A good many fraught people turn up at vet’s surgeries asking, ‘My dog chews up everything, what can I do?’ And there’s no single answer to this question. Each case is different, and the root of the problem is different too.
That said, in general terms it’s fair to say that dogs chew things up to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
Chewing is a natural way for dogs to reduce their stress levels. Chewing releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters connected with feelings of pleasure and well-being.
So in a nutshell chewing releases endorphins and reduces stress - so your dog relaxes, and feels better.
This means that if your dog bites everything within reach while he’s at home on his own, it’s a sign that his stress or anxiety levels in this situation are too high. Let's take a look at the possible reasons for this:
Sometimes the reason a dog chews everything up is a lack of physical or cognitive stimulation.
Not all dogs need the same amount of daily physical exercise, and they don’t all require the same level of cognitive stimulation either. Young dogs and puppies, together with working dogs like Border Collies, Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, etc.need much more attention in this sense. Both their bodies and their minds need lots of activity, and if they don’t get it, they may channel all that pent up energy into chewing up whatever they can find around your house.
A dog who’s bored, or who needs more physical exercise is the perfect candidate for destroying your home. It’s his way of using up all that excess energy.
Puppies have a much greater need to use up energy that adult dogs do. It’s the same with children. This is why it’s so typical for families who have just adopted a puppy to rush to the vet to ask, ‘my dog chews up everything, how can I solve the problem?’.
As ethologist Alba Benítez explains: ‘A puppy who doesn’t get the mental stimulation he needs is usually a puppy whose human family will describe him as extremely naughty. In reality, what happens is that his organism looks for natural ways to release all that pent up energy. Biting is one way of doing this’.
Another of the reasons that your dog is chewing everything up could be what’s known as ‘separation anxiety’.
Separation anxiety is a serious problem, and it’s quite frequent. If your dog starts to worry as soon as he realises that you’re going to leave him on his own, is anxious while you’re out, destroys objects, furniture, etc. and barks and or does his business inside the house when you’re not there, then it’s altogether possible that he’s suffering from separation anxiety.
Some dogs feel a burning need to be close to their human families, because only then do they feel secure, protected and relaxed. This is what’s called ‘over attachment’. When the level of over attachment is very high, it can lead to separation anxiety.
A dog with this sort of problem can't bear to be separated from his human friend, and lives in a state of anxiety. His way of releasing the stress accumulated is very often to bite at everything he comes across.
All too often dogs suffering from this disorder display destructive behaviour when left alone at home because they’re looking for a way of being reunited with their human friend. They can even destroy doors, windows, blinds, etc. But it needs to be clear that they don’t do this out of a desire for revenge, as some people believe, but because they’re anxious and afraid.
The solution to so-called destructive behaviours isn’t a one-size-fits-all, it’s different in each case.
If the root cause is boredom, or a lack of physical activity, you’ll need to put a plan in place to give your dog what he needs:
Another good idea if your dog bites everything is to sign up for an agility course, or for another type of canine sport that you and your dog can enjoy together to burn off some of that energy.
When the root of the problem is separation anxiety, you’ll always need to consult a specialist.
Ask your vet to recommend a canine ethologist who will be able to study the issues with your particular dog, and give you guidelines to follow for a personalised treatment.
Generally treatment to reduce separation anxiety combines behaviour modification therapy with the use of medication and/ or pheromones.
We very much hope that we’ve answered your question, ‘My dog chews up everything in the house - what can I do?’ If you want to learn more about canine care, click here.