We are often asked about how to stop puppies and adult dogs from chewing furniture. Understandably, it is frustrating when your dog opts for your antique wooden dining chairs instead of the multitude of chew toys you have purchased for them.
It is also easy to feel like our dog is trying to push our buttons by chewing furniture. This is not the case, they are simply trying to meet a need.
Our approach in solving this problem will be:
- Identify the function – what is the need your dog is trying to meet?
- Remove their ability to practice this unwanted behaviour
- Identify appropriate replacement behaviours that both you and the dog are happy with
1. What is the need your dog is trying to meet?
For a moment I want you to think about how your dog destroys furniture. This will help us understand why they are chewing furniture.
They may be chewing furniture in a slow relaxed way, chewing slowly and using the big jaw muscles. This type of chewing is something all dogs need to do. Think of this type of chewing as a nice meditation session for your dog. You will also see chewing furniture occur often in puppies as they are trying to relieve the pain associated with teething. Depending on the breed of dog, teething will finish between 5-7 months of age.
For all ages of dog, they may also be chewing furniture to meet the need of killing and dissecting prey. For example, are they grabbing a mouthful of a cushion and then looking really excited as they rip it open and then pull out all the stuffing?
Lastly, are they only chewing furniture and other fixtures in specific scenarios which are stressful? For example, my dog Henry used to chew the window sill whenever he heard a noise on the street that scared him. This chewing is occurring as a coping mechanism.
Each of the scenarios described above is rewarding for your dog to do. It feels good for them to chew on furniture and it feels good for them to rip up and dissect stuffed furniture. Our dogs are not doing this to annoy us, they are just doing behaviours that work for them.
2. Stop their ability to keep practicing the unwanted behaviour
We know doing this behaviour feels good for our dogs. Behaviour that is rewarded gets repeated (even if it is self rewarding like chewing).
Take out a piece of paper, and draw a line down the middle to split it in two. In the first column, tally the amount of times your dog chewed on furniture or something else you didn’t want them to chew. In the second column, tally the amount of times they chewed on something you wanted them to chew on.
If you have lots of tally marks in the first column, your dog has had lots of learning that chewing furniture feels good. Our aim is to stop adding tally marks to the first column. We will not succeed in changing the behaviour if we don’t prevent them practicing the unwanted behaviour.
This might mean blocking off access to particular furniture by closing doors or using baby gates or pens. If you are not actively supervising your dog, they should not have access to chew on things you don’t want them to chew.
In some cases it might be easier to temporarily remove the furniture your dog loves to chew. This may seem inconvenient right now, however it is the simplest thing in the long run. Once you have helped them learn what they should chew instead, you can then allow your dog to have access to the furniture again.
3. What can they chew instead?
In step 1 you were thinking about what function your dog is trying to meet by chewing furniture. These details are crucial in deciding what to give them instead.
Are they looking for something to chew in that slow relaxed way? Give them long term chews of a similar texture to the furniture they were chewing.
If they are chewing on wooden furniture, goat horns or deer antlers are similar in texture to wood. Are they chewing your leather armchair? Then cow ears or other leathery type chew are excellent. We love getting chews from Clear Dog treats.
Cardboard boxes with other boxes and hidden treats inside or stuffed toys from op-shops can be great to rip apart instead of ripping apart your cushions.
For all these options, supervise initially to check they are safe options for your dog.
Each dog is an individual and will have different likes and dislikes. If they don’t instantly chew the first thing you offer them, persist in trying other options.
If you think your dog may be chewing because they are anxious, please get in touch with us to help. This situation is more complex because we need to address the underlying emotion.
Want some help?
We commonly help people who want their dogs to stop destroying their furniture. Get in touch with us to find out more.