Ask Crystal: To Chew or Not to Chew

View of a dogs feet with torn pieces of paper spread around

View of a dogs feet with torn pieces of paper spread around

Dear Crystal, 

We have an almost 5-year-old female German Shepherd who has never been destructive other than with some of her chew toys. Today she destroyed my husband’s workshop. We keep her and her almost 10-year-old brother in there when we leave for work. They have never bothered anything in there before but today she chewed everything. She pulled things off the desk, chewed on boots, pulled plugs out of outlets, etc. How should we handle this? 


Suddenly Destructive 


Dear Suddenly, 

As always, when a new behavior pops up out of nowhere, a medical cause should be ruled out. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian and let them know what is going on so they can look at her and make sure there isn’t anything medically wrong. She could have something wrong with her teeth that are causing her to chew to relieve pain. They may also think that behavioral medications are warranted. You can use some medications as needed and on a temporary basis. 

Anytime a behavior appears out of nowhere, my first suspicion is some sort of stress or change in the routine which may have caused the outburst. Think about the dog’s life right now. Has her routine changed? Is there some new stress in her life? Anything that you can think of that might be stressing her out? Chewing is soothing to a dog so it is one of the main ways in which dogs relieve stress. 

If you aren’t familiar with the body language of stress, it is a really good time to start learning. There are some good resources on the internet to help you learn dog body language. I really like for help with dissecting a dog’s motivation for behavior. Some stress signs would be pacing, panting, drooling, barking, whining, lip licking, yawning and licking parts of the body. 

It is often helpful to have a camera set up to watch the dog when you leave the house. Video cameras are not very expensive anymore so you can get them for around thirty dollars on the internet. With the camera you can see if the dog is showing signs of stress and if so, when those signs start to show up after you leave.  

Some dogs develop separation distress or anxiety when their owner leaves the house. These dogs usually start showing stress signals when they start to notice that you are about to leave. Behavioral cues like picking up your keys or putting your shoes on can often trigger the dog’s anxious behavior. The video camera would help tremendously in determining if your dog is feeling stress when you leave. It can also tell you how long it takes for the dog to start to panic. This is a complicated anxiety to work on so I would suggest that you consult a Professional Dog Trainer if you feel that is the cause of the behavior.  

Boredom and excess energy are the main cause of destructive behavior. Has she been receiving the same amount of exercise as normal? Have your hours changed at work? Has the weather kept you from exercising her as much as normal? If so, it’s time for renewed dedication to your dog’s exercise schedule. 

Exercise relieves stress and takes away some of the excess energy which may be causing the behavior. Excess energy often comes out through the dog’s teeth. Taking her for a brisk walk or playing fetch or other games with her prior to leaving is always a good idea for dogs having issues with destructive behavior.  

If you feel like you don’t have time for extra exercise, you can hire a pet sitter to come over and walk her in the middle of the day or take her for a play session in the yard. If she likes playing with other dogs, dropping her off at dog daycare once or twice a week might be helpful for getting some energy out. 

If you don’t use enrichment toys with her already, I would add that to her life. Feed through enrichment toys rather than bowls can help burn mental and physical energy.  Chewing is a natural behavior in dogs that needs an outlet. Can you give her some legal items to chew up? Maybe leaving a frozen Kong with her or a box with treats hidden in it. You can also use food enrichment when you are home as a way to burn energy. If you are having trouble adding in additional physical exercise, a bit of mental exercise can be the answer. 

I would suggest that the environment she is left in is doggie proof which means it should be fairly barren with toys and enrichment items for her. You can use objects like baby pens to block access to certain areas. Maybe you want to consider crate training her and then gradually start giving her freedom a little at a time. There isn’t anything wrong with having one dog in a crate while the other is out. 

Some less likely reasons for destructive behavior could be that you have pests or rodents in your walls. Although, that seems like the behavior would be directed at walls or floors potentially. It could also be something that is outside that the dog wants to get to like playing children. Or something that they feel threatened by like another dog, loud construction noise or someone trying to break in. 

Be sure you are providing a variety of legal chew items for her. Rotate toys rather than leaving them lying around. Dogs get tired of toys just like humans but unlike humans if you put the toy away for a while and bring it back, the dog thinks it’s a new toy.  

If you can determine the cause of the behavior and remove that trigger or stressor, your dog should be able to revert to her behavior prior to this incident. I hope you are able to determine the cause of this new behavior and get your dog back on the right track again.  

Until next time, 



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