Dealing with Destructo, the Not So “Wonder” Dog?
I have spent most of my career in and out of shelters, adopting dogs and training them for people with disabilities and I have to say that chewing and destructive behavior is one of the major reasons dogs are relinquished to shelters.
Relinquishment often leads to euthanasia simply because there is not enough room in most local and county shelters to spare. Unfortunately the vast majority of shelters still do not temperament test and adopt dogs out as per their adoptability versus a simple space dilemma, so good dogs with great temperaments are being euthanized in huge numbers each day!
Chewing is a normal dog behavior. Most dogs at some point in their lives suffer from a destructive stage, typically due to a young age and teething. However, there are some dogs whose chewing habits far exceed the normal limits of puppyhood.
Separation anxiety does exist in a small number of dogs and will be addressed in a later article, if your dog’s chewing is also accompanied by urination, defecation, extreme destructive behavior and trying to break out of the house (i.e. breaking windows, eating through doors and sheet rock), screaming and the possibility of severe injury trying to break out of a crate, your dog may have separation anxiety.
Why do dogs chew? In puppyhood, chewing on objects sometimes alleviates the pain of getting adult teeth and losing puppy teeth. At this stage, it is fairly important to teach your puppy which objects they can chew on and which objects they can’t, if you do not or if they choose to regularly steal objects and chew them it may become part of a behavior habit that will later be more difficult to break. They need to know what is appropriate!
As a general rule, however, dogs chew out of boredom. Chewing and shredding objects is FUN, fun, fun for your dog! Disemboweling a toy and watching the fluff fly about the room, feeling something break and crumble in their mouths, and simply hearing the crackle in their jaws is FUN for them. It is entertaining for them to destroy things, and it is a natural way to explore their environment.
Often, what is fun for a dog is absolutely horrifying to us humans! We must understand they are entertaining their brains by shredding things.
What Can You Do?
I always tell my clients in my doggy classes, if you locked me up in a room with four white walls and a couch and nothing else to stimulate myself…eventually I would shred the sofa too!
Dogs can’t read, they can’t watch TV, they never get their drivers license and they rarely construct exercise plans for themselves to deal with their energy!
As humans it is our job first and foremost to make sure we are giving our furry buddies the stimulation physically and mentally and toys that they need.
I recommend getting a toy box and filling it with a variety of toys! Hard toys, soft toys, indestructible toys, bones, safe rawhides (pressed or long rolled rawhides), rubber toys, plastic toys…you name it! Only you know your dog and its limitations, do not provide a toy that might be consumed and lead to bowel obstruction surgery or choking. I also do not recommend furry toys for dog that live in houses with small children, they look too much like stuffed animals and therefore they may steal your kids’ toys!
Fairly consistently, while it seems your dog is still chewing everything in sight, add to the toy collection. Trust me a few hundred dollars of toys spent over a year or two is much cheaper than buying new carpet, new computers, or new walls! I even recommend taking your dog’s favorite toys away for a week or two and then introducing them again. Dogs are just like people, they get bored with what they have so if you take something away and give it back at a later time, it is like giving him a new toy!
The next thing is also crucial! SET HIM UP FOR SUCCESS!
If your dog is sneaking off and stealing and shredding objects you need to take the steps necessary to make sure this no longer can happen!
First go through your house and child proof it. You wouldn’t bring a toddler into your house without childproofing the dangerous aspects of your house, why do we assume a puppy or dog does not need or deserve the same treatment?
Put up dangerous chemicals, drugs, glass objects, batteries and anything else that could be toxic or deadly. THEN, put up ANYTHING that is expensive or irreplaceable! Don’t leave your $2,000 laptop sitting on the basement couch, don’t leave your Dior purse or Bolle sunglasses out! If your dog likes shoes put them safely in a closet with the door shut!
Now, keep an eye on your little trouble maker! If your dog sneaks away and you don’t see him laying down in the room with you…chances are he is doing something naughty. I encourage my dogs to follow me from room to room, not only because it is good for our bond, but also because if I am right there I can stop problem behavior!
Put him on a leash and attach it to yourself or a piece of furniture in the room that you are in, if you need to! When I got adult dogs from shelters to train as Service Dogs and brought them home with me, they were tethered to me constantly. It is disturbing at first, and you’ll hate me for a while, but you will keep your items safe and your dog safe in the process!
My dogs do not earn the freedom of being loose in my house until they have proven to me that there will be no accidents, and no chewing of random naughty items. Freedom is a privilege they do not take for granted and I still have 3 dogs that come into the bathroom to shower with me, ha ha!
When you cannot devote the time to making sure your furry friend and your stuff is safe, use a crate! A crate is your friend and it is also your dog’s friend! A crate makes it impossible for your dog to take items and destroy them. Unless I am 95% sure my dog is not going to get in trouble they are crate trained when I am gone! And in the beginning stages when they are tethered to me and I need to do something sans dog, I use the crate. I see it as life insurance for my dog and happiness insurance for me.
You know I can’t write an article without touting the benefits of exercise not only for his body but also for his mind. If he is tired, he is much less likely to suffer from boredom and start looking for trouble.
It’s simple really, if you break it down and look at it from a different perspective. Provide your dog with safe things to chew and exercise, put up your treasures so they don’t fall into the wrong jaws, and then don’t allow him to roam freely until he has proven himself worthy.
This really is a life insurance program for your dog. Not only is chewing some things like batteries, and medications deadly; simply destroying property often leads to relinquishment and an early and avoidable death. Remember, you wouldn’t bring a toddler into your house without baby proofing and keeping an eye on that baby, so treat your dog with the same kindness and respect and teach him the appropriate behavior!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.