I have a German Shepherd, approximately 4 years old. He's a pound puppy, so his background is a mystery. He is overall a skittish, slightly nervous creature. Very sweet but also very spooked. When I work from home, he'll sit in my office with me and look so incredibly bored that I worry.

He's been with me for two months. One of the first things we worked on was "what's ok to chew." I'd offer an appropriate chew and praise and reward when he showed interest, and then when he bit, then when he chewed, and then chewing for longer duration.

Luckily, he isn't showing a lot of unwanted chewing behaviors but he hasn't really engaged with many of his "bones" (in this case Nyla- and Benebones but also horns and antlers) since the first two or three weeks. In the case of a ram's horn, he chewed it very excitedly for a few days and now finds no interest in it unless I start the game.

If I sit down with some treats and play our "let's chew!" game, he will chew to earn the treats but not much longer than that. He does seem to have fun with the game but he never initiates chewing on his own, unless it's a hoof and he grinds those down so fast he throws up sometimes. I'd like to diversify his chewing portfolio a little bit and make sure he knows he's allowed to play without me (if that is indeed what is holding him back.)

This isn't his only avenue for enrichment; I know managing his energy is important for him to be happy so we go on a short walk (deliberate training walk where we focus on loose leash walking) and a long walk (this one is more a sniffari) each day and he eats most of his food from puzzle toys or enrichment feeders (Kong and Toppl). We also are going through Dr Karen Overall's Relaxation Protocol as part of our evening routine to help him learn to relax.

I know chewing is important for dogs (both for teeth and for natural behavior reasons) and that getting him excited about chewing on hard toys will make future car rides, crate time, and stressful situations easier and more fun for him. I'm afraid that my current method has taught him that chewing is only a thing we do together.

How can I help him choose to chew?

2 Answers 2


There are a few things to consider with your situation: how long your dog has been with you, personal chew preference, opportunities for chew, and personal play style.

According the the Rule of Three (or 3-3-3 Rule) for rescue dogs, your dog is still in the third stage. He's still making your home his home and starting to feel secure where he is. With this in mind, his inclination to chew may change as he completely acclimates to his new home.

If that doesn't seem to be the direction of travel, consider what you're giving him. Maybe a really hard chew isn't his personal preference, and he'd prefer a durable rubber toy to chomp on instead of something nylon or bone. Maybe he likes something he can actually eat as he goes, like a yak chew. Maybe he doesn't like the size—my 35lb dog prefers the giant bones for 60lb dogs! There is a whole wide world of chews out there for dogs, so try a wide variety.

You seem to be really on top of training and energy management, and it sounds like you like to keep him busy, which is great. But does he have opportunity to chew and time to learn to like it? He needs to be left to his own devices long enough and consistently enough for chewing to be an option for him. If you crate train or have a pen, try leaving him with a chew. (But only if the value of being in the crate or pen is high enough to where he isn't stressed—you want those to be good places to be so you can increase the value of the chew.) While twiddling his metaphorical thumbs he may decide to have a go at the chew on his own, and learn that he really enjoys it! This may take time though, just as learning to settle does.

Finally, he may just not be a chewer. But there may be other things you can do to satisfy the benefits of chewing. For dental health, try a dental treat. For calm self-play, a lick mat. He'll tell you what he likes, you just need to keep offering until you figure it out.


I'm pretty sure he knows that he's allowed to chew his bones, he just doesn't have an interest in doing so.

From what you describe, your dog is mostly socially motivated*. He likes to engage in trainings and games with you and he seems to like social interactions more than most of his chew treats.

*The ASPCA puts dogs into 3 categories: socially motivated, internally motivated and externally motivated. Read more here. An externally motivated dog would love chew treats, a socially motivated dog only as long as you interact with it.

From my personal experience, after two months an anxious or skittish dog still hasn't fully relaxed into his new living situation. His character and behavior may still change a bit in the next 1 - 2 months. Maybe he'll find an interest in chewing bones, maybe he'll find a game he likes to play by himself. But maybe chewing just isn't his idea of fun. You'll have to accept that, despite all the good intentions.

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