dog chewed on couchDestructive Chewing in Dogs

Since dogs are motivated to explore the world with their mouths and exercise their jaws, they often chew any appealing objects they encounter. When developing a treatment plan to reduce destructive chewing, it is useful to consider possible motivations driving the behavior.

Common reasons for inappropriate chewing include the need to engage in normal chewing, investigative or playful behavior, teething discomfort (in puppies under 7 months of age), anxiety due to social isolation, and inadequate mental stimulation and aerobic exercise.

An effective training plan will involve management techniques to prevent unwanted chewing behavior, training techniques to discourage inappropriate chewing and encourage chewing on appropriate items, and the provision of adequate physical and mental stimulation through increased exercise and interactive play.

Common names: Destructive chewing, Inappropriate chewing.
Scientific names: Destructive chewing, Inappropriate chewing.

Diagnosis

Signalment
There is no reproductive status or breed predilection for destructive chewing behavior.

Incidence/prevalence
Destructive chewing is most prevalent in dogs under the age of 3 and is extremely common in teething puppies. However, dogs of all ages can develop destructive chewing habits.

Geographic distribution
There is no unique geographic distribution for destructive chewing behavior.

Clinical signs (primary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Chewing on items considered inappropriate (furniture, children’s toys, wooden objects, the contents of trash cans, books and papers, etc.) in the presence of the pet parent, during the absence of the pet parent or both.

Causes (scientific, common term) 
Normal chewing, investigative or playful behavior, Teething discomfort (in puppies under 7 months of age), Inadequate mental stimulation and/or aerobic exercise, Mild to moderate anxiety due to social isolation.

Organ system affected (most to least affected)
No specific organ systems are affected, as this is a behavioral disorder.

Diagnostic tests
Behavioral observation.

Diagnosis
Separation anxiety: Check for other symptoms of the disorder, which include destructive behavior focused on entry/exit points, pacing, excessive salivation, excessive vocalization, inappropriate elimination only when the dog is alone and anorexia only when the dog is alone.

If separation anxiety is diagnosed, treatment may require the involvement of a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB; www.certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com) or a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior (ACVB; www.dacvb.org).

Hyperkinesis: It is important to differentiate between normal high-energy behavior and actual physiological hyperkinesis, which involves the dysfunction of the dopaminergic system/other neurotransmitters. Treatment for hyperkinesis may require psychotropic medication. Assessment and treatment counsel should be provided by a CAAB working in concert with a veterinarian or by an ACVB.

Fears or phobias: If destructive behavior is provoked by fears or phobias, the dog will usually exhibit signs of stress in response to specific stimuli (fireworks, thunderstorms, etc.). Treatment may involve management techniques, a desensitization and counterconditioning protocol and, if necessary, medication. Seek consultation with a CAAB, an ACVB and/or an experienced certified pet dog trainer (CPDT; www.ccpdt.org).

Pica (ingestion of nonfood items)

Overview

Since dogs are motivated to explore the world with their mouths and exercise their jaws, they often chew any appealing objects they encounter. When developing a treatment plan to reduce destructive chewing, it is useful to consider possible motivations driving the behavior.

Common reasons for inappropriate chewing include the need to engage in normal chewing, investigative or playful behavior, teething discomfort (in puppies under 7 months of age), anxiety due to social isolation, and inadequate mental stimulation and aerobic exercise.

An effective training plan will involve management techniques to prevent unwanted chewing behavior, training techniques to discourage inappropriate chewing and encourage chewing on appropriate items, and the provision of adequate physical and mental stimulation through increased exercise and interactive play.

Treatment

Home Care
Dogs have deeply rooted instincts to chew and tear things apart. The most effective way to deal with this kind of behavior is not to attempt to eliminate it altogether but to channel it in the right direction. Preventing problematic chewing and providing appropriate outlets will allow the pet parents to simultaneously meet their dog’s needs and protect their belongings.

The dog should be supervised at all times to prevent chewing on inappropriate items. If it starts to chew on something inappropriate, the item should be instantly removed and replaced by something the dog is allowed to chew. Applying a taste deterrent to objects that the dog frequently chews may also help discourage inappropriate chewing. If the dog cannot be actively supervised, it should be confined to a crate or small area where it has access to nothing but its own toys. Confinement must be kept to a minimum and supplemented with ample opportunities for elimination, play and socializing.

In addition to preventing destructive chewing, a variety of appropriate and appealing chew items must be provided as alternatives. Dog toys and edible chews can be periodically rotated to maintain the dog’s interest. Teething puppies may especially enjoy cold things to chew, such as frozen washcloths or special toys designed for freezing.

If the dog engages in destructive chewing only in the pet parents’ absence, it may be experiencing mild to moderate anxiety when left alone. Chewing things may soothe anxious dogs, so providing appropriate outlets for chewing behavior is imperative. Implementing a work-to-eat program and using food puzzle toys may relieve some of the dog’s stress as well. The pet parents can feed meals in these toys during times the dog must spend time alone.

Many pet dogs do not get enough exercise or mental stimulation, and this can contribute to destructive chewing. The use of food puzzle toys, increased leash walks or runs, off-leash play with other dogs, training classes that use techniques based on positive reinforcement, dog sports (agility, flyball, etc.) and structured, interactive games, such as tug-of-war and fetch, can increase stimulation and reduce destructive behavior.

Professional Care
If home care is unsuccessful, pet parents should seek a consultation with a certified pet dog trainer (www.ccpdt.org), certified applied animal behaviorist (www.certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com) or a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior (www.acvb.org).

An effective training plan will involve management techniques to prevent unwanted chewing behavior, training techniques to discourage inappropriate chewing and encourage chewing on appropriate items, and the provision of adequate physical and mental stimulation through increased exercise and interactive play

Outcome
The prognosis for the management of destructive chewing is excellent.