There is no doubt that living with a destructive dog is exhausting and frustrating. It can also get expensive if the dog is inflicting serious property damage.
Do not give up hope, this behavior is common and it is manageable.
It will take some readjustments and some commitment on your part, but if you put in the time and energy you can save your furniture and your sanity.
Plus, you will greatly improve your relationship with your furry friend.
In this article, we will talk about the causes of destructive behavior in dogs and what you can do to stop, reduce, or redirect your dog’s destructive behavior.
What is Destructive Behavior?
Destructive behavior in dogs generally refers to chewing and shredding the owner’s personal property.
This can include shoes, clothing, furniture, pillows, curtains, rugs, and sometimes even the structure of the house itself (window frames and door frames, for instance).
Destructive behavior also includes digging in the yard and/or scratching at the doors and walls of the house or fence.
What Causes Destructive Behavior in Dogs?
There are a number of different reasons why your dog might be exhibiting destructive tendencies.
Before you address the problem, you will need to figure out the reason why your dog is being destructive in the first place.
Continue reading below to learn about some of the most common reasons why dogs display destructive behavior.
Puppies go through a teething phase during which they absolutely must chew on things.
Puppy teething is a natural behavior that cannot be stopped, but it can be managed and redirected.
The puppy chewing stage usually lasts between the ages of 2 months and 10 months. However, some dogs’ chewing phases will last shorter or longer. Sometimes the chewing stage lasts until the age of 2 years old.
Just keep repeating to yourself that your puppy WILL outgrow this phase. The biting and chewing will not last forever.
In the meantime, there are some things that you can do to keep the property damage to a minimum.
- Provide your puppy with tons of appropriate chew toys. Rotate your puppy’s toys on a daily basis to keep them interesting. Make sure you provide a variety of different textures, materials, etc. Here are some examples of great toys for teething puppies:
- Give your puppy interactive toys that involve working for treats or peanut butter. This will make his toys more desirable than your possessions. Here are some examples of interactive toys:
- Keep your puppy confined to a crate or playpen when you are not available to supervise him. See below for more information on crate training.
- Use baby gates to block your puppy from rooms with valuable items and nice furniture.
- Give your puppy plenty of daily exercise. A tired puppy will be more likely to nap and less likely to chew on your stuff.
Despite your best efforts, some of your items will get destroyed during your puppy’s teething phase.
It is best to come to terms with that fact sooner rather than later. Good thing they are so cute at this age!
Many dogs that fill their days with digging holes or chewing furniture are simply bored.
Most dog breeds originated to perform a job, use their brains, and work all day with a human partner.
For example, Siberian Huskies were bred to pull sleds for miles at a time, and Border Collies were bred to work on farms—just to name a few examples.
Most household dogs these days are under-stimulated and need a lot more mental enrichment than they are getting on a daily basis.
It is unrealistic to expect an active working breed to snooze on the couch from 9 to 5. This is why it is so important to pick a breed (or mix) that matches your lifestyle.
A great way to beat canine boredom is to send your dog to a doggie daycare during the day.
Doggie daycare is a fantastic way to give your dog more mental and physical stimulation.
It can also improve your dog’s social skills. As a bonus, you will pick up a very tired dog at the end of the day!
Another great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated is to stock up on some of the interactive toys listed above. Rotate these items on a daily basis to keep your dog from getting bored with them.
However, if money is tight, there are plenty of DIY enrichment activities that you make for your dog with items that you can find around the house.
Check out the list of homemade enrichment activities in this article about keeping your dog occupied while you work.
Pent Up Energy
Chewing is a common way that dogs expel excess pent up energy.
If your dog is doing an excessive amount of chewing, it could be an indication that you are not meeting your dog’s exercise needs.
Most dogs need a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day.
Working breeds, herding breeds and sporting breeds need a lot more than that.
Aerobic exercise can include:
- Power Walking
- Playing Fetch
- Romping with other dogs
- Obedience Training
A stroll in the neighborhood does not constitute vigorous exercise.
If your dog’s chewing is becoming a problem, try to add an extra 30 minutes of exercise into your dog’s daily routine.
Something as simple as increasing your dog’s exercise can have a big effect on behavior issues!
Chewing can also be a self-soothing behavior for dogs.
If you notice that your dog is chewing on things when you leave the house or during other stressful events (guests visiting, thunderstorms, fireworks), your dog might be stressed.
If you suspect your dog is stressed when you leave the house, go back to the basics of crate training (see below).
Once your dog is comfortable in their crate, that will become their safe space. Leave them in their crate when you leave the house.
Always give them something fun to play with when you put them in there (like an interactive toy or a dental chew).
You can also play soothing music when you leave the house or leave the radio or television on for company.
You can get an Adaptil calming diffuser and plug it in near your dog’s crate.
If your dog has severe separation anxiety you will most likely need to work with a professional positive reinforcement trainer and/or your veterinarian.
Separation anxiety is intense separation distress. Separation anxiety is more than simply chewing on items when you leave. There will also be signs of serious mental distress.
The following are symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs:
- Attempting to escape the house by chewing or scratching doors and windows
- Breaking through glass windowpanes
- Incessant howling, barking, or crying
- Drooling, panting, salivating
- Refusing food, treats, or interactive toys when alone
- Soiling the house or crate
- Injuring themselves while trying to escape (cuts or gashes on nose or paws)
If your dog is displaying these symptoms, seek assistance from a professional positive reinforcement trainer.
Separation anxiety can be fixed, but it is a tricky condition, so it is best to work with a professional.
Also, discuss this level of anxiety with your veterinarian. Your vet may be able to prescribe a medication to help with the behavior modification process.
Crate Training: Your Key to Success
If you own a dog with destructive tendencies, crate training will be your saving grace.
Your dog’s crate will become your dog’s safe space. It will keep your dog safe and keep your house safe when you are not around to supervise your pet.
Some people think that crate training is cruel, but when it is done correctly, dogs actually learn to LOVE their crates.
It is certainly better for your dog than reaching your wit’s end and dropping your best friend off at an animal shelter, so give crate training a try if you are reaching the end of your patience.
10 Steps to Crate Training Your Dog
Follow these steps to get your dog happy and comfortable in his crate!
- Select a crate that is large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down fully. You can purchase either a plastic crate or a wire crate. You can even get a heavy-duty crate if your dog is a serious chewer.
- Make the crate comfortable with blankets and toys. You want the crate to look very inviting. Cover the crate with a sheet to make it more like a “den” but leave a little bit of the crate uncovered for good air flow.
- Set the crate up in your bedroom or a well-populated living space. Do not put it in an isolated room such as a basement or laundry room.
- On the first day that you get the crate, do short crate training sessions throughout the day. Toss treats into the crate and encourage your dog to scamper in to get the treats! Do not close the door at all. If your dog comes right out, that is ok, just do it again. If your dog lingers in the crate for a few seconds, deliver a bonus treat! Keep delivering bonus treats as long as your dog stays in the crate!
- When your dog isn’t looking, hide surprise treats in the crate. If you see your dog investigate the crate on his own, give him lots of praise, encouragement, and bonus treats!
- On the second day, start tossing treats into the crate and closing the door after your dog scampers in. Feed your dog a treat through the bars and then immediately open the door. Repeat multiple times throughout the day. Start building up the time that the door is closed. Keep feeding treats through the bars while your dog is in the closed crate.
- On the third day, prepare a delicious frozen Kong or other enrichment activity (Bully Stick, stuffed Knuckle Bone, etc). Put the prize in the crate and let your dog go in and start chewing. Read a book next to the crate for a few minutes. After a few minutes, open the door and call your dog out (you might have to use treats to get him away from the amazing enrichment item)! Put the enrichment item away. Your dog ONLY gets this fantastic prize in the crate. Repeat throughout the day.
- On the fourth day, prepare another delicious frozen Kong or enrichment item. Repeat the process from the following day, but this time leave the room for very short intervals.
- After this, you can start building up the length of time that you leave your dog in his crate. Always leave him with an awesome enrichment item (or two!) that he gets only during crate time.
- Any time that you will be leaving your dog in his crate for more than 30 minutes, give him a good exercise session before crate time!
Note- if you have to crate your dog for more than 8 hours, have a friend, neighbor or pet sitter stop by during the day to let him stretch his legs and go to the bathroom.
Once your dog grows up a little bit and gets more training under his belt, you will not have to leave him in the crate all the time when he is home alone.
You can gradually start to give him more freedom.
However, do not give him too much freedom too soon.
When you think he is ready to graduate from the crate, leave him out in one room of the house.
Still, leave him with plenty of toys and enrichment items to keep him busy.
Don’t Give Up- You Can Do It!
Living with a destructive dog can be tough, but with the tips in this article, you can get your pup on the right track.
If you need more help, reach out to a positive reinforcement trainer in your community.