Destructive ChewingExploring the world with their mouths is normal behavior for puppies and dogs. Chewing can be directed toward appropriate items so your dog isn’t destroying items you value. Until they learn what they can and can’t chew, it’s your responsibility to manage the situation as much as possible, so they don’t have the opportunity to chew on unacceptable objects.
Taking Control by Managing the Situation
- Take responsibility for your own belongings. If you don’t want it in your dog’s mouth, don’t make it available. Keep clothing, shoes, books, trash, eyeglasses, and television remote controls out of your dog’s reach.
- Don’t confuse your dog by offering them shoes and socks as toys and then expect them to distinguish between their shoe and yours. Your dog’s toys should be obviously different from household goods.
- Until they learn the house rules, confine them when you’re unable to keep an eye on them. Choose a “safe place” that is dog-proof with fresh water and “safe” toys (see our resource Dog Toys). If your dog is crate trained, you may also crate him for short periods of time when you are unable to supervise him (see our resource Crate Training).
- Give your dog plenty of people-time. Your dog won’t know how to behave if you don’t teach them alternatives to inappropriate behavior and they can’t learn these when they are in the yard by themselves.
- If, and only if, you catch your dog chewing on something they shouldn’t, interrupt the behavior by trading them for a treat or an acceptable chew toy instead, and praise them lavishly when they take the toy in their mouth. Play a little tug or have your puppy chase the appropriate toy along the floor so that it is more exciting than the object you did not want them to have.
- Have realistic expectations. It’s virtually inevitable that your dog will, at some point, chew up something you value. Punishing the puppy for this mistake is inappropriate and will only teach the puppy to fear you.
Boredom and/or Social IsolationNormal play behavior can result in destruction, as it may involve digging, chewing, shredding, and/or shaking toy-like objects. Since dogs investigate objects by pawing at them and exploring them with their mouths, they may also inadvertently damage items in their environment when they’re exploring or investigating. Your dog may be chewing for entertainment if:
- They are left alone for long periods without opportunities for interaction with you.
- Their environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.
- They are a puppy or adolescent (under three years old) and they don’t have other outlets for their energy (wrong types of exercise or little to no exercise).
- They are a particularly active type of dog who needs an active lifestyle to be happy.
- Play with your dog daily (15-30minutes) in a safe, fenced-in area. If you don’t have a yard, a tennis court can be a good place to play. Fetch is a great game that will use up your dog’s excess energy without wearing you out! Tug of war is also an excellent game to play with puppies and dogs that do not have a history of aggressive behaviour towards people. Tug is natural dog behaviour and you can take turns winning or letting the puppy “win”.
- Go for a walk. Walks should be more than just “bathroom time.” On-leash walks are important opportunities for you and your dog to be together. Be sure to allow time for sniffing, exploring, instruction and praise.
- Increase your dog’s opportunities for mental stimulation. Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks and practice them daily. Take a dog training class.
- Provide your dog with toys (see our resource Dog Toys). Rotate your dog’s toys to refresh their interest in them. “New” toys are always more interesting than old ones. Try different kinds of toys, but when you introduce a new toy, watch your dog and make sure they won’t tear it up and ingest the pieces.
- Feed your dog at least one meal a day from a puzzle toy – a tightly packed Kong or a Buster Cube for example. Putting tidbits of food inside indestructible chew toys focuses your dog’s chewing activities on these toys instead of on unacceptable objects.
- You might want to consider a good “Doggie Day Care” program for two or three days a week to work off some of your dog’s excess energy or hire a dog walker to walk your dog for an hour mid-day.
Attention-Seeking BehaviorWithout realizing it, we often pay more attention to our dogs when they’re misbehaving. Dogs who don’t receive a lot of attention and reinforcement for appropriate behavior may engage in destructive behavior when their owners are present as a way to attract attention – even if the attention is threatening, such as a verbal scolding.
- Make sure your dog gets a lot of positive attention every day – playing, walking, grooming, or just petting.
- Ignore (as much as possible) bad behavior and reward good behavior. Tell your dog what to do right, and reward this behaviour instead. Remember to reward your dog with praise and petting when they are playing quietly with appropriate toys.
- Teach your dog a “bring it here” cue so when they do pick up an “off-limits” object, you can use your command and praise them for complying.
- Train your dog. This is a good way to make sure they get a lot of attention for doing the right things – so they won’t have to resort to being naughty just to get your attention.
Fears and PhobiasYour dog’s destructive behavior may be a response to something they fear. Some dogs are afraid of loud noises. Your dog’s destructive behavior may be caused by fear if the destruction occurs when they are exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers, or construction sounds, and if the primary damage is to doors, door frames, window coverings, screens, or walls.
- Provide a “safe place” for your dog. Observe where they like to go when they feel anxious, then allow access to that space or create a similar one for them to use when the fear stimulus is present.
- Don’t comfort your dog when they are behaving fearfully. Try to get them to play with you or respond to commands they know and give them praise and treats when they respond to you instead of the fear stimulus.
- Don’t crate your dog unless they are thoroughly crate-trained and consider the crate their safe place. If you put them in a crate to prevent destruction and they are not crate-trained, they may injure themselves and/or destroy the crate.
Separation AnxietyDogs with separation anxiety tend to display behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to their owners. This includes following you from room to room, frantic greetings, and reacting anxiously to your preparation to leave the house. And/or destroying walls, doors, or objects when left alone.
These behaviors are not motivated by spite or revenge, but by anxiety – the dog is so afraid of being alone that they absolutely panic. Punishment will make the problem worse. Separation anxiety can often be resolved by using counter conditioning and desensitization techniques (see our resource Separation Anxiety).