Digging and chewing are natural, normal behaviors for dogs. They were born with the instinct for these behaviors – but that doesn’t mean you can’t redirect them. The key to preventing unwanted chewing and digging is to identify why your dog is doing it in the first place, and to provide him the right alternatives to satisfy his natural instincts while preserving your belongings, yard and peace of mind.
Dogs chew for three main reasons:
1. Boredom and excessive energy
Bored dogs can be destructive dogs. Keep your dog occupied with plenty of approved things to chew, such as safe chew toys, chew treats or rawhide. When you find him chewing on these items, reward his good behavior with praise and treats. If he has a habit of chewing on a particular forbidden item, do what you can to limit his access to it. If it’s a piece of clothing, shoe or child’s toy, put it where your dog can’t get it. If it’s a larger item like furniture, make sure he isn’t left unsupervised in that room. While you’re gone, you may need to confine him to a crate or other safe area. Place toys in his crate that he can chew or interact with, such as a toy stuffed with treats to keep him busy. Never make the crate a place of punishment, but instead, a safe and desired place to be.
If you have a highly energetic dog, he may chew to burn off excess energy and occupy his time. That’s to be expected, so be sure he gets enough exercise, like taking him for daily walks, playing fetch or visiting a dog park. This will help use up his excess energy, as well as build a lifelong bond between you and your dog.
2. Teething in puppies
Puppies’ milk teeth, or baby teeth, come in between 3-8 weeks, and their permanent teeth start pushing out these milk teeth around 12 weeks. During this time, puppies, like human babies, enjoy gnawing on objects to relieve the pain and pressure in their gums. Give your puppy plenty of sturdy chew toys, like ones made of rubber or materials that can be frozen to reduce swelling and discomfort. Edible chew treats can be helpful as well, but need to be eaten under supervision.
Always keep your puppy in a crate or other safe place when unsupervised. Puppy-proof the area by removing any cords, wires or sharp objects, and place a few chew toys in there to keep him occupied.
3. Stress and/or separation anxiety
Dogs sometimes chew items that smell like their owners to relieve the stress of being left alone. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, it’s especially important to crate him while you’re gone to prevent him from hurting himself or your home. When you put him in his crate, give him a safe, appropriate treat, like a toy stuffed with peanut butter, so that he associates your leaving with a positive event. Also, try rubbing a clean crate blanket or chew toy on yourself so it acquires your scent to comfort him while you’re gone.
No matter why your dog chews, it’s important to limit what he chews. Keep valuables away from him. Store your favorite shoes, your kids’ most-loved stuffed animals, family heirlooms and so on out of his reach.
Dogs dig for many different reasons, some of which are breed-specific. A few of the most common are:
A bored dog may dig to entertain himself. Always avoid leaving him outside unsupervised for long periods of time. Go outside with him, and play fetch or practice training commands. The more you keep him entertained, the less likely he’ll dig.
2. Climate control
Some dogs dig holes in a yard and lie in them to cool off during hot weather, or stay warm in cold weather. The key here is to limit your dog’s exposure to extreme weather conditions, and to never leave him alone outside for long periods of time. In the summer, if you and your dog are going to be outside for a bit, consider setting up a baby pool where he can lie and keep cool, and place a bowl of ice water outside for him to drink. The same is true during very cold weather. If you plan to be outside together, try offering him extra blankets or an insulated dog house, and be sure he has access to areas of warm, direct sunlight. But remember, keep him indoors as much as possible during extreme temperatures.
3. The need to hunt
Some dog breeds dig because of a natural instinct to hunt. Terriers, for example, were originally bred to hunt for rodents by digging in the ground. Scent hounds, like beagles, tend to dig around fences in search of rabbits and other small animals. Try to keep your yard free of these animals to avoid tempting your dog. If your dog digs along the fence, you may need to reinforce it by attaching chicken wire to the bottom and pushing it into the ground. This will help prevent your dog from escaping, and keep rabbits out of your yard.
Other dogs simply have an inherent need to dig. If you can’t curb his digging habit, try giving him an approved area to dig in your yard. If you find him digging somewhere forbidden, move him to this approved area. When he digs in this area, give him praise and treats.
Whether your dog chews or digs, you can set him up for success by making sure he gets plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, and keeping him confined when unsupervised. If you do find that your dog has chewed something, stay calm and do not punish him. Punishing your dog after the fact will cause him confusion and fear. If you catch him in the act, calmly and firmly tell him “no” and direct him elsewhere. Remind yourself that this is normal behavior that can be stopped once you identify his reasons and give him solutions.