rubber treat-dispenser/chew toy like a Kong or Kong knock-off (for step three)
- At least one dog-safe hollow beef bone. You’ll see why in step six
After that, it’s down to your imagination and your budget.
Dogs adore dried animal parts. The smellier the better. Bully sticks. Pig ears. Hooves (fair warning: when hooves are “activated” with dog slobber, it’ll smell like you’re raising a herd of urban cattle in your guest bedroom).
Can’t decide what to get? You can find ideas in what’s left in the wake of Pandora’s reign of destruction:
- Does she tear up your kid’s stuffed animals? She’ll like a dog-safe plush toy.
- A dog who loves gnawing on pencils (like my Friday, Dog rest her soul) will like beef tendon sticks.
- And if your dog has a taste for plastic, like video game controllers or action figures, get a Nylabone or Busy Buddy Bone ( the Busy Buddy has edible components, which encourages your dog to stick with it longer)
5. Make these toys insanely valuable
You want your dog to think these toys are a better choice than anything else he could be demolishing. How do you increase a toy’s value? Add food, play, and/or attention:
- Make a big deal out of each one as you hand it over. “Oooh, Diesel! Look at this! Isn’t this Dental Dinosaur MAGNIFICENT?” Have him “earn” it by sitting or doing a trick first. It sounds silly, yes. But dogs value what we value. My dogs, at least, are more likely to sustain interest in a toy if I show interest in it.
- Stuff the hollow beef bone with peanut butter or canned dog food.
- Stuff the Kong with food, of course. When it’s not being used as a food-dispenser, play fetch with it.
- Tie a rope around rubber chews (ring-shaped toys are convenient). Play tug-of-war or drag it around for Diesel to chase.
- Dried animal parts are already high-value, so you should always have a few of these in your arsenal. If you’re cool with raw feeding, the most super-mega-valuable chew in the universe is probably a raw soup bone.
- Keep it fresh. Don’t give all the toys to your dog at once. Like a kid with a pile of Christmas treasures, he’ll get bored soon. Rotate through the stash of dog toys. Keep a few available at a time, switch them out with different ones every week.
6. Reinforce the crap out of the good behavior
At this point, you have removed Pandora’s access to the things she shouldn’t have. Her living space is filled only with appropriate and valuable treasures. You have set her up for success.
Your job now is to make sure her good choices get rewarded.
Be vigilant. Any time you “catch her in the act” of chewing on a chew toy, tell her what a GOOOOD puppy she is and give her a treat.
To make a serious impression, you can even wait until she’s chewing a dog toy to take her for a walk or play a game. This teaches that chewing dog toys makes good things happen.
7. Remember, kids: only YOU can prevent doggie destruction
Why is prevention listed twice? Because it’s important. Without it, all this chew toy training is useless. If Diesel can still practice his bad habit before the good habit is established, you won’t make any progress. It’d be like someone trying to quit eating sugar… but keeping their kitchen stocked with candy, soda, and ice cream.
Supervise. Manage. Dog-proof.
Just a friendly reminder.
8. Allow supervised mistakes: the art of redirection
After a week or two of diligently setting Pandora up for success, it’s time to set her up for failure in a controlled and fair situation. This creates a better understanding of what is and is not acceptable.
Set the scene: When your dog is in a chewing mood, get some high-value chews. Also get a few off-limits items that she likes. Put them all within her reach. Sit back and watch like a hawk.
If she chooses a dog toy: What a good dog! Treats! Praise! Play!
When she chooses an off-limits item: in a calm and boring fashion, take the object away and place a dog toy in front of her.
This creates a strong preference for dog toys. Human toys drool, dog toys rule.
Do this a couple times a day.
9. Start trial runs of unsupervised time
When your dog has developed a good chew toy habit and stopped making mistakes, you can allow more freedom when he’s home alone. It may take weeks or months depending on Diesel’s maturity level and how bad his bad habits are. I wouldn’t leave a puppy un-penned until they’re at least a year old.
Start by letting him out of his pen (make sure the house is dog-proofed and scattered with chew toys) while you leave for short excursions of 15-20 minutes. As Diesel demonstrates his trustworthiness, gradually build up to longer absences.
With this kind of strategy, most dogs outgrow the constant-need-to-annihilate phase of their lives. Many trained adult dogs just spend their home-alone time sleeping, not touching even their own toys.
In her wild and rebellious youth, my pup Friday could not go more than five minutes without destroying something irreplaceable or expensive (like the Sega controllers I was borrowing from my cousin, oops). But once she hit about two years old, she was given license to roam while home alone. She never abused this privilege. She was awesome.
These “nine easy-ish steps” take time and effort. But like all things, this too shall pass. Keep the faith.