Why Do Labs Eat & Chew On Wood? (7 Reasons + Tips To Kick Their Habit)

Perplexed by your Labrador’s unusual inclination to nibble on wood? Wondering why your pooch finds this wooden feast so enticing and how to stop this unwanted behavior?

Don’t worry, we’re here to help you out.

Here’s Briefly Why Labs Eat & Chew On Wood: 

Labradors have a tendency to eat and chew on wood due to a combination of their breed-specific traits and individual temperaments. With their natural curiosity and a strong inclination towards oral exploration, Labs are prone to chewing on various objects, including wood.

Their high energy levels and need for mental stimulation make them more likely to engage in wood chewing if they do not receive sufficient exercise and activity. Additionally, as retrievers by nature, Labs have an inherent desire to mouth and gnaw on items which contributes to their wood-chewing behavior. 

Despite wood not being a food source, Labs’ hearty appetites may blur the distinction which leads them to chew on wood out of a sense of hunger. Boredom can also play a role, as Labs may view wood as a form of entertainment or distraction. Lastly, some Labs may have pica, a condition characterized by the ingestion of non-food substances, which could further contribute to their inclination to eat wood.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll go in-depth into the 7 surprising reasons why your Lab, as a breed, finds wood so irresistible. Then we’ll address your concerns – should you be worried if your Lab chews or eats wood?

But we’re not stopping there. We’ll also provide you with an effective training plan which is specially designed to help your Labrador kick their wood-eating habit.

Note: Our articles are comprehensive and in-depth. Feel free to expand the table of contents below and skip ahead to sections that interest you.

7 Reasons Why Labs Eat and Chew On Wood

1) Oral Fixation Breed Trait

Oral fixation is a prominent characteristic observed in Labradors, a breed trait that significantly contributes to their tendency to eat and chew on wood.

This characteristic is fundamentally ingrained in their genetics and can be traced back to their ancestors who served as working dogs by using their mouths to retrieve game.

Due to this innate predisposition, Labradors explore their surroundings primarily using their mouths, very similar to how human babies interact with their environment.

This leads to a tendency to ‘mouth’ various objects around them, including wood, as it provides a satisfying chew. 

Wood, being a readily accessible and chewable material, often ends up being the target of this oral fixation.

Wood chewing can offer a variety of sensations for a Labrador. The texture and hardness of the wood can provide a satisfying feel against their strong jaws. The act of chewing on wood can also lead to the release of natural wood flavors which entices the Lab further.

Moreover, wood is often associated with outdoor environments which Labs inherently love, and chewing on it can bring them closer to their natural instincts.

Additionally, their penchant for oral exploration has an evolutionary component.

From a survival perspective, early dogs examined potential food sources or unfamiliar objects with their mouths — assessing their safety or suitability for consumption. Labradors, like many dog breeds, have retained this instinctive behavior.

Read Also: Why Do Labradors Like To Carry Things In Their Mouth? What To Do About It?

2) High Energy Levels

A significant characteristic that distinguishes Labradors from other breeds is their inherently high energy levels. Bred initially for physically demanding tasks such as hunting and retrieving game, Labradors are robust, active dogs with a tireless spirit.

Their energetic disposition influences their behavior patterns including their tendency to chew and even ingest wooden objects. 

Chewing serves as a physical outlet for these agile dogs to expend some of their boundless energy. Just like a restless child might fidget or doodle to release pent-up energy, a Labrador may resort to gnawing on wood and turning it into a sort of endurance activity.

The act of chewing, especially something as resilient as wood, engages their muscles which provides a form of exertion.

Wood doesn’t break down easily which allows them to spend considerable time and energy in the process that serves as a form of energy-draining exercise.

Moreover, Labradors are often driven by a strong desire for mental stimulation due to their high energy and intelligent nature. Chewing on wood can serve to meet this need that offers them a challenge and keeping their minds engaged.

The texture and toughness of wood and the effort it takes to break it down provide an intriguing puzzle for these smart and energetic dogs. 

3) Prone to Boredom

When it comes to Labradors, boredom isn’t just an inconvenience—it’s a potential trigger for destructive behaviors.

This breed’s keen intelligence and inquisitive nature mean that they crave mental stimulation and when this need isn’t met, they may resort to finding their own methods of entertainment.

Unfortunately, these self-made diversions can sometimes be detrimental to their health, like consuming and gnawing on wood.

A Labrador’s susceptibility to boredom links closely to their working-dog lineage. These dogs were bred to retrieve game in the field which is a mentally and physically challenging job.

In the absence of such tasks in a domestic setting, Labradors can easily find themselves understimulated and restless. Boredom can push them to seek out different sensory experiences including chewing of socks, shoes and wood which provides a novel texture and taste.

The activity keeps them engaged, thus temporarily alleviating their tedium.

Chewing can also serve as a soothing mechanism. The act of gnawing on wood releases endorphins in dogs, which promote feelings of contentment.

When a Labrador is bored, it may seek out this ‘endorphin high’ through chewing. Wood, being readily available in many homes and yards, often becomes a go-to item.

The resilience of the material also offers a lasting engagement that fleeting chew toys cannot provide which makes it a preferred choice.

Also, Labradors are exploratory eaters. When bored, their exploratory nature can drive them to taste various things and wood may be one of the many objects they try.

However, while this explains why they might initially chew on wood, it doesn’t justify the continuous behavior. Consistent wood-eating is a clear sign of chronic boredom and possibly even stress or anxiety.

Check Also: Why Do Labradors Steal Things? (and Food!) What To Do About It?

4) Natural Curiosity

As a breed, Labradors are inherently curious. This curiosity often manifests in a desire to interact with their surroundings and one of their preferred methods of engagement is their mouth.

From their perspective, biting, chewing and even eating objects gives them critical sensory information about the world. Thus, it’s not uncommon to find a Labrador nibbling on a wooden item such as a stick or toy.

The texture, taste and smell of wood might be intrinsically interesting to them which then stimulates their natural curiosity.

In some instances, small pieces of wood might accidentally get swallowed in this process of exploration which makes it seem like they are eating the wood.

Also, given their history as retrievers, Labradors have a genetic predisposition towards holding and carrying objects in their mouth – often, these can be wooden items.

The frequent exposure to the unique texture and resistance of wood might trigger their curiosity even further which then leads to a deeper exploration through gnawing or chewing.

This behaviour, over time, may evolve into eating small pieces of wood, especially if they find the taste or texture appealing.

Not only that, Labradors have highly developed senses of smell and taste, and they often employ these senses to navigate and understand their surroundings.

This sensory stimulation can be very appealing to a Labrador that can trigger their natural curiosity and result in prolonged interaction with the wood, which may eventually lead to them eating it. 

Wood, particularly if it’s been outdoors, can be a treasure trove of natural scents and flavours. Engaging with the wood by chewing provides them with a multi-faceted sensory experience, offering taste, texture, smell and auditory feedback. 

This multi-sensory engagement is a significant factor driving their interest in wood, and subsequently, their inclination to eat it.

Through understanding these aspects of Labrador behaviour, it becomes clear how their natural curiosity might encourage them to chew and potentially eat wood.

Check also on how a Lab’s wood eating/chewing tendencies may be dangerous for their sensitive stomachs: Do Labradors Have Sensitive Stomachs? (6 Reasons + 10 Tips You Must Know)

5) Natural Retrievers 

Labradors, as natural retrievers, have an inherent propensity to grasp and hold things in their mouths. This instinctual behavior can lead them to interact with, chew, and even consume various items, including wood.

Their affinity for retrieving is so embedded that they seldom discriminate between what they’re supposed to retrieve and what they shouldn’t, like pieces of wood.

When Labradors come across wooden items, their instinctual retrieval tendencies kick in, triggering them to pick up, chew, and in some cases, swallow pieces of the wood, just as they would with the game they were initially bred to retrieve.

Being retrievers, Labradors are also typically ‘mouthy’, implying they frequently use their mouth as a tool for exploration. Unlike humans, dogs do not have hands to touch and feel objects.

Labradors especially, due to their history as working dogs, tend to rely heavily on their mouth for tactile sensations. This mouthiness can lead them to chew on wooden objects in their environment, as a part of their need to taste, touch and engage with their surroundings.

It’s in these moments of exploration that Labradors may end up eating fragments of the wood.

Apart from their mouthiness, they also like to roll on dirt. Find out all about it here: How To Stop Labrador Rolling In Fox Poo? (12 Step-By-Step Tips)

6) Strong Appetite 

The strong appetite that Labradors inherently possess can often lead them to ingest objects that most other dogs would overlook, and unfortunately, wood are one of these items.

This breed is notorious for its insatiable hunger, which can sometimes translate into indiscriminate eating habits that culminates in consuming something as unfit for consumption as wood.

Their appetite's relentlessness often results in an ongoing quest for potential food sources, meaning a piece of wood lying around could be misconstrued as a snack opportunity. 

It’s not necessarily the taste that appeals to them; rather, it’s the potential satiation that the act of eating provides. Their appetite doesn’t discern between food and non-food items very well that makes wood a potential target for their gnawing hunger.

Labradors’ perpetual state of seeming hunger is also related to their high energy requirements. These active dogs have energy levels that are higher than most other breeds, meaning they require ample fuel in the form of food.

If they don’t get enough nutritionally dense food, or if the food they get isn’t quite filling enough, they may resort to trying to extract energy from non-food items like wood.

The robust appetite of Labradors also means they are prone to experiencing hunger pangs more frequently than other breeds. These hunger pangs might lead them to seek out and chew on anything within their vicinity, including wood.

A log in the backyard or a piece of wooden furniture indoors can easily fall prey to a hungry Labrador.

Speaking about a Labrador’s high appetite, check also: Should Labradors Eat Grain-Free? (Important Facts You Must Know)

7) Prone to Pica 

When discussing Labradors’ tendency to eat wood, a key component that demands attention is the breed’s susceptibility to Pica, a condition characterized by the consumption of non-food items.

Labradors, with their dynamic personalities and tendency for high-energy play, are at a greater risk of developing Pica than some other breeds and the impact of this condition significantly influences their potential to engage in wood-eating behavior.

Fundamentally, Pica is driven by a variety of factors, from dietary deficiencies to stress, but it ultimately culminates in a dog’s tendency to ingest objects that don’t have any nutritional value, like wood.

In the case of Labradors, their natural curiosity, combined with a tendency to explore their environment orally, often leads them to experiment with a variety of textures and materials. The rough texture of wood may provide an interesting and chewable surface that inadvertently contributes to Pica’s manifestation.

This can translate into a habit of wood-chewing as they repeatedly return to the wood in an attempt to further explore the odd material. 

Compounding the issue, the Labrador’s natural tenacity and determination can, unfortunately, make them particularly stubborn Pica cases.

Once they have picked up the habit of eating wood, they might be persistent in continuing this, despite their owner’s efforts to deter the behavior.

It’s almost as if the Labrador’s unwavering commitment to retrieving has been misdirected towards an inappropriate object. 

However, it’s also worth considering how Pica, and subsequently wood-chewing can act as a coping mechanism for Labradors. Known for their affable and social nature, Labradors are particularly susceptible to stress and anxiety when left alone or lacking stimulation.

For dogs like Labs, this stress can lead to the development of Pica as a method of self-soothing.

Chewing on wood can provide a physical outlet for their pent-up stress or anxiety which makes it a go-to activity when they’re feeling overwhelmed. 

You might also be interested in Why Are Labradors So Clumsy? (What To Do About It?)

Should You Be Worried If Your Lab Ate Wood Or Chewed On It?

The act of a Labrador Retriever eating wood or merely chewing on it is indeed a huge concern that should be addressed seriously and this concern stems from several important reasons.

I. 3 Main Reasons Why You Should Take This Unnecessary Behavior Seriously

Firstly, the immediate physical risks associated with a Labrador eating wood are severe and can lead to dire consequences. Wood is not digestible and is structurally complex which means when it is chewed and swallowed, it can splinter into sharp fragments.

These sharp fragments are capable of causing extensive damage to your Labrador’s oral cavity, esophagus, stomach and intestines. It’s a dangerous gamble every time they ingest wood, as even a small, sharp fragment can puncture their gastrointestinal tract which can lead to internal bleeding.

Even without puncturing, these splinters can obstruct the intestines, causing a potentially fatal condition known as an intestinal blockage.

Intestinal blockages prevent the passage of food and fluid through the intestines, leading to severe discomfort, pain, and if not treated promptly via surgery, can be life-threatening.

Therefore, the physical risk alone emphasizes why the ingestion of wood is far from a harmless habit and can instead become a lethal danger for your Labrador.

Secondly, the tendency for a Labrador to chew on wood may be a sign of deeper medical or psychological issues that need prompt attention. Labradors are active and intelligent dogs which need regular physical exercise and mental stimulation.

A lack of either could lead them to resort to destructive behaviors such as wood-chewing out of sheer boredom. Therefore, if your Labrador is habitually gnawing at wood, it might be signaling that their physical and mental needs are not being adequately met.

Ignoring such signals can lead to a stressed and unhappy dog, which in turn can lead to other behavioral issues or even result in mental health disorders such as separation anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Thirdly, if your Labrador is consuming wood, it could be a symptom of Pica. Pica is the habitual ingestion of non-food items and can be indicative of nutritional deficiencies in a dog’s diet.

For example, if your Labrador’s diet lacks fiber or essential nutrients, they might resort to eating wood to compensate for this lack. In the long term, ignoring these dietary deficiencies can lead to serious health problems.

For instance, a persistent deficiency of iron can lead to anemia, which can seriously impact your Lab’s energy levels and overall health.

It’s also worth noting that Pica can indicate the presence of internal parasites or other medical conditions which require veterinary intervention.

What Should You Do When You Catch Your Lab Eating Wood Red-Handed 

In the immediate moment of discovering your Labrador consuming wood, swift and composed action is absolutely necessary. Initially, it’s crucial to safely remove your dog from the source of wood. Your priority is to prevent them from ingesting more wood which could cause further harm.

If possible, and only if it doesn’t pose any danger to you or your pet, you might try to gently remove any wood still present in their mouth.

Following this immediate response, the next step is to monitor your Labrador closely.

Take note of any changes in behavior, particularly signs of discomfort, such as excessive drooling, pawing at the mouth, difficulty swallowing, vomiting or loss of appetite. These symptoms could indicate the presence of a blockage or injury.

Even if your Labrador seems fine, it’s still advisable to contact your vet right away. The ingestion of wood carries risks of splinters or pieces of wood getting lodged in the throat, stomach or intestines.

Your vet may wish to perform a physical examination or even an X-ray to ensure there aren’t any hidden pieces of wood that could cause complications.

In cases where the Labrador has managed to consume a significant quantity of wood, immediate veterinary attention is essential. This isn’t something to wait out or try to handle solely at home.

The professional intervention will ensure the best possible outcome for your pet by providing the necessary treatments which could range from inducing vomiting to surgical intervention in extreme cases.

How To Effectively Train A Labrador To Stop Eating Wood 

Step 1: Choose Command Words

A key cornerstone of effective training hinges on the use of clear, concise command words. For a Labrador struggling with wood-eating tendencies, two useful command words could be “Leave” and “Drop.”

These words serve different purposes – “Leave” is for preventing your dog from picking up wood, while “Drop” is for when they already have wood in their mouth.

Selecting these short, distinct commands eliminates confusion and enhances your Lab’s comprehension of what is expected. It’s essential that these words remain consistent throughout the training process for best results.

Step 2: Command Training

With your command words in place, the next phase is teaching your Labrador what these words mean. This teaching process is performed without any wood present to prevent distractions.

Using a reward system (typically involving dog-friendly treats), you train your Lab to understand that obeying these commands results in positive outcomes.

For example, when teaching the “Drop” command, start by using a toy (Amazon). Once your Lab picks up the toy, say “Drop,” and the moment they let go of it, give them a treat (Amazon).

This positive reinforcement helps to solidify the connection between the command and the required action.

Check out how a Labrador’s superior memory is leveraged here: Do Labradors Have Good Memory? (All You Should Know)

Step 3: Introduce Wood

Following the successful command training, the introduction of wood into the scenario takes place. The key here is to control the introduction in such a way that it doesn’t trigger an immediate reaction from your Labrador.

The wood should be positioned at a distance where your Lab is aware of it, but isn’t immediately compelled to chew it. This ensures that you can start training with the wood in a controlled and manageable setting.

Step 4: Reinforce ‘Leave’ Command

With the wood present, you’re ready to apply the “Leave” command. As your Labrador starts to move towards the wood, you give the command. If they halt and divert their attention from the wood, you immediately reward them with a treat and lots of praise.

This process reinforces the concept that obeying the command results in a reward, encouraging your Lab to leave the wood alone. This stage requires patience, consistency and frequent practice to ensure effective learning.

Check also: How To Stop Labrador From Eating Stones? (12 Steps)

Step 5: Practice ‘Leave’ Command 

From the point of training inception, it is not just the command words that matter but the repeated and practical application of them in everyday situations.

Thus, the ‘Leave’ command needs to be reinforced in a variety of contexts to bolster its effectiveness. A useful approach could be to introduce the object of contention, wood, in the Labrador’s usual play area, always under your supervision.

As your Labrador approaches the wood, issue the ‘Leave’ command. If they obey, reinforce their action with positive stimuli like a treat or praise.

Repeatedly practicing this will instill a clear understanding in your Labrador that they are to leave the wood alone.

Step 6: Reinforce ‘Drop’ Command

This command plays a crucial role when your Labrador has already picked up a piece of wood before you could prevent it. At this point, ‘Drop’ comes into play. Consistency is key here.

Whenever your dog picks up a piece of wood, you need to issue the ‘Drop’ command in a calm yet firm tone.

Following obedience with immediate positive reinforcement, such as treats or praise, will help cement this behavior in your Labrador’s mind, making the command more effective over time.

Step 7: Practice ‘Drop’ Command

Practicing the ‘Drop’ command in a controlled environment is a significant part of the training. Use different objects for this training to mimic real-world unpredictability and ensure that your dog will drop anything on command, not just wood.

This kind of varied practice is crucial to solidify the command, ensuring it’s effective regardless of the situation.

Over time, you will notice your Labrador responding more promptly to the ‘Drop’ command which indicates that your training is effectively sinking in.

Step 8: Reduce Reward Frequency

As the training progresses and your Labrador consistently responds to the commands, it’s advisable to gradually reduce the frequency of treats. It’s an important step to help your dog understand that the obedience required is not just about getting food rewards.

Instead, begin to incorporate more verbal praise or petting as a form of positive reinforcement.

This gradual shift away from treats will encourage a well-rounded obedience that isn’t strictly reliant on food, preparing your Labrador to respond to the commands under any circumstance.

Step 9: Increase Difficulty

Once your Labrador has mastered the ‘Leave’ and ‘Drop’ commands in simple situations, it’s time to raise the stakes. Start introducing larger pieces of wood, or have your pet around wood for longer periods.

You’re aiming to mimic real-world situations as closely as possible to prepare them for every eventuality. Increasing the difficulty is a test of their resilience and obedience.

It’s a way to ascertain if they can resist the temptation of chewing wood when the temptation gets stronger.

It pushes their willpower and control to the next level and reinforces the training they’ve already received, setting the stage for the next steps.

Step 10: Supervised Real-World Training

Following the increased difficulty, the next step is to move the training to real-world scenarios while maintaining close supervision. It might be in your yard, a park, or on walks where your Lab might encounter wood.

This is where your dog’s training meets the ultimate test, the complexity of the real world, with its varied stimuli. Expect this stage to be challenging and be prepared for some setbacks.

It’s essential to be patient and continue to reinforce positive behavior to consolidate the learning that has happened up until now.

Step 11: Gradual Decrease in Supervision

Now that your Labrador has shown progress in real-world scenarios, start lessening your supervision bit by bit. It doesn’t mean you should leave your Lab alone with potentially dangerous items like large chunks of wood.

Instead, this phase is to gauge your pet’s understanding and application of the training. It’s a crucial indicator of how well your Labrador has internalized the lessons and is capable of applying them without you overseeing every move. 

Step 12: Consistent Reinforcement

After the completion of the official training, it’s vital to remember that learning is a lifelong process. You should keep reinforcing the commands and the associated behaviors regularly.

Providing occasional refreshers of the commands, along with positive reinforcement when your Labrador resists the urge to chew wood, can be particularly beneficial. Also, you should be flexible with your reinforcement strategy based on your Lab’s individual needs, behaviors, and responses.

Consistent reinforcement ensures that your Labrador remains secure and confident in the learned behavior and helps to solidify the commands and their benefits in their mind.

Sources

forums.golfwrx.com — Labrador Retriever Chewing Wood Trim – Anyone Have Experience?

Dogforums.com — He won’t stop Chewing Wood

AKC: Why does my dog chew furniture & baseboards

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