It’s one of life’s great mysteries: Why would your canine best friend rather gnaw on a bone or a rubber toy than sit next to you on the couch and receive endless belly rubs? What’s going on in that furry little head of hers that makes her focus on her chew toy as if it were world’s largest porterhouse?
Before we answer, let’s celebrate—if your pooch is chomping on her chew toy, that means she’s not chomping on your sofa. Better still, chewing is a natural behavior with plenty of benefits. For starters, chewing on a hard object helps keep your pup’s jaws strong and her teeth and gums clean.
These are great reasons to support your dog’s chew toy obsession, but they don’t really explain its underlying cause. It’s tough to get a straight answer out of a dog, but here are some of the most common theories canine psychologists have floated for dogs’ undying love of their chew toys.
1. YOUR DOG IS A PUPPY.
A dog’s age can make her more likely to chomp. Like human babies with teething toys, puppies chew frequently as their baby teeth fall out and their adult teeth come in. As a pet owner, your key move during this phase, which happens around when your dog is four to six months old, is to make sure your dog is chewing the right things, i.e. not your favorite shoes. Keep plenty of chew toys around and see which kind she likes best.
2. DOGS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN.
It may sound obvious, but it’s true: Dogs enjoy the act of chewing. Like a dental version of fetch, it’s a game they never grow tired of. Some dogs have also developed a positive association with their chew toy. If you presented it to them and praised them when they first chewed it, this memory builds on itself. Like the human brain, the dog brain has a pleasure center that lights up when presented with something they know they enjoy. That’s what positive reinforcement (think: treats used to motivate dogs during training) is all about.
3. YOUR DOG IS SEEKING COMFORT.
Rover may not always chomp out of joy. Many dogs exhibit obsessive chewing behavior when they’re anxious. If your dog chews predominantly when you’re away, he may be experiencing separation anxiety. In this case, it’s especially important to let him know what things he’s allowed to chew and what things he isn’t through positive reinforcement training. Having a special toy to carry around in his mouth or chew to his heart’s content can comfort your pup when he would otherwise be anxious.
4. YOUR DOG IS BORED.
If a dog isn’t getting enough exercise or mental stimulation, he’ll often seek out his own entertainment. Again, be happy that your dog has a favorite chew toy that isn’t your living room carpet or dining room table. But if you want to offer him other forms of stimulation, consider feeding him his meals in puzzle toys, committing to doggy play dates, or enrolling him in a structured physical activity such as agility training.
5. YOUR DOG IS STRESSED OUT OR FRUSTRATED.
If your dog sees another dog she wants to play with and can’t, if she wants to chase that chipmunk but she’s behind a fence, or if she’s in a situation that makes her uncomfortable or fearful, it’s natural for her to take it all out on her chew toy. Again, this outlet is completely fine—just keep an eye on the behavior and make sure it doesn’t become destructive. If she does chew something that’s not hers when you’re out of the room, don’t yell at her once you see it. She won’t make the connection between the act and the delayed scolding. Plus, she’ll become even more stressed out.
6. IT’S GOOD TO THE LAST BITE.
If your dog loves chewing on bones, the obsession may have an evolutionary basis. Researchers have found that many wild dogs developed bone-crushing teeth that allowed them to gnaw their way straight to the marrow at the center of the bone. The marrow, of course, contains high levels of fat and many nutrients—meaning that dogs who could chew their way through a bone could survive when food was scarce. Your domesticated dog doesn’t have those particular chompers, but she still has the instinct.
If your dog loves a good chomp, chances are they’ve chewed through their share of toys. Want to keep them happy with toys that are designed to maximize the joy of destruction? Get them some goodies from BARK's Destroyers Club available on barkshop.com. They’ve made every bite exactly right.