Stop Your Pet's Unwanted Chewing

Secure The Location

Pets need safe areas in which to rest and play when unsupervised. A pet-proofed room or crate is essential to keep avid chewers safe. Start by removing or securing potential hazards, like electric cords, and remove any at-risk household items from the floor and surfaces your pet can reach.

Ask your veterinarian to recommend safe, long-lasting chews and durable toys, and provide plenty of these items in your pet’s space. Whenever you notice your pet attempting to chew something not on the approved list, redirect this behavior to an acceptable chew toy. Your pet will soon learn that this is the preferred outlet.

Keep in mind that you may need to make some areas in your house or yard completely off limits to your pet. Try using physical barriers, such as baby gates, child locks, or fencing, as protective measures when you can’t be there to supervise your cat or dog. If you’re concerned that your pet will be able to climb or jump over a traditional baby gate, there are plenty of taller models on the market that may help keep your pet safely contained.

Find Another Outlet

If you suspect your dog is chewing out of boredom, you may be able to prevent some of his behavior by offering extra attention and play. Fetch, tug of war, hide-and-seek, and games that encourage stalking and pouncing are all excellent ways to offer necessary mental and physical stimulation. Walks, homemade agility courses, and trick training are other great outlets for your pet’s pent-up energy. If your dog spends a lot of time alone at home, consider doggie daycare options.

Cats need playtime and exercise too. Give your cat plenty of opportunities to explore, climb, and scratch. And consider giving him tasks and challenges through the use of food puzzles or training. Most cats thrive with clicker training, and it’s especially useful for pets with fast-moving minds and high exercise requirements.

Finally, consider offering portions of meals or treats using food puzzles. These games provide their own reward and mental stimulation that can be highly effective at calming your pet’s busy mind.

Initiate Basic Training

Don’t attempt training on your own if your dog or cat shows aggression when you attempt to remove an item from his possession. You will need additional guidance from your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to help ensure your safety. All animals may become possessive of a favored item, so never attempt to remove items from your pet’s mouth or immediate vicinity. Instead, try the following tips to help control inappropriate chewing:

  • If your pet is caught approaching a prohibited item, interrupt him with an attention-getting action, like clapping your hands or making a kissing noise, and then redirect him to an appropriate chew toy. The interruption needs to break his focus but not frighten or upset him.

  • If your pet already has the item in his mouth, find a nonconfrontational way to get the item back. Try ringing the doorbell, opening the fridge, engaging the can opener, shaking the food bag, pulling out a favorite toy, opening the car door, getting a leash, or literally anything that will snap him out of what he’s doing so he’ll drop the item and join in. Once he approaches, redirect your pet to a different activity or location and reward him for following directions. In some cases, you may need to toss a few treats or engage in play to redirect him. Then pick up the item and secure it out of sight.

  • When your pet is playing with or chewing on appropriate toys, reward the behavior with what he finds reinforcing. Praise, petting, attention, treats, and play will show your furry guy that he’s behaving well. Again, be sure to respect your pet’s space, and avoid inciting protective behaviors. It’s particularly important to praise your pet when he seeks out and chews approved toys all on his own.

  • If your pet gravitates toward a certain item that can’t easily be secured, talk to your veterinarian about using a pet-safe deterrent. However, not all animals respond to the bad smell or taste of these products, so it’s always best to focus your efforts on training first.

Don’t Encourage Destruction

You may be inadvertently encouraging your pet’s inappropriate chewing behavior. For instance, avoid giving your dog or cat an old pair of shoes to chew on unless you want him to chew your new shoes too. Plus, household objects aren’t designed to withstand vigorous chewing. Allowing your pet to destroy non-approved pet toys subjects him to potential injury and the good possibility that he’ll ingest some dangerous materials in the process.

You can help your pet learn which items are appropriate chew toys by giving a consistent verbal cue like “get your toy” or “take it” before presenting him with a new toy.

Seek Additional Help

For pets, some amount of chewing is as natural as smelling, circling, and pawing during a potty routine. So don’t expect him to stop chewing completely. But consider that you may need to seek professional help to get to the root of the destructive behaviors. Start with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical causes. He or she may refer you to a certified veterinary behaviorist to help you train your pet in a way that satisfies his natural instincts while keeping your pet and household safe.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of HealthyPet magazine.


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