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Why is My Dog Chewing When Left Alone?

Updated on February 25, 2012

Keep your dog from chewing inappropriate items

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It is happening over and over. You come home only to find Rover has chewed on your pillows, blankets, furniture and more. Every day, he seems to come up with something new to chew and he is also getting quite creative at it! What gives? Well certainly you are not happy about it. It comes natural to therefore want to find a solution for this frustrating problem, but it helpS a lot to understand first why the dog my be chewing in the first place so to go to the root of the problem.


Why do Dogs Chew When Left Alone?

The act of chewing per se, is not really a problem. If we think about it, for canines chewing is a totally natural behavior. Chewing is a primary reinforcer, dogs do not have to learn to like chewing and it is innate. In the wild, canines chew on bones, sticks and all the alike. It makes perfectly sense therefore for domestic dogs to chew on anything it finds.

Owners often wonder: ''But I walk my dog every day, give him plenty of attention and we play games together, why is he still chewing?'' The answer again is that chewing is natural. While chewing at times may stem out of frustration or boredom, truth is, chewing can be quite relaxing as well. Chewing causes dogs to release endorphins which make them feel good and helps get rid of stress. It is not unusual to see a dog chew, and eventually fall asleep, with a chew toy between its paws! Of course, providing ample of physical activity will tire the dog out and reduce unwanted behaviors (a tired dog is a good dog, the saying goes) but since chewing helps a dog wind down, it may not apply to this general rule.

However, while chewing is natural, destructive chewing when left home alone may be a sign of problems. Chewing, in this case, may indeed derive from boredom, frustration and in some cases, even anxiety. It may help to set a camcorder to record the dog's activities for the first minutes when left home alone. Pacing, whining, barking, howling accompanied by scratching at doors and chewing on items may be signs of separation anxiety. If this is the case, the following links may be helpful:

Dog separation anxiety tips

How to Treat Dog Separation Anxiety


If no signs of anxiety appear, as mentioned earlier, the dog may be bored, curious, frustrated or simply happy to enjoy some chewing especially if it is rewarding. An item like a pillow may reap further rewards if the stuffing is pulled out, so much entertainment!

Chewing when left alone may also be present in dogs who have been punished for chewing, and therefore, engage in their favorite activity when the owner is not around. In these cases, the owner has been associated with punishment, and therefore, the dog learns that when the owner is away he has the green light to chew because there is no consequence.

It is important to remember that dogs do not have the mental predisposition for chewing out of spite or revenge. Anthropomorphism is the process of attributing animals with human traits. Accusing a dog of chewing because ''he is mad we left him alone'' or ''is getting back at us because he did not come with us for the ride'' is wrong.

* Never punish a dog for chewing a pillow or anything else when coming home, unless you catch him in the act. The dog would have no idea what he is being punished for. Dogs live in the present. If you come home and find the dog happy to see you and catch of glimpse of your pillow shredded to pieces it is worthless getting mad at him as he will not make the connection. He will instead think you are punishing him for greeting you at the door and will see you as an unpredictable being that gets mad for no reason. If you must punish your dog for chewing, it has to happen one, maximum two, seconds after the fact to be effective.

Interactive dog toys

Buster Food Cube Large Size (Colors May Vary)
Buster Food Cube Large Size (Colors May Vary)

Designed to amuse and stimulate intellect · Encourages the natural instincts to hunt and forage · Keeps dogs engaged, to reduce boredom and related behavioral problems ·

 

How to Manage a Chewing When Left Alone Problem

If the chewing appears to stem from separation anxiety, the latter articles tackling this problem will be helpful. Severe cases, may require the intervention of a dog behaviorist. In some instances, dogs may even start chewing on themselves causing serious injuries at times. The anxiety, in these cases, needs to be properly and promptly addressed.

As mentioned previously, dogs are natural chewers and this is normal behavior. Problems start when dogs start to chew on items they are not supposed to. Dog owners are responsible for providing dogs with items they can chew on and removing items they are not allowed to chew on. It is not fair to leave a dog with items they may chew on and expect them to leave these items alone when owners are away. A dog may successfully learn the ''leave it'' command and this can help, but it is up to owner to put the dog up for success by minimizing exposure to items that can be chewed.

One good way to manage a chewing problem not stemming from anxiety is to do the following;

1) Provide several different and durable toys, which should be rotated to keep things interesting.

2) Invest in Kongs which can be stuffed in different ways. An automatic Kong dispenser may prove helpful in entertaining dogs.

3) Confine the dog to a confinement area, such as a single room will keep the dog out of harm's way and entertained if provided with several stuffed chew toys.

4) Provide lots of exercise and mental stimulation to reduce chewing from boredom.

5) Crate your dog if necessary and of course, keep in the crate some safe toys such as Kongs. Crates can exacerbate separation anxiety, so it is important to rule this out. If a dog chews itself out of the crate here is a helpful hub:

"The Best Crates for Escape Artists"

Chewing is harmful in many ways. You may lose valuable possessions, if the dog is allowed to chew on inappropriate items the behavior will reinforce itself and become more difficult to eradicate, not to mention the risks of swallowing foreign objects which can lead to choking and dangerous bowel obstructions.

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    • Donna Sundblad profile image

      Donna Sundblad 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      The fact that dogs live in the present is such an important lesson for owners to remember! It's also why they love us unconditionally.

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