Until your dog understands what he can and can’t chew, it is your responsibility to manage access to objects you don’t want damaged.
Chewing is normal dog behaviour. Dogs explore their world with their mouths. Unfortunately dogs don’t understand how humans value objects and so can direct their chewing to valued items.
Take 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 him shoes and socks as toys and then expect him to distinguish between his shoe and yours. Your dog’s toys should be obviously different from off limit objects.
- Until he learns the house rules, confine him when you’re unable to keep an eye on him. Choose a safe place with fresh water and safe toys. If you’re dog is crate trained, crate him for short periods of time (see Crate Training Your Dog).
- Give your dog plenty of people-time. Your dog won’t know how to behave if you don’t teach him alternatives to inappropriate behavior. He can’t learn the appropriate behaviour when he’s in the yard by himself. It is more likely he will find new and equally inappropriate behaviour such as digging and barking.
- If you see your dog chewing on something he shouldn’t, interrupt the behaviour and offer him an acceptable chew toy instead. Praise him lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.
- Have realistic expectations. It’s inevitable that your dog will chew up something that you value. This is often part of the transition to a new home. Your dog needs time to learn the house rules and you need to remember to take precautions and keep things out of his reach.
Chewing is normal teething and investigative puppy behaviour. However, dogs will engage in destructive behavior for a variety of reasons. In order to deal with the behaviour, you must first determine why your dog is being destructive.
Play, boredom and/or social isolation
Normal play behaviour can result in destruction, as it may involve digging, chewing, shredding and/or shaking toy-like objects. Dogs investigate objects by pawing at them and exploring them with their mouths. They might also damage items in their environment when they’re exploring or investigating. Your dog may be chewing for entertainment if:
- He’s left alone for long periods without opportunities for interaction with you.
- His environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.
- He’s a puppy or adolescent (under three years old) and he doesn’t have other outlets for his energy.
- He’s a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs an active lifestyle to be happy.
- Play with your dog daily 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!
- 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. Don’t forget 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. If you have time, take an obedience class. Feed him using treat dispensing toys.
- Provide your dog with lots of toys. Try different kinds of toys, but when you introduce a new toy, watch your dog to make sure he won’t tear it up and ingest the pieces.
- Rotate your dog’s toys to refresh his interest in them. New toys are always more interesting than old ones.
- Consider the various types of toys that can be stuffed with food. Putting tidbits of food inside chew toys focuses your dog’s chewing activities on these toys instead of on unacceptable objects.
- Make your dog’s favourite off-limits chew objects unattractive to him by using a commercial “anti-chew” product such as Bitter Apple..
- Consider a good “Doggie Day Care” program for two or three days a week to work off some of your dog’s excess energy.
Dogs with separation anxiety tend to display behaviours 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. Destruction is generally directed toward door and window frames as the dog attempts to escape the house.
Factors that can precipitate a separation anxiety problem:
- A change in the family’s schedule that results in your dog being left alone more often.
- A move to a new house.
- The death or loss of a family member or another family pet.
- A period at a shelter or boarding kennel.
These behaviours are not motivated by spite or revenge but by anxiety. Punishment will only make the problem worse. Separation anxiety can be resolved by using counter conditioning and desensitization techniques.
We often pay attention to our dogs when they’re misbehaving and ignore them when they are quiet. Dogs that don’t receive a lot of attention for appropriate behaviour learn to engage in destructive behaviour when their owners are present. This attracts attention. Even if the attention is negative it is better that being ignored.
- Make sure your dog gets a lot of positive attention every day – playing, walking, grooming or just petting.
- Ignore (as much as possible) bad behaviour and reward good behaviour. Remember to reward your dog with praise and petting when he’s playing quietly with appropriate toys.
- Make his favourite off-limits chew objects unattractive or unavailable to him. Use taste aversives on objects that cannot be put away.
- Teach your dog a “drop it” cue so when he does pick up an off-limits object you can use your cue and praise him for complying. The best way to teach “drop it” is to practice having him exchange a toy in his possession for a tidbit of food.
Fears and phobias
Destructive behaviour can be a response to something your dog fears. Some dogs are afraid of loud noises. Your dog’s destructive behaviour can be caused by fear if the destruction occurs when he’s exposed to loud noises such as thunderstorms, firecrackers, or construction sounds.
- Provide a safe place for your dog. Observe where he likes to go when he feels anxious, then allow access to that space or create a similar one for him to use when the fear stimulus is present.
- Try to distract your dog when he’s behaving fearfully. Try to get him to play with you or respond to cues he knows and give him praise and treats when he responds to you instead of to the fear stimulus.
- Don’t crate your dog unless he’s thoroughly crate-trained and considers the crate his safe place. If you put him in a crate to prevent destruction and he’s not crate-trained he could injure himself and/or destroy the crate.
What not to do
Punishment is not effective in resolving destructive behaviour problems and can even make them worse. Never discipline your dog after the fact. If the dog is punished without addressing the underlying issue he will probably move on to another object or behaviour. If you discover an item your dog has chewed minutes, or even seconds later, it’s too late to administer a correction. Your dog doesn’t understand that, “I chewed those shoes 10 minutes ago and that’s why I’m being scolded now.”
People often believe their dog makes this connection because he runs and hides or “looks guilty.” Dogs don’t feel guilt, rather they display submissive postures like cowering, running away or hiding, when they feel threatened by an angry tone of voice, body posture or facial expression. Your dog doesn’t know that he’s done something wrong; he only knows that you’re upset. Punishment after the fact will not only fail to eliminate the undesirable behaviour, but may also provoke other undesirable behaviours, as well.