Dealing with Destructo, the Not So “Wonder” Dog?

Do you live with “Destructo” a dog that should be the next part of the X-men/dog series? If so we have help, just commit to make a change or two!

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?

Puppies Start Chewing Early!

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?

Give Your Dog Fun, Safe Things to Chew!Provide your dog with enough toys and stimulation to KEEP HIM OCCUPIED!

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.

I Bet They Had a Great Time!

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!

Want To Learn More About Mental Exercises To Stop Unwanted Chewing?

Check out our Impulse Control program, where we walk you through teaching your dog how to relax and stop unwanted chewing.

Click here to learn this ‘Impulse Control’ training process

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Comments

  1. Laura says:

    Thanks for this article, Minette. While we don’t have this problem any more (thanks to you), I do remember the destruction dogs can cause. This has great information for new pet owners and for those of us that still need gentle reminders.

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  2. All the tips that you gave are useful, I have the same problem with my dog when she was still a pup, and by doing almost everything that you said helped me a lot! And being consistent is also one of the best way to succeed!

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  3. Keith Oswald says:

    Our 4 year old cocker spaniel chews and eats only the softest most expensive Italian leather. Nothing works. We’ve admonished, used bitter apple and other taste bad concoctions to no avail. The only answer seems to be keeping all soft leather clothing and products out of her reach. As long as we do that, no problem with chewing except, of course kleenex and soft napkins, all of which we must always keep out of reach.

    I used to be a breeder and confirmation show person and always had good luck with training without hitting except for a rolled newspaper, which in the 50s and 60s used to be recommended. It is something we don’t use today, but I don’t believe it would make a difference anyway.

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  4. i also thank you for your little tricks and advice. my black lab is a year today. she is really a well behaved pup but she thinks she is a gerble. shreds any piece of paper she can get her teeth on.we show it to her and say bad girl she apparently understands cuz she wont touch another for a week probably when i trust agian. i also am very greatful to on potty training. god i am so so glad she understood out from on the floor. i am so glad she stopped eating everything my cellphone was the biggest. thank you very much if i had some money i would have bought your video i have alot of friends who could learn from it

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  5. Wynette says:

    Thanks for the tip, Minette. My adult labrador retriever loves biting the electrical wirings of my car. I hope giving her toys will stop her nasty habit. Any more suggestions?

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    Minette Reply:

    YIKES! I would try bitter apple gel formula with an extra spritz of regular bitter apple every time the two of you get into the car. As with any electrical cords, try and make prevention #1 because this problem could be deadly!

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  6. Elizabeth says:

    Quick ‘great-to-chew’ tip – my puppy Mia LOVES wooden items – chairs, tables, cabinet corners – probably because of the crunch in her teeth. What’ve I’ve found is that she gets the same kick out of walnut shells of all things – you know, the empty shells you find all over the ground all over Ohio. The nice part is that they’re virtually indestructible (at least for her) so it gives her hours of challenge and chewing pleasure and I don’t have to worry about her choking. Try it! It’s free and the love it!

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    Jenn Reply:

    Please be careful with any nuts around a dog! Walnut shells can be toxic to dogs with symptoms ranging from digestive upset to death. The main concern is a mold that grows on the shells or husks that is deadly poisonous.

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  7. Pauline says:

    Wonderful stuff to keep us all sane and happy!
    Thanks You

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  8. Gail says:

    What about my 2 year old that only chews when I’m at work…he’s good as gold chewing his rawhide bones when I’m home!

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  9. Anna says:

    Thanks for educating people about their dogs. I have 2 german shepherds, never had a problem with chewing because they have a toy box with all their toys, balls, frisbees etc. They will spend time chewing on rawhides, taking toys out of the box and teasing each other, till the other picks up another toy to entice the other one to drop the first toy. Also giving a dog lots of outdoor exercise it very necessary. A tired dog is a happy dog!

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  10. Sharon says:

    This is a wonderful article. It has helped so much. Thanks for all the info.

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  11. Barry B says:

    Thanks for the sage advice, Minette. Actually, most things a dog does is common sense, once you understand WHY they are doing so. We often see them as humans, yet they are really pack animals with pack needs.

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  12. Jean says:

    I could have done with this article five years ago when Sandi (yellow lab) was a pup! If for nothing else but to encourage me when all else failed. My elder Lab Sophie was not at all destructive but Sandi made up for it. She had a passion for soft furnishings and re=designed every bed cover and throw I possessed with varying sized perfect circles bitten out of the gabric. (Pieces never found) She trashed a dog proof very expensive dog mattress and her bedding and cushions galore. She had masses of toys (still has) and went on long romps in the fields every day but until she was over two years old spent her nights working at her lacework. (She sleeps om her own bed in our room. Now, three years on you would never believe she was such a demon. In my opinion, for what its worth Labs are notorious for long puppyhoods and destruction but once they grow out of it they are as angelic as any dog could ever be. So do your best give them love and attention and you will be well rewarded. My non destructive Lab now nearly twelve has been angelic all her life. Sandi has not made me say never again for a Lab pup. She is so well worth all the hassle

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  13. J.D. says:

    I have two 1 year old labs. They love chewing. I bought them both a dog house and they chewed the house up in a matter of two days. How can I stop this.

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    Jean Reply:

    Hi J D.
    I can offer you sympathy and encouragement that if you persevere with training and lay time and give lots of love this will pass eventually. If they are like my girl another year should see it finished though i imagine that with two of them they tend to encourage each other. Maybe separate rooms? Be interesting to see what the experts say.

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  14. andy says:

    thank you, thank you, thank you for this article

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  15. Carter says:

    A little too late. One of my two puppy shepherds scratched a hole in the rug of my new house’s dining room. She earned the basement for a week. But I wish I’d read this earlier.

    We do have a box full of accumulated toys for them, but alas the toys have gotten old. I’ll have to add more, and reintroduce some as you suggest.

    Good advice.

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  16. Jill says:

    So, there’s not really a way to teach them what they can and can’t chew? We just keep them out of trouble while they’re young and eventually they’ll grow out of it?

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  17. shane says:

    My doggy is a rescue. she has been tortured and now suffers greatly from seperation anxiety. i cant use a crate, she’s been treated very badly and is terrified of a crate. what do you suggest about when im gone at work during the day?

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  18. Art says:

    I have a 6 month old male Pom who occassionally chews the corners of the low wooden window sills and the plastic drawer pulls on the low cabinet drawers We keep him confined to the kitchen/breakfasts area since he not yet house trained. I mixed a little cayenne pepper with water and painted it on the both the window sill corners and the drawer handle. It seemed to work. When he chewed the handle, he did not like the taste and has not done it since. Not sure if any damage was done, but he did sneeze a few times and was licking his chops for several minutes to get the taste out of his mouth. Is that what bitter apple supposed to do?

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    Minette Reply:

    Bitter apple isn’t hot it just has a bitter taste, but yes the idea is the same to make the dog think the item tastes bad and therefore not want to chew it anymore!

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  19. Nola says:

    Hi Chet My dog is a lab/poodle 7mths. Loves long daily walks but drags us along cont.We try to wear him out. His energy is endless and his chewing everything within reach is driving us to distraction, and proving v. expensive.
    PS My Macaws are still chucking their eggs out as soon as they are laid.
    Cheers Nola

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  20. Mary says:

    Both my dogs (one Pit Bull Terrier, 3 & a Blue Nose Pit 6 mo) enjoy chewing. We burn wood and they love chewing on it…kind of an annoying mess that they leave but I can live with it. What I can’t live with is that I just discovered the puppy, Dakota, has chewed the base of my bed frame…Both dogs sleep at the foot of the bed, near where she chewed…what can I do? I suppose the damage has been done I could spray with the bitters…but I’m not sure I want to do that to undamaged furniture. I’m sure the chewing is due to boredom but I’m tired of entertaining her! The two dogs play nonstop all day, I’m not sure where she finds time to be destructive…

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    Minette Reply:

    They may in fact be playing all day but they are not being mentally stimulated for that they need you and training! You need to make the time!

    You can find Bitter Apple Gel that is made for furniture.

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  21. Jean says:

    My 11 month old Australian Shepherd only chews on things when I leave for work. She has a basket full of toys and another dog to play with. We play fetch 30-60 minutes every day and she has visits to the dog park twice a week as well as an agility class every week. And still she chews things up….but only when I am not at home.

    At first I thought it was separation anxiety and was occurring within the first hour I was gone but the destruction seems to be right before I come home because everything is still slobbery. So she seems to be okay for the first 7 hours but that 8th hour seems to set her off.

    Any hints??

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    Minette Reply:

    Crate! Until she is ready to be left alone! She is bored and she probably gets bored with her own toys. I crate can be invaluable until they can be loose.

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  22. Hita says:

    I have all those problems, but I’ll will do my best to follow your advice. Thank you for the tips! 🙂

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  23. We have a Dalmation, Lab, Pit (?) or Jack Russell (?) mix. He is about 18 months old (found running in the street and never claimed). We fostered him and grew attached, so he is now ours. He is very strong (60 lbs). He pulls us when we walk him, jumps on you and chews everything in sight. He appears to love to be with other dogs and people. Gets excited when walking or riding in the car and cries when he sees people and especially other dogs. When walking him he jumps up and twists so that he can get out of the collar to run to the people/dogs. We have a few toys and try to spend time with him. He loves to fetch and has a huge backyard to run and play in. He is a great dog who needs a lot of training. We are retired and cannot afford a trainer. Need help with our loving dog. What do you suggest?

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  24. April says:

    Having a dog is like having a toddler! I do everything in your article, and it helps a lot! When I take something away from my puppy that she is not allowed to have, I give her something that is hers instead. I keep all the interior doors in my house closed, so she can’t sneak off and get into trouble. I give her trash to shred. Like cardboard and plastic bottles. She doesn’t swallow, she just likes shredding and crushing. Sometimes, I’ll put her meal in a container, that I would normally throw away, for her to tear open.

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