Puppies in their teething stage can be incredibly destructive.
If your puppy is biting clothes, first ensure they have many different types of chew toys, including fabric toys.
Keep clothes put away in dressers or closets, out of your puppy’s reach. If they bite clothes that you’re wearing, gently push them away and give them a chew toy to bite instead.
You can’t stop a puppy from teething, but over time you can train them what is okay to chew and what isn’t. Remember that they won’t learn overnight, however.
Puppies are still babies, and are bound to make mistakes as they grow and learn.
In this article, I’ll discuss more in-depth why puppies bite clothes, how to train your puppy not to bite your clothes, and common mistakes to avoid during training.
Why Do Puppies Bite Clothes?
Most dogs are most destructive in their puppy years. Much of this comes from lack of training at their young age, of course. But teething also plays a huge role.
Your puppy is looking for something that feels good on their growing teeth. They’re also exploring the world with their mouths in much the same way as human babies and toddlers.
Teething in puppies happens until 6 months of age, after which you’ll likely see some of their chewing habits die back.
They want Your Attention or to Play
Puppies are little bundles of energy! They might be biting your clothes as a way of getting your attention to say “hey, let’s play!”
Your puppy might bite or tug on your clothes while you’re ignoring them, such as when you’re on your phone or watching TV.
They also may not have learned yet what can be played with and what can’t, so they think it’s okay to engage you in play by chewing your clothing.
They’ve been Encouraged to Chew Clothes
If you or someone else has encouraged your puppy to chew clothes in the past, they’re bound to continue doing so.
You may have actively encouraged them to chew clothes by using the sleeves of an oversized sweatshirt as a toy, or playing fetch with a rolled up pair of socks.
They also could feel encouraged in other, more passive ways. Maybe your puppy yanks on your pant leg when they want to play, and you respond by grabbing a ball and playing fetch in the yard.
There can be a fine line between redirecting your puppy’s behavior, and encouraging it, and that line will be different for each dog. What will work to redirect some puppies will seem like rewards for biting to others.
While using different training techniques, it’s important to watch for your puppy’s reaction. If the behavior worsens, try another method.
How to Stop a Puppy from Biting Clothes
Pick Up Your Clothes
If your dog is chewing clothes that are left on the floor, pick them up and place them in a hamper, dresser, or closet.
It might seem basic, but many people focus too much on changing their dog’s behaviors and not enough on changing their own.
The truth is, getting your puppy not to chew clothes in this manner is super easy. They can’t bite what they can’t reach in the first place.
If you’re like me and tend to let laundry pile up, it can be a pain to have to fold it all immediately. But it’s better than ripped up clothes or a long, drawn out fight with your pup that’s completely unnecessary.
It’s also more than worth it—look at that cute puppy-dog face!
Provide Chew Toys for Your Puppy
Now that you’ve taken away the clothes, make sure your puppy wasn’t going after them due to lack of chew toys. Provide multiple of different shapes, sizes, and materials to see what your puppy likes best.
For a puppy who bites clothes, I recommend trying to copy the feel of the apparel they’re chewing on most. They clearly like how the fabric feels on their teeth, so replicating that can be an excellent compromise.
There are many plush toys for dogs on the market, so this shouldn’t be too difficult.
Make Sure Your Puppy is Getting Enough Exercise
Puppies have a ton of energy, and they can get destructive when they’re forced to find their own fun. That’s why it’s so important that we tire them out before the trouble starts.
The amount of exercise your puppy needs will depend on their breed, but in general it’s a good idea to go for a daily walk or jog, and provide some extra playtime either indoors or in the yard.
While your puppy is young, you might want to try a few brief walks rather than one large one as puppies tend toward short bursts of energy and you don’t want to overdo it on their little legs.
I suggest researching your dog’s breed, if you haven’t already, for more exact guidelines. Exercise for a Shih Tzu, for example, will be much less intense than what a Labrador would need.
Remember that puppies have more energy than older dogs, so you’ll likely find that they need to exercise more often than the average listed for their breed.
This, of course, will lessen over time as they grow older and begin to calm down. Although for some breeds, you’ll find that they need ample exercise well into adulthood!
Redirect your Puppy to a Chew Toy
If your puppy likes to chew on the clothes you’re wearing, obviously you can’t always have those out of reach. This is when you’ll need to begin training your dog.
When they start biting the hem of your pants or your shirt sleeve, gently push your pup away with a firm “no.”
Then, give them a toy to bite instead. If they begin to chew on it, reward them with praise, pets, and/or a treat.
If your puppy continues to bite at your clothes and won’t stop, get up and calmly walk away from them.
Repeat these steps consistently every time your puppy bites your clothes. Eventually, they will learn that they get lots of positive attention for chewing toys, and none for biting your clothes.
Whether they’re biting your clothes for teething reasons or to get attention, this training should work in both situations when applied consistently.
Reward Your Puppy for Biting Toys
We discussed rewarding your puppy for biting toys that you give them above, but you should also reward them for appropriate chewing and play when they do so on their own.
After all, this is an even bigger accomplishment! It shows that they know what is okay to chew, even when you haven’t just shown it to them.
Train your Puppy “Leave it” and “Drop it”
“Leave it” and “drop it” are two important commands for dogs to know. They can apply to many situations, including getting your dog to stop biting clothing.
“Leave it” is used when you want your dog not to pick something up. You have to catch them before they have the object in their mouths.
“Drop it” is used when the puppy already has something in their mouth and you want them to release it.
One way to train your dog is to use toys. Reward them with the toy, in the case of “leave it,” with more playtime, or with a treat for either command.
Never Punish your Puppy for Teething
Punishments do more to damage your relationship with your puppy than they do to actually teach them something.
We all get overwhelmed sometimes, especially when our pets are destroying our things! Do your best to remain calm, and walk away if you have to—but know that screaming at your dog or otherwise punishing them won’t work.
By using positive training methods instead, you’re strengthening your relationship with your dog and fostering respect between the two of you.
You’re also ensuring a much more reliable set of behaviors. Dogs who are punished are more likely to still chew clothes when you aren’t around, while dogs who are taught to play with toys instead are more apt to continue that behavior even while you’re away.
Don’t Give them Old Clothes to Chew
A common mistake people make is to give their puppy old shoes, socks, or other clothing items to chew. Maybe they’ve already made it unwearable, or they’ve destroyed the first shoe so you figure you’ll put the second to good use.
The problem with this is that you’re teaching them that biting clothes is okay. You just gave them clothing for this exact purpose!
It can be confusing to a dog when they’re given mixed signals like this, and they can’t always understand the difference between the shirt they can chew and all of the others in your wardrobe.
Writer: Katelynn Sobus