How To Stop A Dog From Chewing And Survive The Lab Chewing Phase!

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How to stop a dog from chewing

In this article you’ll find out how to stop a dog from chewing everything around him. Pippa has some great tips to help you stop a puppy from chewing on your favorite possessions.

Here’s where you can get help with puppies that chew shoes, and other human possessions, at dogs that chew furniture, carpets, and even the wooden fabric of your home!

We’ll be looking at deterrent sprays and training techniques.

And at whether punishment works to stop a dog from chewing.

The first thing to say is that I feel your pain!

Chewing is very destructive and even small puppies can do a lot of damage with their little teeth.

It is no joke to find valuable possessions in tatters, or your home looking like the aftermath of a termite invasion.

But before we can tackle a problem like this, it is helpful to talk about what is normal and what is not, and to establish the root causes of both normal and abnormal chewing

Why Do Dogs Chew

Most people realize that a desire to chew is a normal puppy stage of development.

People usually expect teething puppies to chew to some extent.

Though many do expect puppies to chew on their own things rather than other peoples!

But some dogs chew much more than others.

And destructive chewing can persist in some dogs, long past the puppy teething stage.

In fact Labradors are particularly prone to being persistent chewers.

Dogs chew for a whole range of different reasons, including

  • Teething
  • Retrieving Instincts
  • Boredom
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Relaxation
  • Habit

We’ll look at each of these in turn. But is constant chewing normal?  Or is your Labrador suffering from some kind of behavioral problem? Let’s find out!

Is chewing normal?

I have read some interesting threads on forums, usually started by frustrated owners of puppies around six month of age that are systematically destroying the family’s possessions.

labrador puppy chewing
all puppies chew things – it’s normal

The responses are divided between those that think this behaviour is abnormal (“none of my dogs ever did that”) And those that think it is completely normal.

Over the last thirty-five years I have had usually had five or more dogs living with me at any one time. And have raised many puppies.

In the early days I had countless chair legs ruined,  entire vehicle safety belts devoured, base boards eaten, and numerous other items scoffed, chomped or otherwise dis-assembled.

I have learned from these experiences, though perhaps not quite as quickly as I should have! And discovered ways to avoid serious damage to our home and possessions when a new puppy comes to join us.

I’ll share those with you in a moment.

My point here is that chewing, including extremely destructive chewing, is so common as to be absolutely normal.

Particularly in young Labradors.

Up to a certain age.

In older dogs however, chewing can be a sign that things are not quite right in your dog’s life, and that you may need to make some adjustments to his routine or schedule.

How long does the ‘normal’ chewing stage last?

Many people assume that chewing is to do with teething.

And they naturally expect that puppies will stop chewing everything in sight once their baby teeth are lost and their adult teeth have come through.

And for some dogs this is the case.  But for many Labradors, chewing continues long after the puppy has his full set of adult teeth

In fact it is fairly normal for a Labrador to continue to chew quite destructively up until around his second birthday.  Chewing tends to fall off quite dramatically after that in dogs that have sufficient company and mental stimulation.

Let’s look at those ’causes’ of chewing now in a bit more detail.

#1 The puppy chewing stage

Your puppy will have cut his first teeth long before he joins your family.

The teething process you will go through together involves him shedding the baby teeth he arrived with and ending up with a full set of big dog teeth.

His puppy teeth will start to loosen at around four months old, and he’ll have all his adult teeth by around seven months of age.

You can find much more information on teething and dealing with teething in our article dedicated to this fascinating topic

But for many Labs, the teething stage is just the beginning. And part of that lies in the origins of your Labrador’s role as a retriever

#2 Retrieving instincts and mouthiness

Dogs that have been bred for many generations to work as retrievers for their human hunting companions are often what we refer to as ‘mouthy’

They are highly ‘mouth’ orientated. They ‘lick’ a lot and like to use their mouths to carry things around.

Of course, if you are four months old and you have a shoe in your mouth, the natural tendency is to chew on it.  If you never picked up the shoe in the first place, that is less likely to be a problem

And many Labrador puppies pick things up all the time, simply becuase as retrievers, they love to have something to carry.

When we add some boredom into this equation, the incentive to chew becomes even greater

# 3 Dogs that chew when they are bored

We all have different boredom thresholds, dogs are no different. Some dogs are quite happy to do very little for hours on end, others, not so much.

Labradors are intelligent, sociable dogs, and are particularly prone to boredom if left alone for long periods.

One way of relieving boredom, if you are a dog, is to chew things up!

It isn’t uncommon for chewing to become a problem once a dog gets to around a year old and his owners start leaving him alone for longer stretches of time.

So it is worth bearing in mind how you are going to occupy your young dog when you are not there, and we’ll look at that in a moment.

#4 Dogs that chew when they are anxious

Ideally, all dogs need to learn to spend time alone from puppyhood onwards.  A well adjusted adult dog is then happy to be left from time to time, and will simply sleep when you are gone.

How to stop your Labrador chewing things!

Dogs which are not taught to accept some periods of solitude in puppyhood, dogs which are left alone for far too long, or dogs that have had traumatic experiences when left alone may develop a disorder called separation anxiety.

A dog which becomes very anxious when left, may resort to destroying your possessions, or even the fabric of your home, in order to relieve his anxiety.

Which brings us to the point that the act of chewing is in itself, is very pleasurable and calming to many dogs.

#5 Dogs chewing for relaxation and pleasure

There is no doubt that many dogs simply chew for fun.   They aren’t anxious, they are not particularly bored, they just enjoy having a good long chew.

It relaxes them, and makes them feel happy.

The problems arise, when that chewing activity is directed at the wrong items  –  your items!

Relaxation chewing is particularly common in Labradors and other retrievers.  Again, this is probably partly because we have bred them to enjoy having things in their mouths.

#6 Dogs that chew from habit

Like many other stress busting or pleasurable activities, chewing can become a deeply ingrained habit.

Habits can be difficult to change and breaking a habit may involve physically preventing your dog from parts of your home. We’ll look at that in more detail below.

Unusual causes of dogs chewing

Occasionally a dog will start chewing because he has some kind of medical problem.

This is more likely to be the cause if the chewing starts quite suddenly in an older dog that has never had a chewing problem before.

As with any other unusual changes in your dog’s behaviour, a chewing habit that suddenly appears in a mature dog, needs to be reported to your vet so that he can rule out any physical problems that may be affecting your pet.

Do dogs chew from hunger

Chewing isn’t usually related to hunger, though of course a hungry dog may be bored or even stressed while waiting for his meal, and chew for those reasons.

Eating is a fairly transient affair for  most Labradors in any case, so you can never hope to prevent chewing by giving your dog something to eat.

The food will  be gone in a moment, doesn’t satisfy the urge to chew, and he’ll soon be as fat as a barrel.

Now we have looked at all kinds of reasons for chewing, we can make a plan to improve things.

But first let’s look at the role that punishment or corrections have to play.

Can I stop dog chewing with punishment?

There are a number of problems with punishment in general, but punishment for chewing is especially problematic.

Punishment, even very mild punishment, focuses a lot of attention on the dog and perversely, this can make things worse, especially with a dog that is bored, and/or craves more of your attention.

Many Labradors are quite attention seeking, they have been bred to work closely with their human partners and being together, is very important to them.

If your dog feels rewarded by your attention, even though you are angry with him, it won’t stop him wrecking your stuff in the future. Instead, it will make him more secretive

“How to punish a dog for chewing?”

This is a popular question. But the fact is, most destructive chewing in older dogs goes on behind your back, or when you are out.

Punishment can sometimes be a way to teach your dog not to chew things in front of you.  It is however nigh on impossible to teach a dog not to chew things in your absence.

Short of setting up a video, monitoring it around the clock, and operating some kind of remote punishment device in your kitchen, it can’t be done.

Naughty LabradorPunishing the dog ‘at the scene of the crime’ so to speak, has been proven to be ineffective if there is any kind of time delay.

Punishment only works, if it occurs during the bad behavior.

So it won’t work if you punish your dog when you get home, for chewing up the sofa cushions while you were out.

He’ll just think you are grumpy and unreasonable.

Effectively, all punishment does, is teach your dog to be more sneaky about chewing. So I recommend you don’t consider it at all.

Staying friends with your puppy

Remember also, that punishing a puppy will not prevent him chewing – he needs to chew and chewing is completely normal and natural for him.

What punishment will do, is make your puppy afraid of you.  On that basis alone I really don’t recommend it.

So, let’s look at practical ways to stop your Labrador chewing things you don’t want him to chew. We’ll start with those teething puppies

How to stop a puppy from chewing

A major cause of puppy chewing is teething, and there isn’t anything you can do about teething, it’s a process your puppy must pass through.

Because puppies are inevitably going to chew, and need to chew, your main strategy is a two pronged approach

  • Prevent access to your valuable possessions
  • Redirect chewing to appropriate toys

Preventing access means restricting puppies to rooms where there are no valuable possessions lying around. Or, clearing valuable possessions out of a puppy’s reach throughout the home.  I recommend restricting access as the easier option, unless you are a very tidy family indeed.

The best way to do this, is with a dog gate or baby gate.

With older dogs, past the seven month teething cut off point, we need a more comprehensive plan.

How to stop a dog from chewing – Action Steps

There are three parts to the plan

  • Remove causes
  • Redirect the chewing
  • Break the habit

The first step is to make sure you have removed the causes of chewing that can be avoided.

#1.Remove the causes of chewing

Labradors need plenty of exercise and some company.  In many homes, everyone is out at work all day, and young dogs can get very bored when left alone for long periods.

Try to give your dog a good long walk before you leave for work, and arrange for someone to come in and take him for another walk part way through the day.  He is more likely to relax and sleep rather instead of dismantling your sofa cushions, if he has had enough exercise.

If your day is a very long one, consider sending him to doggy day care  where he will enjoy the company of other dogs while you are at work.

Combining a dog with full time work  can be challenging and you may need some extra help. You’ll find lots of information in that link and you can get support from other working dogs parents in our forum

Preventing separation anxiety

If your older dog has a separation anxiety issues do consider getting a consultation with a behaviourist.  They will be able to assess your dog in his home environment and give you a plan to help him.

If you have a young puppy, you can avoid separation anxiety developing by teaching your puppy to cope with being alone for short periods of time from an early age.

Check out my click for quiet article for more information on helping puppies that cry when you leave them.  And keep separations very short to begin with.

Make sure that puppies left alone for more than a minute or two, have something appropriate to occupy them.  Rescue dogs may need to be treated in a similar way, and introduced to separation gradually, when you first bring them home.

Chewing for pleasure

Of course there is one cause of chewing you cannot and should not try to remove, or prevent in your dog,  and that is chewing for pleasure.

What we do instead with dogs that like to chew for pleasure, and that includes all puppies, is redirect their chewing onto something more appropriate than your favourite shoes

#2. Redirect the chewing onto appropriate toys

Once you have tackled the causes of destructive chewing, you need to tackle your dog’s natural need to chew for pleasure.

This means redirecting his chewing activities onto sensible alternatives. This isn’t always as straightforward as it might seem.

Most people give their dogs chew toys.  And wonder why he prefers to gnaw on the table legs.  The fact is, most chew toys are rather boring.

labrador puppy with rope toy
some puppies like a knotted rope

Some puppies enjoy those giant knotted rope toys, though they are not indestructible and you’ll need to keep an eye on them and remove them when they start to come apart.

The ideal chew toy

To really make chew toys appealing you usually need to add something interesting.  And for most Labradors, that means food.

Dipping chew toys in savoury spreads like marmite or peanut butter can help extend the pleasure time, but not for long.

The answer lies in the wonderful Kong toy.  In fact what you need is not one, but several Kongs.

Why Kongs help stop Labradors chewing your things

The kong is a hollow, tough, rubber toy that most dogs cannot destroy. The Kong Extreme is especially sturdy and great for very aggressive chewers.

greenies for dogs
The important part however of a Kong’s structure is the hollow in the middle.

Your job is to fill this hollow centre with something delicious and then (this is the important part) freeze it solid.

When you leave your puppy or young dog alone or unsupervised for long –  give him a frozen Kong first.

This will keep him happy for quite some time.

Choosing the right kong

You can get Kongs in puppy sizes for little ones, and in extra strong rubber (black) for really strong chewers.  The red ones are suitable for most adult Labs.

kong1You’ll need several so that there is always one ready and frozen in the freezer while the others are being washed and refilled.

Kongs are not the cheapest toy, but they are an indispensable aid to the long term prevention of destructive chewing.  Don’t leave home without giving one to your dog.  This is especially important with dogs that have an existing chewing habit, or suffer from boredom or anxiety.

So, now you have tackled your dog’s boredom, and any anxiety issues, and you have an alternative system for redirecting his chewing onto his frozen kong toys.  What next?

#3. Avoid or break bad habits

The final step in the plan is to break any existing bad chewing habits, and in young puppies, to prevent those habits developing.  In both cases this is a physical issue.

When it comes to avoiding or breaking bad habits, it means physically preventing the puppy from being able to indulge in them.

Some people struggle with this. They are hoping for a command or cue to give their dog, that will prevent chewing in their absence.  But this isn’t going to happen.

Let’s give you some examples of different problems that can be addressed this way

How to stop a dog chewing shoes

This is a very common problem. Dogs like the smell of feet and Labs love carrying things. So what could be better than a shoe to carry around.

One thing you can do is teach your Lab to bring your shoes to you and hand them over, rather than running off with them. We cover teaching fetch in another article. But in the meantime, to break the habit of chewing shoes, I’m afraid the answer involves a little effort on your part

You are going to need to get everyone in the family to put their shoes away, at least for a while until your dog has passed through the chewing phase

We invested in a shoe rack for our front and back porches, and taught everyone to leave their shoes there, rather than in the hall or on their bedroom floors. The dogs don’t have access to these areas.

If your bedrooms are upstairs you can insist the family puts their shoes up in their rooms and place a dog gate across the bottom of the stairs so your pooch has no access. This kind of strategy is especially important with puppies

Before we have our first dog, we are all used to being able to put things down on the floor or low tables, and for them to still be there when we come back.

Life with a puppy isn’t quite like that.  If you leave the TV remote on the chair, your puppy will pick it up.  He’ll then run around with it for a bit, and when he’s done running, he’ll lie down and chew it up.  That’s what puppies do.

Trying to deal with this one incident at a time is exhausting and you’ll soon fall out with your puppy in a big way.

The best way is to prevent your puppy having access to rooms with important items in them, and to teach yourself and your kids to pick up your stuff in rooms where puppies have free access.

How to stop a dog from chewing furniture

Obviously, you can’t put your sofa away, or your favourite lamp, so let’s look at protecting things that cannot be moved.

One solution is to block access to that particular room except under supervision. Again, a dog gate or baby gate works well.

If you have an open plan home you can buy extended systems that can literally divide an entire room

Another solution is to try some kind of spray on dog chewing deterrent

Using a stop dog chewing spray

You can buy spray on repellents that will put some puppies and dogs off chewing.  You can try spraying it on your table legs and so on.

Pro Anti-Chew Spray is a popular brand. It is alcohol free and can be sprayed on your furniture and even your clothes.

It’s probably a good idea to test a little bit where it doesn’t show in case it affects the color, but it shouldn’t do.

Make sure you are buying a spray intended for furniture rather than to spray on dogs that are nibbling themselves.

The reviews for all dog chewing deterrent sprays tend to be mixed – you’ll need to try it to find out whether it will have a strong repellent effect on your dog

How to stop a dog chewing wood baseboards and doors

As with chewing furniture, exclusion and sprays are the two main options to try if your dog is munching his way along your baseboards.

It’s especially important when a dog is chewing walls or the framework of your home to remember that this kind of behavior, especially in adult dogs, is often associated with isolation or anxiety.

Think hard about providing your dog with more company or mental stimulation as well as about breaking the chewing habit with barriers or sprays

Bear in mind that some puppies and dogs seem indifferent to the taste of the spray and will happily carry on chewing wood that  liberally coated in unpleasant substances!

So in many cases dog gates are the best option.

Dog gates for determined chewers

You don’t need to buy a dog gate specifically designed for dogs if you have a Labrador puppy. Baby gates are fine.

To keep puppies away from your more precious possessions and soft furnishings, at a minimum, you’re going to need some baby gates like this one.

Put these across doorways or anywhere you don’t want the puppy to go.  Upstairs for example.

For older dogs, you can get taller baby gates that even a Labrador can’t jump.

You can even get extending baby gates for large openings in open plan homes.

If you are interesting in finding out more about this then check out our puppies and baby gates article.

Crating your puppy

Many people use a crate to keep their puppy out of mischief at night, and when they leave the house.  Some of you won’t want to do this, but for those that do, there is plenty of information in our crates and crate training section.

If you are going to crate your puppy you need to do so for very short periods of time and leave the puppy suitable chew toys to occupy his need to chew while you are gone.

If you are going to go out for longer periods, then you’ll need to get someone to care for your puppy or use a puppy play pen or puppy proof room, instead of a crate.

Don’t forget your vehicle!

Crates are really useful in vehicles too and can save a lot of heart ache.  One small dog can run up a very large bill when left alone in the interior of a car for a few minutes.

Many years ago my young Labrador ate through both the passenger and driver safety belts in our Landrover when left alone for less than twenty minutes.  That was a pretty expensive lesson for us as a young hard-up couple.

You can buy safety harnesses for young dog to sit on the back seat of your vehicle, but these and the interior of your car are vulnerable to the attentions of your labrador’s teeth.

A crate in the vehicle is often a better solution until your Labrador has got past the chewing stage.

Check out our Travel Crates For Labradors section for detailed reviews

What about puppy bedding?

People often ask me what they can do about their puppy chewing up his own bed.
This is a tricky one.

None of us wants to see a puppy without a bed, but if your puppy is tearing lumps off his and swallowing them, you are going to need to remove it for a while.

A firm mat, or some vet bed is often the best option for bed chewers, but you’ll need to watch and supervise to make sure your puppy isn’t swallowing that too.

When the chewing finally stops

At some point, most dogs, even Labradors, grow out of constant chewing.

At this point, having broken the bad habit or successfully prevented one from starting, you’ll be able to give your dog the freedom of the house.  You can heave a sigh of relief and put away your gates and your bitter spray.

If you are thinking about putting away your puppy crate, be aware that it is very tempting to de-crate big dogs too soon.

This is because large dogs need large crates, and large crates are an unsightly nuisance in all but the biggest houses.

It may help to remember that many Labradors will carry on chewing things they shouldn’t chew, well past their first birthday, and some will continue until they are around two years old.

So, a little patience is required.

Remember to be very generous with those frozen Kongs during the de-crating process and for the next few months.

If your dog hasn’t started a chewing habit by then, he probably never will.

Summary

As you can see, chewing is pretty normal, especially in Labradors, and it can last for much longer than early puppyhood.

Most experts now agree that destructive chewing is best avoided by reducing boredom, treating any anxiety problems, providing appropriate chew toys, and preventing very young dogs from having access to your more precious things.

With dogs that have already become destructive, it is especially important to break the habit by preventing access to the things he was destroying.  This can take a little time and patience, but gets long term results.

More help and information

Happy-Puppy-jacket-image1-195x300For a complete guide to raising a healthy and happy puppy, including managing puppy problems and misbehavior, don’t miss The Happy Puppy Handbook.

It will help you get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and early obedience.

The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.

Do you have a chewer?

Is or was your Labrador a chewer?  What is the most expensive / precious thing your dog ever destroyed?  Tell us your story and share your pain with us in the comments box below!

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Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of several books on dogs. She is the founder of the Labrador Site and a regular contributor. She is passionate about helping people enjoy their Labradors and lives in Hampshire with her husband and four dogs.

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