Coming in to find your dog munching on your favorite slippers is not everyone’s idea of the ideal owner-dog relationship. Of course, from the dog’s point of view there’s nothing wrong with chewing tasty leather or soft material – it’s only natural to investigate objects by smell and taste, and anyway, it’s great fun.
We can accept that, but it’s also only natural for us to become upset when our dog chews something that we value. We need to remember that dogs don’t share our sense of values. For your dog, there’s no difference between an old slipper and a new one, or between a soft toy and the fringes of an expensive rug.
Most destructive behavior in dogs is caused by one of these three factors:
- Normal puppy behavior. It’s natural for a puppy to investigate the exciting new world, often by chewing or tasting as much of it as possible.
- Boredom. When a dog is insufficiently active or stimulated, as it grows from puppy to adult dog, it specifically targets certain items in the house to play with or damage.
- Separation anxiety. This is the most common reason for destructive activity. A dog that has not learned to spend time alone becomes stressed when separated from its family, and may seek relief in frantic action, often causing drastic damage. This behavior may be accompanied by urination, defecation, barking, and whining.
Prevention is the best remedy, and even though many people coping with this problem will have adult dogs in whom the behavior is already well ingrained, it’s worth starting by looking at prevention.
Preventing destructive behavior
It is important to have a dog who can be left unsupervised. From an early age, gradually accustom your dog to being left alone; aim to work up to periods of one hour. Don’t encourage him to be under your feet all day. Instead, allow him to spend time by himself in the yard, on the patio, in a dog pen, or in another room while you’re elsewhere. This encourages self-reliance and prevents a dog from becoming overly dependent upon its owner’s presence – this is especially important in a one-person-one-dog relationship.
A new dog or puppy should never be allowed to roam the house freely for the first few months until you are able to judge its all-around behavior. Most chewing takes place in your absence, so by curtailing your dog’s freedom you limit any damage to a single location, which is easier to deal with. Moreover, in the kitchen, for instance, you can implement preventative actions to teach the dog what it can and cannot chew. Eventually you can open up the house to the dog if that’s your desire.
Exercise and Food
Exercising your dog before you leave him can help to burn off pent-up energy. He will be more likely to curl up and go to sleep than rampage through the house. Tired dogs chew less! Consider feeding your dog before you leave the house (but make sure he’s had ample time to evacuate his bowels before you go out). Satiated dogs become sleepy and lethargic, and are less inclined to chew.
Puppies should become accustomed to an indoor cage from day one. Ensure that your dog sees the cage as a refuge rather than a prison by providing marrow bones, toys stuffed with treats, or hide chews to keep him occupied in it while you’re out. But when you return, make sure you collect the chews and keep them for the next time you go out; otherwise your dog will not find them interesting. Feeding the dog in the cage once or twice daily also helps condition him to accept it as a positive amenity.
If the destruction takes place in your absence, it may be for the reasons mentioned above. Dogs that have not become gradually accustomed to your absence may become anxious when left. These dogs are the ones that follow you around the house or seek eye contact with you no matter what you’re doing. They must be taught that being alone is not the end of the world.
Do you own a dog with a destructive behavior? Learn how to control your dog’s chewing habits!