Puppies and dogs are curious creatures. They learn about their world by smelling, touching, manipulating and sometimes chewing on novel items. Chewing bones and toys is also a naturally enjoyable (and necessary) activity for dogs. Therefore, dog and puppy chewing is considered to be a natural behavior and, with training, it can be directed to appropriate items before it becomes a behavior problem. Here are a few guidelines for teaching good dog chewing habits.

What to Chew?

Select Appropriate Chew Toys: Provide a variety of interesting chew toys for your puppy, and offer these to her frequently. Appropriate chew toys are those that are attractive to dogs, are hard enough to not be destroyed or torn apart quickly and are composed of a material that is known to be safe if swallowed. Food-delivery toys that can conceal biscuits or soft treats are also good tools for teaching dogs appropriate chewing behaviors.

Redirect: If your dog picks up something that is not hers, simply remove it from her mouth, and redirect her to one of her own toys. Remember to praise your dog calmly and quietly whenever she voluntarily selects one of her own toys for chewing.

Rotate Chew Toys: Puppies and adult dogs enjoy novelty in their toys. Therefore, select a variety of chew toys for your dog and rotate them frequently. If your puppy or dog has not seen a particular toy for a few weeks, she will be more excited to play with it when it is reintroduced. Washing the toy so the smell is no longer familiar can also make it feel new.

Teach Fetch and Find It Games: Another way to keep your dog focused on her own toys is to teach her enjoyable games such as fetch and find it. Introduce retrieving with her favorite ball or hide a toy and then praise with a food treat when your dog finds it. These games are a great approach for teaching new behaviors and manners and are also enjoyable activities for both of you!

Prevent Puppy Chewing Mistakes: Manage your home environment to prevent undesirable chewing and to keep your dog safe from consuming dangerous objects. Keep all items that may attract your pup secured and out of sight. These include, but are not limited to, the following: socks and other items of clothing, children’s toys, slippers and shoes, household knickknacks, tissues and open garbage cans.

Supervise: Puppies and new dogs must be supervised during all free time in the home, both to prevent inappropriate chewing and to monitor house training. Until you can trust your new dog, she must be under constant supervision or confined to a safe area. Consider using a leash to keep her within eyesight. A crate or dog-safe room also can be used to keep your dog safe when you are not at home or available to watch her.

Achieving Puppy Chewing Success

Teach “Leave It” and “Give”: In addition to managing the environment and providing plenty of varied and interesting chew toys, you can teach your dog the two invaluable commands of “leave it” and “give.” The command “leave it” is used when a dog is intending to pick up something that is either dangerous or off limits, and the command “give” can be used to retrieve an item from the dog once she has picked it up. When used properly, these commands are enjoyable for your dog to learn and are helpful when teaching her which toys are her and which items are not. Many community puppy or obedience classes provide instructions for teaching these commands.

Avoid Punishment: Do not chase your dog or use harsh reprimands or physical punishment if she is chewing on something that is not hers. This will quickly teach her to chew out of your sight or to run away from you. Unfortunately, owners may incorrectly interpret these behaviors as signifying that the dog “knows she is wrong.” However, avoidance behaviors simply show that the dog has learned through experience with punishment to avoid chewing in the presence of her owner or to run away when in possession of a novel object. For these reasons, you will be most successful using home management, redirection and reward-based training to teach your dog proper chewing habits.