Destructive behaviour in dogs
A dog can be destructive for many reasons. Boredom, frustration, anxiety and fear are a few examples of emotions your dog may feel that could cause him to carry out destructive behaviour. Many dogs are destructive because they lack appropriate items to chew or have not been trained as to what is appropriate to chew and what is not.
As with much dog behaviour that owners find undesirable, destructive behaviour is often the way a dog copes with a difficult situation, often whilst the owner is not at home. By carrying out normal behaviour patterns that a dog finds naturally rewarding such as chewing, ripping, shredding, digging, barking, scratching and biting, negative emotions such as stress, frustration, and fear are diffused. However, these behaviours are often unappreciated by pet owners and are frequently seen as the dog being naughty or deliberately annoying.
Chewing is natural, normal behaviour for a dog; all dogs, to a greater or lesser extent, benefit from chewing. If an owner teaches a dog from a young age what is appropriate to chew and gives the puppy plenty of opportunity to chew the right things, then often chewing is not a problem later on. Providing a puppy with a variety of textures and shapes to chew and keeping out of reach as many inappropriate items as possible is often enough to encourage a puppy to chew his toys and chews rather than furniture and household items. If a puppy begins to chew something inappropriate, then swapping it for a more appropriate item or distracting the puppy with a game or item of food can help.
In order to understand more about destructive behaviour and how we can prevent it, it is important to examine why certain dogs exhibit destructive behaviour, the situations that may encourage destructive behaviour, environment and lifestyle and the individual breed and temperament of the dog.
Separation Related Issues – Home Alone
One of the main causes of dogs being destructive is when they are left alone for long periods of time. Being alone is not something that comes naturally to a dog and separation related issues can affect any dog. In order to be relaxed and happy when left, dogs need to build up confidence in their environment and learn that owners will come back when they leave. If this is started gradually at a young age by leaving a puppy for 5 or 10 minutes a day with a safe chew toy, dogs often become used to being alone for short periods with few issues. However, if a dog has ever become frightened when alone, has never been trained to be alone, is not getting what he needs at other times of the day in terms of stimulation or has had a bad experience when left, he can struggle when alone.
In mild cases, dogs may pace and jump up on the nearest view point and wait for the owners return before relaxing, chew a table leg or rip up a carpet. In extreme cases dogs may self-mutilate, destroy furniture and doorways or items of owners clothing, soil inside and howl or bark. Separation issues are not always fuelled by anxiety, some arise due to boredom, frustration, excitement and lack of exercise. For the owner to change the behaviour, and help the dog feel more settled whilst they are alone, it is crucial that the motivation for the behaviour is understood.
Irrespective of the cause, punishing your dog on your return for any damage done will not help. Often a dog looks “guilty”, not because it knows it has done something wrong, but because it is picking up on the owners negative emotions and anger because of the mess. Anger and punishment will cause the dog to feel confused, anxious and may worsen the behaviour.