Puppies are cute AF, but they can also be tiny little balls of destruction. If your recently adopted puppy is teething, you’ve probably already learned the hard way how important it is to protect your furniture, shoes and other valuables from their tiny — yet surprisingly sharp — little teeth.
It’s easy to tuck those expensive heels away high on a shelf, but you can’t exactly hide your coffee table in the linen closet. Instead of crating your puppy for hours or having to watching them like a hawk, mix up a bit of bitter spray with ingredients you already have in your home to create a nontoxic (but totally yucky) formula that will send your dog straight to the chew toys.
Start with something bitter
Vinegar is the main ingredient of most bitter-apple sprays. The tart flavor makes most dogs grimace and will deter them from nibbling your valuables. If the scent of the vinegar bothers you as much as it does your dog, you can also use lemon juice.
The problem with vinegar and lemon juice is exactly what you might imagine: Some dogs may actually like the way it tastes. If that’s the case, use both vinegar and lemon juice, or try a pickling spice called “alum” or good, old-fashioned yellow-flavored mouthwash (you know, the really gross stuff). You can also try a pinch of cayenne pepper in the mix, but be careful, as it may stain some surfaces.
Homemade bitter-apple recipe
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup white vinegar or lemon juice
- 1 cup water
- Pinch to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- Pour the ingredients into a 24-ounce spray bottle.
- Shake vigorously.
- Test the spray in an inconspicuous spot on your furniture, shoes or other items before spraying it all over.
- Reapply as needed.
Tips for using bitter-apple spray
For any training tool to work, you have to use it correctly. Follow these tips to ensure you aren’t reinforcing the wrong behavior in your dog.
1. Don’t spray the bitter apple directly into your dog’s mouth as punishment. She’ll likely just think you’re mistreating her since you probably won’t be able to grab the bottle and take action in time. It should be sprayed on the items you don’t want her to chew so she reacts negatively and immediately to the behavior.
2. Use an even more diluted version (a tablespoon or two) mixed with water in a separate spray bottle to discourage unnecessary barking or other behaviors. Only use it when the dog is currently engaging in the behavior you’re trying to discourage. Put it in the fridge to keep it cold if that provides extra incentive to follow the rules. (Remember to vocalize commands when you spray — you’re trying to reinforce obedience of vocal commands, not douse your dog as punishment for annoying you.)
3. If this mix doesn’t work, try offering your dog the ingredients, one at a time, to see which one’s the most offensive. Increase the amount of whichever ingredient gets the biggest negative response.
4. Accept that not all dogs respond to this type of training. If it doesn’t work, try a different approach.
Originally published September 2014. Updated July 2017.