The whole thing happened in just a few minutes time. I came home after an especially tiresome day at work, crashed on the couch, and kicked off my shoes. In my post-work-day exhaustion, I failed to notice that my puppy had grabbed my brand new beautiful black heels, dragged them behind the couch for some privacy, and began to happily gnaw away. Infuriating.
I suspect that I am not the only puppy parent who has felt this frustration. So, why do they do it? Why, oh why, do puppies chew?
It starts with teething
Puppies begin teething at 6-8 weeks, which makes their gums sore. Chewing brings relief. Shoes are especially desirable because they are easy to get a hold of, come in plenty of fun shapes and sizes, pick up a wide variety of interesting scents, and have textures that feel good to sore gums. While the teething process only takes about six months, many puppies continue to explore their surroundings with their mouths for as long as the first two years.
A few solutions
For starters, a little doggie proofing doesn't hurt. Put your shoes in the closet, behind closed doors, or otherwise out of reach. Restrict your puppy’s access to limited, doggie-proofed areas of the house by closing doors, or using gates or other barriers.
Another way you can help reduce your puppy’s urge to chew is by taking a damp rag, twisting it into the shape of a bone, and freezing it. The texture and temperature will help provide relief to your puppy’s sore gums.
Engage their brain
The majority of dogs spend 90% of their time lying around. And when they get bored, they look for something to occupy their time. This could be your new pair of Nikes.
To mitigate boredom, give your puppy other options. Toys can provide more constructive activities. Make a visit to the pet store. Select toys that are the right size for your dog’s mouth (not too small to be swallowed) and do not have small pieces that will break off.
Don’t confuse toys and chews, however. Toys are made to be throw, or tugged while playing, but are not designed to be chewed. They should be picked up and put out of reach when you are finished playing. This helps prevent the toys destroyed by chewing, or your dog being harmed by swallowing pieces that break off.
Make sure you do not make “toys” out of old shoes or other items that could be found laying around your home. Puppies can not differentiate between your old shoes and new ones.
Try to find toys that are engaging and will keep your dog’s mind busy. My favorite is the Kong. Just fill it with a treat or stuff it with peanut butter and freeze. It keeps my Cooper busy for hours.
And, be sure to rotate in new toys frequently to keep your pet from getting bored.
They love and miss you
Puppies may resort to chewing when they get stressed, and separation anxiety can be a big stressor. When they miss you, dogs of any age may resort to chewing or exhibit other destructive behaviors. Your shoes smell like you, which is comforting. They therefore become a target.
If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, slowly increase the duration that you are leaving him/her home along. It may help to leave a piece of clothing behind when you leave. A pet sitter or dog walker can also help keep by keeping your dog busy and providing some mid-day exercise.
If a dog isn’t getting enough activity, it can lead to chewing. Depending on your dog’s breed and energy level, a walk may just not be enough. If you think your pet has too much pent-up energy, increase their exercise. Some active breeds might need a good game of fetch, tug-of-war, or some time running around outside to tire them out. Take your dog running, or schedule a doggie play date.
On the other hand, having too much stimulation or being over tired may also result in bad behavior. Nap time can help, either in a crate or other quiet area. Dogs have a denning instinct, and sometimes just need to spend time by themselves.
Even a small change to a dog’s routine can make them anxious. This could include a change in schedule, a new pet, or even something as simple as a new piece of furniture. Chewing is a natural, instinctive way to relieve stress and release endorphins that make the dog feel good. Try to figure out what’s causing your dog stress because alleviating the stress will help reduce the chewing.
Reinforce good behavior. Reward your dog with positive attention when its calm or chewing on an appropriate toy. If you see that your dog is about to chew the wrong thing, draw its attention to an appropriate chew, and provide positive reinforcement and praise when it goes for the right item. The earlier you can break bad habits and establish good behavior, the better.
Punishing and scolding after the fact will not be effective if the perpetrator doesn’t associate his actions with the punishment. Remember, they’re not deliberately plotting to destroy your possessions out of spite.
If you do catch your dog with that shoe in its month, be calm. Rather than yelling and giving chase, try to calmly trade the item for a treat and avoid further damage. Tossing the treat (or Kong) so your dog will drop the shoe and run for the treat.
There’s no one-size-fit all solution. Patience and trying to understand what makes your dog tick will help you find the right solutions.
If all else fails, you can sell the chewed shoes as art, as shown in this video.