Dogs chew to make themselves feel better. Chewing naturally releases endorphins for them (as it does for us), so it can be used as a stress reliever, or as an enjoyable activity.
Archie is taking pleasure from chewing this ball (see below) – and you may notice your own dogs enjoying a similar calm nibble on something, which seems to be an equivalent to us listening to music, or doing yoga – or any other activity we might do when we are feeling good anyway, and the actual activity is something we can just get into and let go of other thoughts.
Generally in this situation they are chewing something which is ‘theirs’, and everything is quite relaxed to begin with.
Why dogs chew destructively
I mentioned earlier that sometimes dogs will chew as a stress reliever. More often than not this is something that happens when their owners are out. So either out of the house, or out of reach (they might be in another room with the door closed). This type of chewing is a symptom of Separation Anxiety. In short, your dog is worried about your absence, because they believe they are responsible for you. They can’t cope with this worry, so chew to relieve the stress, or to try to get out of the house to come and find you. I have written a number of articles on this topic. This one is probably the best, if you think this may be something affecting your dog and would like to know more:
Often this chewing will be focused in a specific area, e.g. around the door, or they will be chewing something which smells of their owners for comfort – shoes often receive the most attention. Or if they are tucked away in a small space, sometimes it’s the bed that gets it.
Destructive chewing when you are home
Okay, so what if your dog is chewing when you are home, but it’s quite destructive, and they don’t look relaxed like Archie? This means that your dog is stressed about something. So it’s important that you don’t add to their stress by telling them off/shouting at them. Instead, calmly move them towards something that it is okay for them to chew, like one of their toys, or a knotted towel. If this is a regular occurence then this is a symptom that they do have a lot of feelings of responsibility, and a misunderstanding of what their role is, so that will need addressing.
The dog pictured above was having a difficult time settling down to relax, so when he picked up this magazine I asked his owners if they could live without it. I explained that chewing it would help him to get over some of the stress that was preventing him from relaxing. Sure enough, aftering working it over for a while, he feel asleep and was really relaxed. His owners were then taught how to overcome the underlying stress in their day to day interactions with him, and this type of chewing soon became a thing of the past.
Gentle, enjoyable chewing is normal, so ensure your dogs have items they are allowed to chew to hand/paw. If they pick up other things, calmly move them onto what is theirs without making any sort of deal out of it.
Separation anxiety, and destructive chewing when you are home are both signs that your dog is going to need some behaviour interventions. I am based in Essex and cover all of Essex plus East London, Kent and Suffolk, so get in touch if you are interested in knowing more about how I can help!