Dogs are built to chew. Puppies that are teething and adult dogs under the age of two are unfortunately prone to taking this natural behavior to unpleasant extremes. Get a group of dog owners together and stories of ruined shoes and shredded furniture will fly.
A puppy or young adult dog that is chewing on things that it shouldn't is simply exhibiting a normal behavior that needs to be redirected through training. Other dogs may chew to relieve their boredom or anxiety.
First, always remember that dogs do not chew to be willfully bad or to "get back" at their owners. Punishing a dog for destructive chewing is always counterproductive. An excellent way to modify behavior is to make sure that a responsible person is always with the dog to reward appropriate behavior (e.g., cheerily saying "good dog" when it chews on a toy) and to redirect unsuitable behavior (e.g., sternly saying, "drop it" when the dog grabs a shoe and handing it one of its chew toys instead). Until the dog is reliably trained, it should be comfortably crated with plenty of dog toys when it has to spend time alone. Also, make sure that problem chewers get plenty of exercise, mental stimulation and positive interactions with people. If anxiety is playing a role in a dog's chewing behavior, antidepressant medications may be helpful.
The good news is that with training, most dogs can be taught to chew on only appropriate items, and these individuals tend to enjoy better oral health than do their "non-chewing" counterparts.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008