Why Did My Adult Dog Start Chewing Things?

You expect puppies to chew on everything they can get their little jaws around, but when an adult dog with no previous history of excessive chewing starts gnawing on the sofa leg or your shoes, it can be a real shock. Adult dogs take up chewing behaviors for a variety of reasons, and it's important to find the underlying cause of this new behavior before it becomes a hard-to-break habit.

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Boredom or Attention Seeking

If your dog's lifestyle has changed lately, he may react by chewing. Chewing relieves boredom and, depending on how you react, can provide attention. Take your dog out for several walks each day. A short walk before work, when you get home and after dinner will provide more stimulation than one longer walk each day. You can also provide entertainment while you are gone with puzzle-type toys that your dog has to work with to release treats.

Anxious or Scared

The act of chewing on something is soothing to many dogs, which means they may pick up the behavior if they are worried about a change in their lifestyle, such as you adding a new pet, or outside stimuli, like bad weather or a noisy neighbor. If you believe your dog is chewing because he is anxious or scared, try to make some changes to make his life calmer and more relaxed. Leave a radio playing if noisy neighbors are a problem, for example.

Reaction to Pain

Dogs that develop mouth pain may start chewing. If your dog's gums are irritated, red or inflamed, they may be causing him pain. Chewing temporarily relieves this pain. Your veterinarian can examine your dog's mouth and determine if he has problems. Chewing can also help keep your dog's mouth healthy, so it is important to provide adequate chewing toys for him, to prevent dental problems from developing.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety differs from garden-variety anxiety and fear. It cannot be dealt with by increasing exercise and modifying your dog's routine. Dogs that experience separation anxiety are fixated on being alone and can be destructive when left by themselves. In addition to chewing, these dogs often howl, whine, compulsively lick or chew areas of their body, and dig at baseboards and doors.

If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, teach him that leaving and coming home is normal by leaving for short periods and gradually extending the length of time you are gone as he becomes accustomed to your absences.

References:

Pet Place: Why Do Dogs Chew Everything When You're Gone?
Humane Society: Chewing: The Whys and Hows of Stopping A Gnawing Problem
Pet Place: How To Deal With a Chewing, Destructive Dog
Partnership For Animal Welfare: Separation Anxiety: Prevention and Solutions

About the Author
With features published by media such as Business Week and Fox News, Stephanie Dube Dwilson is an accomplished writer with a law degree and a master's in science and technology journalism. She has written for law firms, public relations and marketing agencies, science and technology websites, and business magazines.