It is extremely frustrating to come home and find a favorite hat, scarf or pair of shoes chewed beyond recognition. Worse still, this behavior can be a hazard to your pup’s health.
Colin Tennant, chairman of the U.K. Canine and Feline Behaviour Association, has spent 30 years studying the behavioral motivations of dogs. He offers some interesting and relatable reasons for their love of chewing human items.
“Chewing, for a dog, is like a human opening a door and looking into a room,” Tennant told Live Science. “People are nosy, and so are dogs. But they investigate with their mouths, because they don’t have hands.”
Dogs are particularly attracted to our shoes for two reasons:
“Dogs frequently chew things because they like the taste or the odor,” Tennant said. “In a home, the odors that the dogs find the most attractive are the human odors. People leave their shoes about, and the shoes have an intense smell.”
And then there’s the texture. The tough, but yielding consistency speaks to their wild animal instincts, according to Tennant.
“Shoes are frequently made of leather, and that reminds the dog of animals,” said Tennant. “Dogs eat animals. They are predators.”
As you may expect, the anxiety dogs feel when separated from their humans only makes the chewing problem worse.
“Dogs are pack animals. They don’t like being left alone. Dogs that are not used to being alone can get really anxious when the pack is absent and [can] display damaging behaviors such as chewing or ripping off the carpet,” Tennant said.
When it comes to training your dog to chew approved objects rather than forbidden ones, Tennant warns it is more complicated than a shopping trip to your local pet store.
“The most common misconception people learn from the internet is that they just need to buy the dog some toys and [the chewing] would stop,” the behaviorist said. “It won’t. A toy would smell of plastic, which is not necessarily a pleasant smell for a dog, [whereas] the shoe stinks of a human, which is a fantastic smell [for a dog]. They love it. There is no contest.”
Instead, pup parents must help their dogs establish a relationship with their toys. One way to do this is through play.
“Throwing the toy is a way to teach the dog to find toys attractive,” Tennant explained. “Dogs are possessive. It’s part of their nature. The moment you dash over to take an object away from them, they will run off with it — exactly the same way they would if another dog came over.”
He also reinfored the importance of reprimanding your dog in the moment or not at all since dogs are incapable of understanding the consequences of their past actions.
“If you scream at them half an hour after they destroyed something, the only thing they would learn is that sometimes you act nuts.”
If you need help deterring your dog from chewing or think his behavior is caused by separation anxiety, consult your veterinarian, a professional trainer, or a canine behaviorist.
H/T to Live Science