Why does a dog chew what it chews?

dog chewing a toy

Why does a dog chew what it chews?

If I come home and find that something in the house is destroyed I thought it meant that the dogs needed to get out more.  It never occurred to me to wonder what made them decide WHAT to chew.

My hamiltonstovare Jack, quite often chomps on books and pens.  One day I watched him in action and learnt something in the process.

I was standing by a bookshelf in the house and noticed Jack carefully sniffing along the spines of the books.    He seemed to be sniffing each one in turn.  Then he selected one of the books and started to pull it off the shelf.  I gently intervened, to put the book out of reach, before he started to get his teeth into it.  He continued sniffing.  He stopped at a second book and once again tried to pull it off the shelf.   He continued his search, stopping at a third book.  He moved along to another shelf of books, sniffed along the full length, before giving up, unable to find anything else  of interest.

What did it mean?

I shared the experience with Natural Dog Training followers and Lee Charles Kelly offered that 'our dogs tend to chew the things that we are ambivalent towards'.

I checked out the meaning of 'ambivalent' :

Ambivalence is a state of having simultaneous, conflicting feelings toward a person or thing.[1] Stated another way, ambivalence is the experience of having thoughts and/or emotions of both positive and negative valence toward someone or something. A common example of ambivalence is the feeling of both love and hate for a person. The term also refers to situations where "mixed feelings" of a more general sort are experienced, or where a person experiences uncertainty or indecisiveness concerning something. The expressions "cold feet" and "sitting on the fence" are often used to describe the feeling of ambivalence.

Ambivalence is experienced as psychologically unpleasant when the positive and negative aspects of a subject are both present in a person's mind at the same time. This state can lead to avoidance or procrastination, or to deliberate attempts to resolve the ambivalence. When the situation does not require a decision to be made, people experience less discomfort even when feeling ambivalent.[2]

 Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambivalence>


Books that have been chewed by one of my dogs

What I learnt

I looked back at the books that Jack had selected.  A couple on gardening and one on creative knitting - all hobbies that I had picked up and was frustrated at not having more time to be really good at.  I decided to pick out a selection if books that had been 'attacked' by Jack previously.

'Hearts Minds and Paws' - a lovely book written by Nina Bodorenko whose workshop I had attended the previous year.  Her workshop was inspiring, describing her work in teaching service dogs and touching on her experiences with the amazing emotional links we have with our dogs.  Her book shares some of the stories and also her own drawings of dogs.  When I read the book I had loved it, but have also to confess to being a bit jealous, as that would have been something I would love to have created (mixed emotion of 'love' and 'hate').

'Glorious Inspiration' - by Kaffe Fassett - a book of beautiful imagery designed to whet the appetites of creative knitters and embroiders, reminding of the creativity I used to enjoy when I was much younger and now too busy to enjoy.

'An Introduction to Working Trials' - something I had dabbled in with Jack  and had given up on after the embarrassment of a scenting trial where I was disqualified, due to my poor reading of my dog 🙁

 'Astrology - an illustrated guide' - reading this book had filled me with wonder but, once again, I found myself thinking I don't have enough time to understand as fully as I would like (interest and frustration)

'Aurajin - Recognising Spirit it Matter' - by Carol Klesow -  A fascinating subject but when I had read this book previously I had just not understood it.

So, just as my Natural Dog Training friend  had explained, my dog was chewing the things that I was 'ambivalent towards'.


In fact all the books that had been selected were of things I would like to take more time for and learn more about.

I found the insight that Jack has given me extremely helpful .  My hamiltonstovare helped me identify areas which are worth exploring more.  For example, I went back to the 'Aurajin' book and giving it more time I found it really interesting - combining meanings of numerology, Jin Shin Jyutsu (JSJ) points and colour. I later went on to learn more about self-healing with JSJ, as well as learning about using it for our animal companions.  Everything for a reason!

So next time you come home and you find that your dog has chewed something in your absence, take a moment and consider what your 'best friend' is telling you about yourself.  I am sure you will find the learning priceless !


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  1. That’s extremely fascinating. Perhaps the new quantum effects being discovered in the sense of smell have some bearing here. When you are ambivalent as Lee pointed out, that charge might have a quantum vibration imparted onto the object you’ve focused on. The dog can feel that particular vibration by way of smell. At any rate, great sleuthing, it never ceases to amaze me what dogs can teach us.

  2. Wow, thank you Joanne that is really fascinating!

    As a puppy the only thing my Charlie ever chewed was the phone jack in the wall which he destroyed 5 times before I blocked his access to it.

    I definitely have strong emotions of both positive and negative towards the phone when it rings. How extraordinary that Charlie would pick this up!

  3. Thanks, this is really super. My dog loves wood, especially the stuff by the stream but she also likes wood that is used in gardens. I figure it is bone time. N

  4. Thanks Kevin! I am also starting to wonder if our description of a dogs ‘sense of smell’ is much more than smell and its more of an ‘energetic’ sense (which I think is what you’re saying). I also think that hounds might be more open to this than other breeds (just a theory/feeling 🙂 )

  5. Hi Jenny, thanks for sharing your experience with Charlie. I have found that now that I am looking at the behaviour as a response to what is going on for me (or for other members of the family) I am really having my eyes opened! Its great fun!

  6. I’m so glad you wrote about this! When I first started my journey into NDT, my gsd chewed first Kevin’s ‘your dog is your mirror’ and then Neil Sattin’s DVD set the very day I bought it. I had to laugh at my wild child’s apparent refusal to be trained but did always wonder what the real reason was. I suppose at that point (and even now to a lesser extent) I was stuck somewhere in the limbo of excitement at finally finding a path that resonated with me, and frustration because I couldn’t quite get my head around bits of it, and probably some fear of the unknown and what would come out of the can of worms I was opening. I will certainly pay attention to what she chews from now on 🙂

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