One of the questions we are regularly asked is ” How do I stop my dog chewing shoes? I tell him off when I find the shoes all chewed up, and I know he knows what he’s done is naughty, but he keeps doing it.”
The problematic thing about the statement, “he knows what he did was wrong” is that you need to catch your dog in the act of chewing your favourite leather loafer. If you tell them off two hours later, they have no idea that what they have done is wrong. Dogs live very much in the now, almost to the second, so any consequence to bad or unwanted behaviour has to be directly connected to that behaviour.
The usual response I get to this explanation is “But he must know what he did wrong. When I found the shoe and yelled “Who did this?!” he becomes really sad and sulky because he knows I’ve caught him”. Unfortunately, this belief is based on human psychology and not dog psychology.
The dog has no idea why you are telling him off. What he does know is that you are directing angry, frustrated or hostile energy towards him. Your dog has learnt that when he feels this particular energy coming from you if he reacts by going sad, sulky or submissive you more often than not feel sorry for him and that hostile energy stops. I call this the “baby browns response”. He gives you those sad baby brown eyes and your heart melts and you end up feeling bad for telling your dog off.
We need to understand that the driving force behind this reaction from your dog is survival. He feels threatened or frightened by your energy so reacts in a way that he has learnt will offer him the best chance of survival. This is animal psychology so responding to your dog the way you might a naughty child or errant teenager does not get the right message across.
So how stop my dog chewing things he shouldn’t?
There are three reasons why dogs like to chew. They are teething, they are bored or they are anxious.
When dogs chew it releases endorphins that make the dog feel better. So make sure you provide a couple of chew toys for your dog to enjoy while you are not around.
The simplest way to avoid your expensive leather shoes or runners being destroyed by your dog is not leave them lying around where your dog can get them. Remember leather shoes are made from animal hide so to a dog they smell and taste delicious. Remember also that as humans we sweat, and our feet and shoes can get quite smelly. However to a dog that smell is also delicious.
If you are lucky enough to catch your dog in the act there is no point losing your temper or hitting your dog with the shoe in question. Behaving this way send the wrong message to your dog. Calmly tell your dog off and send him away from the shoe. The message the dog then gets is that I am a calm, powerful leader and that is my shoe. You are claiming ownership of the shoe and telling your dog not to disrespect you by chewing it.