Why Do Dogs Like to Shred Tissues?

Certain sensations trigger a genetic desire for dogs to tear and shred.

Posted Dec 28, 2015

Cameron Adams photo - Creative Commons lisence
Source: Cameron Adams photo - Creative Commons lisence

I recently got a note from a woman who was concerned about the fact that her miniature white Poodle was continually picking used tissues out of her bathroom or bedroom wastebasket and chewing them up. Sometimes this behavior amused her, since, when she had been using the tissues to clean off her makeup, some of the reddish colored pigment would transfer to the dog's lips making the white dog look as though it had applied a thin line of lipstick to her mouth. However picking up the shredded paper remains was not fun and she worried if there was something wrong with her dog who seem to be obsessed with tissue paper.

I actually laughed out loud when I read this note since I am currently dealing with a 16-week-old puppy who just recently discovered the roll of toilet paper in our bathroom. He took the dangling end of the roll in his mouth, and liking the feel of it he chomped down and ran out of the room pulling much of the roll of toilet tissue with him. We found the remains scattered through several rooms throughout the house.

What is going on here is not particularly pathological nor is it unexplainable. Dogs, particularly puppies, explore the world, first with their noses, and then with their mouths. Somewhere encoded in the canine genetic makeup is some kind of memory or preference for certain touch sensations such as the feel of fur or of feathers in their mouths. Such touch sensations seem to give dogs a thrill and can trigger a desire to mouth, tear, and shred things associated with those feelings. You can experience this for yourself if you take a clean facial tissue or a piece of toilet paper and place it in your mouth — it feels like a combination of fur and feathers — those totally irresistible feelings for a dog. Dogs seldom actually swallow much of this tissue paper since, when it gets wet, it turns into some mushy thing which no longer is of much interest.

While the dog's predisposition to mouth and chew tissues can be annoying, it is easily solved by using wastebaskets that have lids, and keeping the door to the bathroom closed. However there is something good which can be derived from the knowledge that the desire to shred things that feel like this is encoded in the dog's DNA. Specifically it gives us a clue as to how to create the perfect dog toy.

Obviously a dog toy should not be made out of paper tissue since that would not last very long. The cloth that best mimics the feeling that a tissue does in the dog's mouth is flannel, which might then make the perfect covering for a dog toy. A near approximation of this, in terms of sensory feeling, would be the soft, deep weave found in some cotton socks, particularly those called "sweat socks" or "athletic socks" (which is why chewing on socks is close behind tearing at tissues when dealing with complaints about inappropriate things that dogs do with their mouths).

Now the trick is that once the dog is attracted to the feel of the flannel or cotton knit in his mouth, to be the perfect dog toy one needs something which will keep the dog working at the toy. This means that the toy should do something, and again, harkening back to the dogs evolutionary heredity as a predator, doing something should involve some kind of action or noise that results as a function of the dog biting at it (much the same way that a small prey animal might respond when caught).

So here is the perfect (and inexpensive) dog toy. Take a deep cotton knit sweat sock (or a flannel sock if you have one) and then take one of those small plastic bottles that water is sold in. When empty these bottles make a crackling sound when they are crushed. Take the empty bottle and insert it into the sock, then tie off the end (or sew the end if you are feeling ambitious) and toss this new toy to your dog. That's it! Your dog will be attracted to the sock toy, and once in his mouth, the fact that it now responds with interesting noises when he bites hit it makes this a very desirable thing for him to play with. The dog will work on this toy, intermittently, for many hours, making this a wonderful diversion for him — if you can put up with the crackling noise going on around you while he plays with it. Just remember that for our favorite domesticated predator it is the fact that toys can be bitten and torn that makes them fun (for more about that click here)

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: The Wisdom of Dogs; Do Dogs Dream? Born to Bark; The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission