Destructive chewing is one of the most common complaints among dog lovers.
I’ve experienced it, you’ve experienced it — and your neighbor has probably experienced it too!
I remember my youngest dog, River, chewing everything when she was a puppy. We have an old coffee table with bite marks on the legs to prove it.
To this day, I have to be mindful to give River a chew toy, even though she has been trustworthy outside of a crate for a while now and is almost 4 years old — dogs need to chew.
Why Puppies Chew
Puppies depend on their little mouths to learn many important lessons. Through their mouths, they:
- Learn about the world around them
- Communicate with other dogs
- Learn how to control the pressure of their bites
- Soothe sore gums and teeth
- Cope with boredom
- Get out frustrations
- Cope with anxiety
Why Older Dogs Chew
Have you ever wondered, “At what age do dogs stop chewing everything?” or “Why does my dog chew things when I leave the house?”
If you have, you’re not alone.
And don’t worry too much — most dogs will outgrow the chewing that’s associated with teething and jaw development by 1.5–2 years of age.
Some dogs take up to 3 years.
If your puppy never learned to chew the right things while young and they were left unsupervised to chew up your home, you might be dealing with a destructive chewing habit now.
A few different things can cause an older dog to chew:
- Bad habits learned as a puppy
- Unmet mental and physical exercise needs
- Too much freedom
- A medical problem
- Lack of training
Train a Dog Not to Chew on Things
Chewing is a common problem, but what do you do about it?
When it comes to your dog’s chewing, the goal shouldn’t be to stop all chewing. Instead, you need to teach them what to chew and how to do it.
In this expert guide to training a dog not to chew on things, we’ll show you how to address chewing by doing 5 things:
- Provide chew toys
- Teach avoidance
- Address needs
Part 1: Confine
Here is where we talk about the crate — dreaded by some, but beloved by others.
If you haven’t used a crate before, then you might not be a fan.
Many people who think it’s cruel refuse to use the crate — until they get desperate enough to try it.
The crate shouldn’t be feared or dreaded. If used correctly, it’s not cruel at all.
A crate has many benefits — it can:
- Provide a safe and familiar space for your dog when you travel
- Prevent separation anxiety — yes, you read that right
- Help your puppy learn to self-soothe
- Help your puppy learn to self-entertain
- Make traveling easier
- Prevent boredom barking when combined with food-stuffed chew toys
- Help prevent bad habits, which leads to greater freedom later in life
How to Crate Train
Get your dog used to the crate first:
- Open the door and sprinkle treats inside and around the crate.
- Show your dog the treats and encourage your dog to eat them.
- After the treats are gone, randomly add more treats to the crate several times throughout the day. Doing this will make the crate into a magical treat-filled box for your dog.
When your pup starts to go to the crate on their own, do the following:
- Stuff a hollow chew toy with your dog’s food mixed with a little peanut butter (avoid xylitol), liver paste or squeeze cheese.
- Encourage the dog into the crate with treats, give them the food-stuffed toy once they are inside — and then close the door.
- When your dog finishes the food from the toy, let them out if they’re quiet. But if they bark or whine, wait until they’re quiet for at least a second before opening the door — you want to reward quietness, not barking.
- When your dog can handle being in the crate until the toy is empty, gradually leave the dog in there for a longer and longer time period. Every 10 minutes that your dog stays quiet in the crate, go to them, sprinkle treats into the crate and then leave again.
If your pup finishes the food in the chew toy too fast, you can freeze the toy. Here’s what you do:
- Buy a rubber chew toy, like a KONG.
- Put your dog’s food in a bowl and cover the food with water. When it turns into mush, mix a little peanut butter, liver paste or soft cheese into it.
- Loosely stuff the toy with the food mixture.
- Put the stuffed toy into a resealable zippered storage bag and freeze it overnight. You can also make several of these toys at once so you can grab one from the freezer as needed.
Don’t put anything made from fabric into the crate with your dog. For a bed, choose something like Primo Pads until your dog has learned not to chew household items.
If you’ve ever wondered, “How do I stop my dog from chewing on blankets?” not putting anything made from fabric into their crate is one of the ways — the rest of this article will cover what else to do.
If Crate Training Isn’t an Option
If your puppy cannot be crated for some reason, you can also confine them to an exercise pen or attach them to yourself with a 6- or 8-foot leash — this is called tethering.
Part 2: Supervise
Of course, your pup won’t be in the crate all the time. When you’re there to supervise, give them time outside of the crate.
By putting your puppy in a crate with a food-stuffed chew toy, you’re teaching them to chew on their own toys. You’re also preventing them from learning to chew on household items, including dangerous things.
You’ll need to help your dog learn those 2 lessons when they’re out of a crate, too.
One of the ways to do this? Make sure your puppy has access to chew toys in every room they go into.
What’s the best chew toy for a dog? A great chew toy should be:
A toy needs to be durable so your puppy can’t chew off small pieces and eat them.
Having a hole in the middle of a chew toy lets you stuff the toy with enticing treats and food.
Putting your puppy’s food into a toy is one of the best ways to teach the puppy to chew on their toys. Without food, the toy looks no different from your slippers or the baby’s rattle.
Many bones are hard and hollow, but they tend to splinter — do your research to find ones that won’t.
What is truly safe will also depend on how aggressive of a chewer you have. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and avoid the toy in question.
My Curly-Coated Retriever, River, rarely tears up a toy or tries to eat it. My Border Collie, Mack, however, can destroy anything made of fabric within 15 minutes — even those multilayer ballistic nylon toys!
Here are a few of the Petful editors’ top picks for the best chew toy for a dog:
- Outward Hound FireHose Squeak N’ Fetch
- KONG Classic Dog Toy with Your Choice of Dog Treat
- Otterly Pets Puppy Dog Pet Rope Toys
- Outward Hound Invincibles Snake
Also, Petful writer Allison Gray tested out the ChuckIt! Indoor Ball and reviewed it here.
Part 3: Teach Avoidance
Since your dog will be free in your home only when you’re supervising (everyone nods here, yes?), you’ll have opportunities to teach your dog to avoid things they shouldn’t be chewing on.
There are a couple of different ways to teach avoidance:
- Sprays and deterrents
- Teaching obedience commands
Sprays and Deterrents
Sprays and deterrents can be helpful if your dog tends to go back to one piece of furniture or object over and over again.
That coffee table that River chewed up may have been spared had I applied a spray to the legs sooner.
When you first bring your puppy home, go ahead and add a deterrent spray to your shopping list — you’ll probably need one!
Two popular deterrent spray brands that are easy to find:
Another option is to create your own “stop a dog from chewing furniture” home remedies.
Furniture Home Remedies
- Vinegar spray: Mix 3 parts water and 1 part white vinegar in a spray bottle — spray this only on hard surfaces. Don’t forget to do a small test spot before spraying the entire area.
- Lemon spray: Mix 3 parts water and 1 part lemon juice in a spray bottle — this mixture can bleach some surfaces, so be careful where you use it.
- Pepper spray: Add 1 tablespoon of powdered cayenne pepper to 1 cup of water in a spray bottle — this mixture can dye things red, and you need to be careful not to get it into your eyes or to touch it. This remedy is best used outside.
Teaching Obedience Commands
I recommend 3 commands for training a puppy not to chew: “Leave it,” “Out” and “Drop it.”
“Leave It” Command
“Leave it” means: “Forget about that thing and avoid it completely.”
It does not mean: “Wait a minute before you get it.”
There is a command called “Wait,” which means “Wait a minute before you get that or do that.” That is not the same thing as a “Leave it” command.
A “Wait” command encourages your dog to stay focused on the thing they want. A “Leave it” command teaches your dog to forget about what they’re supposed to leave alone.
How to Teach “Leave It” to Your Dog
- Grab a treat and close your hand around it.
- Show your closed hand to your dog and tell them to “Leave it.”
- When your dog stops trying to get the treat out, praise them and give them a different treat from your other free hand.
- Repeat the exercise until your dog immediately leaves your treat-filled hand alone when you tell them to “Leave it.”
Next, make the command harder:
- Open your hand part of the way, tell your dog to “Leave it” and show them your hand — be ready to quickly close your hand again if they try to get the treat. Remember to reward with a different treat.
- When your dog can leave the treat in your open hand alone, put the treat on the floor — next to your foot. Tell your dog to “Leave it” and be ready to cover the treat with your foot if they try to get at it.
When your dog can leave treats by your foot alone, gradually add movement and distance to the command:
- Back away from the treat so that it’s extra-tempting — but be ready to run to the treat and cover it if your dog decides to disobey.
- Drop a treat by your foot while saying “Leave it.”
- Toss a treat behind you. Again, be ready to get there first.
When your dog can leave the treats alone, practice with household objects, like socks, shoes and kids’ toys.
If your pup tends to steal food, you can practice with plates of real food — just be sure you don’t let your dog actually snag that chicken dinner as a reward for disobedience.
You’ve probably heard of the “Leave it” and “Drop it” commands, but you may not be familiar with “Out.”
It means “Get out of an area.”
“Leave it” is useful for telling your dog to avoid specific objects, and “Drop it” is useful if your dog already has something in their mouth, but “Out” removes your dog from the scene of the crime completely.
If the thing that your puppy is chewing is your toddler, for instance, you’ll be glad they know “Out”!
How to Teach the “Out” Command to Your Dog
- Grab several large treats and call your dog over.
- Toss a treat a few feet behind your dog while also saying “Out” and pointing to the area with your treat-tossing hand’s index finger.
- When your dog walks over to the treat, praise them. After they eat it, call them back to you by saying, “OK!” in a happy tone of voice.
Repeat tossing the treat and calling your dog back until the dog starts to go over to where you’ve been throwing the treat before you release it from your hand.
When that happens, do the following:
- Make the same throwing gesture with your hand while saying “Out,” but wait until they start moving toward where you’re pointing before you toss the treat.
- If your dog needs a hint, toss another treat.
When your dog understands the meaning of the word “Out,” tell them “Out” when they’re near something that they need to leave alone:
- If they obey, give them a treat.
- If they disobey, get between them and whatever they are bothering. Walk toward them until they back out of the area and move to where you originally pointed to when you said “Out.”
If your dog tries to return to the area, block their way until they stop trying. Once they stop, walk back into the area and see if they follow you. If they do, repeat walking toward them again until they leave the area.
Repeat walking toward your dog, blocking their way and returning to the area yourself until they don’t try to follow you back anymore — unless you tell them “OK!”
“Drop It” Command
Sometimes we get distracted, we say a command too late or we simply don’t see the dead bird lying on the sidewalk. When that happens, you want your dog to know “Drop it” — and to do it fast.
Many dogs will grab things they know are off-limits because they’ve learned from experience that their humans will chase them if they do — and this is great fun for them!
If you’re tired of chasing your dog around the house while they taunt you with your own belongings, you need to teach your dog to “Drop it.”
How to Teach Your Dog to “Drop It”
Grab several of your dog’s favorite toys along with several of the dog’s favorite treats:
- Wiggle a toy around or toss it to your dog.
- Once your dog has the toy in their mouth, tell them to “Drop it” and touch a treat to their nose.
- As soon as your dog drops the toy to get the treat, praise them and let them eat the treat.
Repeat this often with different items that your dog likes to pick up.
Once your dog can obey the command with their favorite items — like your socks and wads of paper — start using the command in everyday life.
If your dog won’t drop an item when told to, clip a leash to the dog and make them stand there (don’t let them lie down) until they get bored and tired enough to drop it — this could take a while the first few times.
But eventually your insistence should pay off, and your dog should learn that you mean what you say.
Trying to train your dog not to chew on things they shouldn’t? Then make sure you give them something they CAN chew on:
Part 4: Address Needs
If your dog has needs that aren’t being addressed, that could hinder your training efforts.
We’ve already talked about confinement, supervision and teaching avoidance, but there are 3 other areas of needs that could be making the process harder for your dog and you:
- Mental and physical exercise needs that are not being met
- Medical problems
Mental and Physical Exercise
Is your dog receiving any form of mental and physical exercise each day?
Most dogs get physical exercise through walks and runs, but many aren’t given mental exercise.
You can provide mental exercise by:
- Teaching your dog new commands and tricks
- Practicing current commands in a more challenging way
- Practicing commands that take focus and concentration
- Playing games that incorporate obedience and tricks
- Going on walks and stopping for short training sessions in various locations
- Doing dog sports like agility, canine freestyle dance, herding, tracking, obedience and bird retrieval
The most efficient ways to exercise your dog are those that incorporate both physical and mental exercise at the same time.
If your dog has other signs of anxiety, this could be the cause of the destructive chewing.
Many people worry that their dog has separation anxiety because they come home to a destroyed house — courtesy of their beloved pet. But most of the time, the dog’s chewing is not caused by separation anxiety, but separation boredom.
Essentially, you left, so your dog got bored and decided that chewing was a fun way to pass the time — plus, no one was there to tell them otherwise!
If your dog doesn’t have other signs of separation anxiety, they’re probably just bored and have been given too much freedom too soon.
But if you suspect separation anxiety is the culprit, here are other signs to watch for:
- Peeing — even though they’re house-trained
- Trying to escape to the point of injuring themselves
- Barking or whining without stopping
If your dog shows other signs of anxiety, it’s time to hire professional help to deal with the root cause of the chewing — the anxiety.
Is your older dog chewing suddenly? Have you recently moved, changed your routine or added a new dog or baby to the household? Stress stemming from these events may overwhelm your dog.
Or there could be a medical reason behind it.
If your dog is chewing themselves, take a trip to your vet. Your dog may have a skin infection, an allergy or some type of early mental decline. Fleas are also a possibility, so check that your pup’s flea medication is current and working.
Part 5: Final Thoughts
So, let’s sum up this expert guide. How do you train a dog not to chew on things?
The answer is to use a combination of:
- Teaching avoidance
- Addressing needs
Remember, chewing is natural and even has some benefits for puppies. But your dog needs your help to learn not to chew on your things.
Teach your pup to chew on the right things instead — their own wonderful, food-stuffed chew toys.