Why and What Does My Dog Need to Chew?


With rare exception, dogs need to chew like birds need to fly and kangaroos need to hop. It’s part of who they are. Accepting that will save you huge headaches, property destruction and veterinary bills.

Dogs need to chew. So we provide appropriate outlets for what is a perfectly normal doggy behavior. People who live with a creature with a set of predator-style choppers need to plan accordingly, you know?

Here is how to figure out what to give your dog:

  1. A good rule of thumb(nail): Choose items softer than your dog’s teeth. Your ability to supervise, your veterinarian, and your dog’s chew style together determine the best items, which should be soft enough to leave an indentation with your thumbnail, but not so soft pieces can be torn or chewed off.
  2. Don’t believe the packaging. The package may say “safe,” “dental,” “natural…” There are many very popular products sold in stores and online that are a very bad idea because they are harder than your dog’s teeth. Skip them, I beseech you. Exhibit A on what can happen when you fall for the claims on the package (as I once did!).
  3. Toss worn toys that get the outer surface shaved off so that bigger chunks or the ends can be eaten. The two center-most toys in the photo above are past due and should be thrown out (in fact, I fished one of them out of the trash to take the photo, which is gross, but now you know my level of passion for your dog’s chew needs).

The orange Bionic toy on the far left in the photo is one of the few things I’ve found that is softer than teeth that my large, super chewy dog can dig into and not bite chunks off of. The Squirrel Dude and Chuckle from Premier work for him, as does a stuffed Kong. The softer, nubby toy pictured on the far right is usually a good one to try (for a dog less like a T-rex).

Stay away from sticks, rocks, metal, plastic, bones, glass, horns, petrified cheese, antlers, old coffee table legs, ice cubes, corn cobs. You get the picture.

If you think your tiny puppy or new young dog has outgrown the chewing phase, read this.

And if you don’t already, consider brushing your dog’s teeth. It’s pretty easy (your vet will show you), many dogs need it only a few times a week, and it is a great way to make sure your dog’s mouth is in good shape without risking fractures from sketchy toys. Something to chew on.

Puppy or Land Shark?

It seems there is nothing safe from your little land shark: chair legs, corners of rugs, cabinets, socks, plants, electrical cords and your shoes. But don’t despair; the first thing to know is that your puppy is normal. He is not bad, or spiteful, or hopeless. He is in fact a dog, which means he has to rip and tear and chew at things with his mouth. Puppies in particular chew on objects a lot, partly to soothe their growing teeth and partly learn about the world. If you have a dog of a breed designed to put things in their mouths (retrievers and others), then you may find your puppy’s default behavior is to put his mouth on things.

The good news is that your belongings don’t have to fall victim to your land shark. All you have to do is be the one to decide what your puppy chews on. If you prevent him from putting your things in his mouth, and then provide your puppy with the chew opportunities he needs, you will meet his normal doggy needs and save your belongings at the same time. 

Prevention and planning ahead take forethought, but most people find it is far less stressfulPuppyChewing than finding a destroyed item later. Besides, by the time you discover the destroyed object, the puppy has had a lot of fun with it, and that fun experience he’s had makes it more likely he’ll choose a similar item in the future. What about catching him in the act and yelling at him? Yelling as punishment really isn’t the way to go. The only thing yelling generally will accomplish is allowing you to let off some steam. Instead, put that energy into planning ahead and you’ll enjoy your pup a lot more, and he’ll be learning what is ok to chew on.

The first step is to prevent access to things you don’t want chewed. Do not skip this step. By skipping this step, many people fall into the following common trap: they allow their puppy access forbidden items, and then hand him a toy that the pup likes to try to get him to chew on that instead. That approach may be inadvertently rewarding the pup for chewing on things he shouldn’t, because it establishes a pattern that teaches him, “Chew on my stuff first, and then I will reward you with this neat toy.” It may not be what you intend, but it may be what he learns! Avoid this trap by using an exercise pen, a crate, a baby gate, or a tether (when you’re in the room), or a drag line to prevent access to items that are off limits. It’s best to puppy proof a room or two to minimize the things the puppy can get into. Remember: prevent what you don’t want and then reward what you do want.

So, you’ve restricted your puppy’s access to unauthorized chew objects, and now you’re ready to provide your pup with appropriate chew outlets. A great place to start is mealtime. Instead of feeding your puppy from a bowl, use mealtime as a way to satisfy his need to use his choppers. To do this, feed all meals by turning them into food puzzles for him to solve. This is easily accomplished by pouring his ration of kibble into an empty, cleaned out drink bottle or carton. Discard the cap and cut several nickel-sized holes into the sides. The kibble will be released as he chews and paws at the bottle. There are also toys made especially for this purpose just about anywhere you can buy pet supplies. Look for the Busy Buddy line of toys, especially the Twist and Treat and Squirrel Dude. They now have sizes especially for puppies, even for very small breeds. Use food puzzles and other edible chew toys throughout the day to keep your puppy’s mouth occupied.

Solving food puzzles will provide an appropriate outlet for some of your dog’s mental and physical energy. It will also automatically reward him for amusing himself with his own toys (instead of waiting until he barks for attention or out of boredom, or chews on you or your things). Rewarded behaviors become stronger and more frequent. Hence, lying quietly with a chew toy will prevent or replace other bad habits. Even in a land shark.