Some dogs seem to love to chew and the object of their chewing destruction can sometimes be our shoes. Let’s face it… we play our part in their shoe fetish because it is so easy to leave shoes lying around where dogs can get them. But why do dogs do this?
Chewing is normal behavior for dogs. Since dogs have evolved as scavengers, dogs have learned never to waste resources. This is the reason dogs will eat and chew items that we think of as trash. They don’t want to miss any chance at something that might be edible. They can eat some really gross things from grass to cat poop (see Why does my dog eat cat poop.)
The chewing of our shoes really impacts us maybe mostly because we not only need our shoes to go outside, but shoes come in pairs and when one is destroyed, the whole pair must be trashed. It hurts our feelings and our pocketbook. So if we know that chewing is a normal dog behavior, we have to consider what it could be about shoes that attracts attention for our dogs.
They smell… nice?
Many shoes are made of leather and like raw hide, leather can possess some of the scent of its natural origin and seem palatable. Your shoes also smell like you and, even better from a dog’s perspective, maybe even your smelly feet. Dogs are notorious for finding gross scents enticing. Shoes are soft, nearly edible items that are valuable to you. Your dog does not see chewing them as destroying them. It may seem more like putting them to better use.
Dogs Just Want To Have Fun
Some scientists think that the act of chewing itself can cause the release of dopamine. Activation of the dopamine system can decrease stress and increase sense of well being.¹ There are other things that cause dopamine release for people and pets. Things that you enjoy, like listening to music or painting a picture, probably cause a dopamine release for you. We think of these type of activities or hobbies as fun. Some dogs may engage in shoe chewing for entertainment, but some may engage in destructive behaviors to self-soothe because of anxiety or stress.
If your dog chews your shoes, you want to be sure to remove them from easy access. If you see that he has your shoe, try to trade him for a more appropriate item so he does not think keeping the shoe away from you is a fun game. Distract, never punish. He might not be able to associate the punishment with the shoe and then he will just learn to fear you. If your dog is consistently destructive, be sure to talk with your veterinarian. Your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety and need professional help.
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- Chewing prevents stress-induced hippocampal LTD formation and anxiety-related behaviors: a possible role of the dopaminergic system.Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:294068. doi: 10.1155/2015/294068. Epub 2015 May 17.Ono Y, Koizumi S, Onozuka M.