Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Why Do Dogs Loves Shoes so Much?
How to stop a dog from eating shoes is a common request from dog owners who have grown tired of seeing their shoes get irremediably damaged. Whether it's a new pair of boots or an expensive pair of stilettos, most new dog owners go through a pair of shoes or two.
As the saying goes, a dog will teach you how to clean up and leave less clutter around. Many dog owners learn this the hard way, but one of the things that most dog owners don’t consider is how much of the world dogs experience with their teeth.
Let's Face It: Shoes Make Great Chew Toys!
Dogs can’t touch things to learn, so they learn by chewing. It all starts during puppyhood when puppies use their mouths to explore just about everything they come in contact with. This stage even has a name attached to it: it's called the oral phase, which is very similar to the oral phase human babies go through.
Shoes are the perfect texture to a dog—the best rating between pliable and challenging, as that’s what suits human feet the best. Many shoes include leather or faux leather products and are made to simulate the hide of an animal. To a dog, leather is basically the equivalent of steak-flavored chewing gum, which is everything that they love doing rolled into one!
As an added bonus, shoes also come with their owners' scent, so while the dog chews, he is reminded of his owner, his home, and all the fun places that his owner has been to in-between.
The last factor of why dogs chew shoes is because they’re often readily accessible. Shoes are on the ground, right in the nose universe of a dog. Shoes are also always often in the same place, which is tantalizing for a dog.
A Perfect Way to Vent
If you leave your shoes out and you have a dog that is anxious, stressed, or frustrated, you have the perfect recipe for shoe-chewing disaster. Even though it is little thought of, anxiety plays a major part in a dog’s life. No, it's not like Rover needs to balance his checkbook at the end of the month or deal with marriage issues . . .
Dogs have their own little reasons to lead stressful lives. Perhaps they are lonely and stressed when left alone and seek the owner's shoes for reassurance. Perhaps all those background noises such as planes flying low, nearby construction work, or other dogs barking have had some impact on his ability to relax.
What do dogs do when they are anxious? They chew. Chewing is believed to be Rover's form of stress management. Interestingly, this may take place at a chemical level. One school of thought has it that chewing behavior leads to the release of endogenous endorphins, which helps keep the dog more relaxed.
Relief for a Puppy's Sore Gums
Puppies are notorious for chewing shoes, and it's not just because they are perpetually stuck in the "oral phase." As it happens with babies, the teething process in poor pups can cause cranky behaviors and seeking out novel things to chew on.
When a puppy is teething, he quickly learns that chewing helps alleviate the pain on their growing teeth, while providing comfort and relief. Pups will surely remember this and seek out shoes, slippers and whatever soothes their painful gums, more and more.
Idle Teeth Make Shoes a Dog's Perfect Workshop
Fact: Chewing keeps a dog's mind busy. All animals need forms of enrichment in their lives when things get too dull. Many dogs need a job (especially those breeds with a history as working dogs).
Because of the calming stimulation that happens, shoe-chewing helps alleviate a dog’s boredom by giving him something to be preoccupied with—with the reward of finding out how many chews it takes to get to the tootsie roll center of the shoe.
Even a lack of owner attention can trigger chew biting. Your dog loves your attention so much, that many puppies and dogs will happily be reprimanded if only you’d pay attention to them in exchange.
If you work long hours all day, your return is most likely the perk of your dog's day. Imagine your dog's disappointment when you feed him and then plop yourself in front of the TV set to watch your favorite show in a semi-comatose state.
When a dog goes to chew on your shoes right in front of you, he knows that this action will get you off the couch in no time and coming to him in a hurry, which is almost all of the ingredients needed for play time! If you chase him to retrieve the shoe, that's a big bonus: your pup has just trained you to engage in a fun game of "keep away!" Weeeeee . . . how fun is that?
How to Stop a Dog From Chewing Shoes
Don’t worry, you don’t have to live with your shoes always being in tatters. It’s important to understand that human language is very hard for dogs to understand and that it’s easy for the dog to get lost in translation.
Because we don’t want to teach the dog that all chewing is bad, nor that chewing shoes means it’s time to play "Catch Me If You Can," it’s important not to scold your dog for chewing on an inappropriate item.
As we have seen, there can be various reasons why dogs chew shoes. Tackling shoe-chewing behaviors in dogs may, therefore, require several strategies. In many cases, the following below strategy may be all that's needed.
First Off, Never Donate Shoes to Dogs!
OK, not everybody does this, but just in case, it's important to point this out. It is outdated to give puppies and dogs old slippers and shoes to gnaw on.
Perhaps you may have thought this is a great idea and a crafty way of providing young dogs with some entertainment. Perhaps you don't want to spend money on dog toys, so why not have Rover rip shoes to pieces rather than just tossing them in the trash can? After all, it's so fun watching a dog have fun carrying the shoes around and ripping them to pieces.
This is a big mistake and can turn even costly in the long run. Your dog has no way to know the difference between those prehistoric smelly tennis shoes you have owned for a decade and those brand new expensive Gucci suede and leather sneakers you recently purchased from a boutique.
Shoes Have Their Own Places, You Know?
The best way to tackle shoe chewing in dogs is to simply keep shoes out of the way. No, out of the front door is not the most sensible option as they become vulnerable to becoming wet, heat-baked, or a temporary residence for pesky bugs. Closets and shoe racks were invented for a reason. With shoes out of the way, the problem is easily solved. Out of sight, out of mind.
Many busy dog owners though aren't happy with this easy peasy solution. They want their dogs to just not touch them. They want their shoes off limits. That's understandable. We lead busy lives, and we forget things around. It's not easy to put shoes always away when we endure a tough day at work and all we dream of is taking our shoes off, relaxing, and forgetting all about chores.
A Word About Deterrents
It's tempting to tackle destructive behaviors in dogs by making the prohibited items or the prohibited activity less appealing. Many dog owners use taste deterrents like Bitter Apple Spray, to accomplish that.
The goal is to make shoes taste bad so that the dog learns to leave them alone. However, taste deterrents often fail in their goal and for a good reason: dogs have their bitter-detecting taste buds located at the rear part of their tongue. When dogs chew, the flavor may not register, or the dog may care less. Actually, anecdotal evidence from reports of dog owners seems to suggest that some dogs even appear to enjoy the taste.
Another common method is to place the shoe on a low table and attach one shoelace to an empty soda can filled with coins. Once the pup grabs the shoe, he will drag the soda can on the ground too. While this booby-trap method may sound brilliant, this will only startle dogs. This is not an ideal approach, especially in noise-sensitive dogs or dogs already anxious or stressed! It also fails to address what you want your dog to do rather than not do.
And leaving shoes around to booby-trap your dog just to scold him or physically correct him (scruff shakes, alpha rolls, etc.) only causes your dog to fear and mistrust you. It also risks affecting your dog's natural predisposition to approach, investigate and pick up objects, which can cause huge hurdles that day you may want to train your dog to pick up objects for you or perform cute tricks.
Provide Appropriate Chew Items
The best way to stop dogs from chewing shoes is to organically turn shoes into a boring object because in comparison, there are far better things for the dog to chew on. To outrank shoes, these chew items need to share one important criterion: they must be either edible or contain something edible.
There are many toys and products designed for dogs to chew on that are healthy and beneficial. For example, there are treats that take longer to eat and help with tooth tartar buildup and bad breath.
Other notable toys are ones that can be stuffed with treats for your dog to take their time on, using their teeth and tongue, such as the Kong toy or Buster Cube. These are also rewarding to use because they add a mental challenge.
There are also special bones, antlers, hoofs, or even special Himalayan hard cheeses that will all take a long time to eat and encourage happy, healthy chewing.
If you have a puppy, make sure the chews are suitable for him. Not all chews are good for puppies under 6 months. Also, never give your dog cooked chicken bones or other types of bones as they splinter or cause blockages which can cause a health emergency!
Catching Your Dog in the Act
What should you do if you catch your dog in the act, that is, chewing or about to chew your shoes? Keep your cool, and don't start madly chasing your dog around the house.
Instead, keep a ready assortment of legitimate chews handy, and whenever you see this happening, calmly walk up to your dog with an appropriate edible chewing item as those described above. Show your dog the item and swap it for the shoe. Do this very calmly and nonchalantly. If your dog is prone to resource guarding, play it safe and consult with a dog behavior professional, using humane behavior modification.
To put leaving a shoe alone and dropping it on cue, learn how to train your dog the leave it and drop it cue. These will come in handy in many life scenarios and have saved oodles of dogs from chewing on or even ingesting things that can do harm and even lead to scary outcomes and expensive surgeries.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2018 Adrienne Farricelli
Debbie Russell on January 13, 2020:
I have a dachshund that likes to chew on mine and my fiances slippers and shoes all the time when we are not home or we are a sleep what can i get him , he is a 6 month old puppy
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 21, 2018:
I have only lost 2 pair of shoes due to our dog chewing one shoe of each pair and it was my fault. I forgot to close the closet door one time when we left the house. Believe me, I never made that mistake again. We always had plenty of chew toys around the house. Never letting a dog play with an old shoe is good advice.