Dealing with a destructive dog can be one of the most stressful and upsetting situations possible. While it may be somewhat normal for a puppy to do some occasional chewing, it is not normal for full grown dogs. Chewing, digging, scratching and exploring their territory are natural tendencies for dogs, however, when these behaviors become excessive and out-of-hand, they lead to destruction. In adult dogs, these behaviors are commonly the result of deeper issues, such as a nervous disorder or excess energy. However, in order to treat the roots of your destructive dog’s behavior, you must first understand the cause.
The Cause of Destructive Behaviors in Dogs
In order to determine the origin of your dog’s destructive behavior, you must first consider your dog’s age, breed and health history. There are actually many reasons that may cause a dog to begin showing destructive behaviors, such as teething, separation anxiety, fear, boredom, lack of attention and so forth.
The first, and most common, cause of destructive chewing behaviors is teething. This is most common in young pups up to 6 months old who will chew to alieve the pain caused by losing their baby teeth and having their adult teeth come in. Once the dog’s permanent teeth are present, the chewing behavior will generally disappear. However, depending on breed some adult dogs will chew to keep their teeth in shape. If these normal chewing activities are not properly directed, then the behavior can lead to the destruction of your home or items.
Another one of the most common causes of destructive behaviors is separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is often found in dogs that were adopted as strays or from an animal shelter, and reflects a strong attachment to their human. Separation anxiety can be triggered by a variety of events, such as staying at a boarding kennel, the death of a family member or another pet, moving to a new home or even changes in schedule. The important thing to remember is that the destructive behaviors caused by separation anxiety are motivated by anxiety, not revenge or spite, and punishing these behaviors will increase the problem.
In some cases, fear is also the cause of destructive behaviors. For example, being afraid of loud noises or thunderstorms can cause the dog to perform destructive behaviors by trying to get away from the feared situation. In cases such as these, doorframes, doors, window trim and so on are usually damaged.
More possible causes for destructive behavior include social isolation, boredom or lack of attention. Without adequate social interaction, whether from their owners, playmates, toys or environment, they may engage in activities to entertain themselves which inadvertently result property being destroyed. Likewise, if the dog realizes that bad behavior is getting them more attention than good behavior, then they may engage in destructive behavior as a way to receive attention.
While it is more common in younger dogs, play behavior could also be the reason for destructive behaviors. Toy-like objects such as shoes, socks and so forth make attractive play-things for a young dog and may end up being shredded, chewed, shaken or otherwise destroyed.
The destructive behavior could also be the result of the dog simply investigating their environment. This mainly applies to younger dogs and dogs that are left unsupervised for long periods of time. When exploring and investigating their environment, dogs typically chew, paw or use their mouth to investigate a curious object. Fetching and carrying objects is a common activity for younger dogs, especially retrievers, however it can cause damage to the object in question.
Other possible causes of destructive behavior may include inappropriate punishment, medical problems, inconsistent feeding routines, barrier frustrations or even predatory behavior. Excessive punishment for misbehavior can lead a dog to have anxiety over their owner’s presence, which can incite destructive behaviors. Dogs may also have dental, gum or gastrointestinal problems which can lead them to chewing or otherwise destroying items. In some cases, the problem could even be as simple as inconsistent feeding routines. A hungry dog will often try to find something to eat by chewing and gnawing on objects.
There are many reasons why a dog may be engaging in destructive behavior, however, as their owner you are able to carefully consider their circumstances and determine what underlying causes may be contributing to the undesirable behaviors.
Treating Destructive Behaviors in Dogs
The very first thing to understand about treating destructive behaviors in dogs is that punishment is rarely effective and can actually make the behaviors worse. You should never punish them ‘after the fact.’ When a punishment is warranted, the goal is to punish the behavior, NOT the animal.
After understanding the many common causes behind destructive behavior, you should understand that some destructive behaviors are fairly normal and very common. However, destructive behaviors that are excessive and continual need to be addressed and treated. It is fairly reasonable to assume that all dog owners will lose something to the destructive behavior of their dog at some point or another. So, when destructive behavior only occurs on occasion it should be taken in perspective with normal dog behavior.
Once you have pin-pointed the cause for your dog’s destructive behavior, you can begin taking measures to reduce and/or eliminate it entirely.
The first thing that you should do to address destructive behavior is ensure that your dog is not simply bored, hungry or expressing pent up energy. You should set a routine daily schedule that includes feeding your dog at the same time every day, plenty of exercise and social interaction, and toys or chew bones for your dog to chew on.
However, simply providing chew toys is not enough to deter destructive behaviors. You have to teach your dog (young or old) what is appropriate for chewing and what is not. One of the best ways to deter your dog from chewing on inappropriate objects is to use a specially formulated deterrent spray that dogs find unappealing.
For many, it goes without saying that you should ‘dog proof’ your home. Just like small children, dogs are likely to explore and interact with their environment by tasting, touching and chewing on objects they find. Make sure that you place all items in appropriate places, such as clothing and shoes in a closed closet and laundry in the hamper. This makes it more difficult for your dog to reach items that they should not have.
You should also make sure that your dog has plenty of their own chew bones and toys within easy reach. You should also make sure that you do not give your dog items such as socks or shoes as chew toys, as they will not know the difference between their ‘chew toy’ and your expensive new kicks. You should also rotate your dog’s toys out so that they do not become bored with the same ones.
When you return home from work or other outings, don’t forget to reward a good dog with affection and a treat. By reinforcing your canine companion’s positive behavior, you eliminate the chances that he will repeat destructive acts again.