Dogs naturally engage in many behaviors that can be considered destructive. However, if these behaviors are natural, the key is to exert some control over how your dog goes about expressing these perfectly natural ways of acting.
The two primary types of destructive dog behavior are chewing and digging. Chewing is destructive inside your house and digging is destructive in your yard. It is important to understand that both of these behaviors are normal behaviors in dogs. However, it is important to prevent them from becoming destructive.
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do about destructive dog behavior.
Dogs often chew inappropriate items and dig in the yard for the same reason - boredom. If your dog doesn't have enough that is stimulating in his or her environment it can lead to behaviors such as hyperactivity, destructive chewing, and skin conditions due to excessive licking. Other common behaviors include compulsive disorders, separation anxiety, bad outdoor habits and specific types of aggression.
There are multiple causes of behavioral problems. These include:
- Excitement: Some dogs get very excited when they see people or food. (Tip, dissipate the energy by throwing a toy to your dog. Do not say "no" as this can be seen as a reward and acknowledgment. Be kind and do not punishment.).
- Escaping: Dogs that do not come in contact with many people may attempt to escape and look for other people or animals. (Tip: Often associated with separation anxiety, see below, another tip is to arrange a dog play date, or get a second dog to keep your pet company).
- Chewing: Dogs like to experience the world with their mouths. They also can't often differentiate between what they should and should not chew.
- Boredom: If a dog's physical and mental needs for stimulation are not met, it could result in destructive behavior. (Tip: attempt to provide more frequent walks and time withl family members).
Breeds and Destructive Behavior
Breed and age play a part in what your dog would want to play with. Younger dogs may prefer toys that they can put in in their mouth for example. Breeds such as Terriers may naturally want to dig up a toy, Retrievers may want to carry a toy around in its mouth.
Predictability of toys and time they are left to play has benefits, but so do changes and surprises.
Praise and reward your dog when he chews on his chew toys. You can also provide toys like "busy boxes". These are rubber cubes that have hiding places for treats. Your dog has to figure out how to get the treats out. Rotate his toys so he doesn't get bored with them.
Walk your dog twice a day and play games with him like Frisbee or fetch. Teach him commands and tricks to keep his mind active. Of course, teaching him to obey commands will also make it easier to teach him not to chew or dig.
Puppy Chewing Behavior
During the age of four to eight months of age puppies lose their teeth (called deciduous teeth). New teeth will grow when the puppy teeth fall out. Chewing helps your dog's mouth feel more comfortable.
Puppies do not need the run of the house. During this phase you might want to create an area for your puppy in the home with items that he or she can play with and chew. You can also buy a line of toys called "Extreme Goody Toys by Kong" which is a toy stuffed with kibble that will keep your dog entertained all day.
You also need to correct the behavior while the puppy is in the act such as when they are chewing one of your shoes. Say the word no or some other displeasing sound and then replace the shoe with a chew toy.
Dog Chewing and Dog Separation Anxiety
If your dog misses you when you are out they may seek reminders of your presence. If your scent is on an object, your dog may find some comfort in chewing and "playing" with an object that you have touched. You may interpret it as a destructive dog behavior, but they are just dealing with the uneasy feeling that comes from separation.
See our guide on anxiety symptoms in dogs for a complete discussion on this subject. The key to dealing with separation anxiety is to create a predictable schedule for your dog so that he or she knows when to expect your return. You can even practice leaving. Put on your coat and then immediately return. Repeat and return several minutes later. Keep on extending the interval over several weeks. Over time your dog will learn that you will always return.
Some dogs are naturally anxious and may benefit from anti-anxiety medications. There is a natural alternative offered by PetAlive PetCalm which combines several remedies known for their soothing effect on your dog's nervous system. Be sure to discuss this and other options with your veterinarian so that she can track progress and comment on the dog destructive behavior.
Destructive Dog Behavior and Punishment
Don't punish your dog for chewing or digging. If you find him chewing an inappropriate object, say "No!" in a firm tone of voice and offer him a chew toy. Praise him when he takes the toy in his mouth. If you find him digging, say "No!" and distract him with another activity such as a toy.
Avoid dangerous inhumane ideas such as duct taping your dogs mouth closed around the object that he destroyed. Also do not hold your dog's head under water.
Also crating your dog for long periods of time is equally cruel.
Don't scold your dog if you discover he has chewed something or dug in the yard after it's already done. He won't understand what you're scolding him about.
You do need to provide your dog with feedback when they are about to engage in destructive dog behavior. It is acceptable to give your dog a warning and then immediately draw his or her attention to a dog toy.
Ideas to Enrich Your Dog
Steve Dale, a well known canine behavior expert has several solutions for dog owners to prevent problems and to keep your dog engaged and active:
- Divide portions of dog's meal in containers or toys such as the popular Busy Buddy toys. Locate the toys around the house.
- Provide your dog with a chew bone such as a greenie that can be chewed in one day. Provide your dog with the bone at the times of day when he or she is most destructive.
- Placing novel scents in the environment: Rabbit, squired scents from sporting goods stores. Novel herbs, spices and colognes.
- Set up a wading pool for your dog
- Create a digging pit in your yard.
- Freeze your own discovery treat. Create a popsicle of Gatorade, low salt bullion or chicken broth (perhaps with kibble inside or a dog treat or carrot stick). Frozen melon balls.
- Unused washed plastic milk cartons - put some kibble inside, dog rolls it and kibble falls out.
- Take a dog for frequent exercise and walks in new places for new sights and smells where they can use some of their pent up energy.
- Rotate indoor and/or outdoor toys, and encourage play.
- Novel walks to new and different places, offers new and different sensations and experiences.
- Teach new tricks
Use an Odor Deterrent
This approach acts to prevent destructive dog behavior by applying a scent to the item you are trying to protect that your dog wants to avoid.
Use an odor deterrent such as Grannick's Bitter Apple Spray. When starting, apply a small amount to a piece of tissue or cotton wool. Place it directly into the dog's mouth, allow him to taste it and then spit it out.
This will teach your dog the connection between the taste and the odor of the substance and will be more likely to avoid chewing items that smell like the substance. Re-apply the deterrent to the off-limits objects every day for 2-4 weeks.
Apply the scent to any area of the home or object that you want your dog to avoid. You should see the most concerning destructive dog behavior disappear.
Avoid Situations That Result in Destructive Behavior
Dogs are also more likely to display destructive dog behavior when they are left alone for long periods of time. This is partly due to boredom, but also because dogs are pack animals. They are social creatures. If you work long hours, consider hiring a pet sitter to come in mid-day to take your dog for a walk or taking your dog to a doggie daycare.
If your dog is destructive, don't leave him alone unsupervised until he has learned appropriate behavior. If he chews your furniture when you're not home, get a large dog crate and make him comfortable. Don't forget to include a chew toy. If he digs in the backyard, don't let him out unsupervised.
As much as possible, avoid destructive dog behavior by not giving your dog access to items he might chew and destroy. Pick up your socks and shoes, the T.V. remote, your eyeglasses, etc., especially until your dog learns what is OK to chew and what is not. Remember, puppies chew on things when they are teething, and they haven't had the chance yet to learn what they are allowed to chew and what they aren't.