Destructive Behaviour: Why It Happens and How To Stop It
Your favourite shoes
Your kids toys
The legs of your furniture
even the dry wall...
Owners who have dogs with destructive tendencies know the struggle all too well, never quite knowing exactly what they will find when they return home, or fully anticipating complete carnage. Sometimes destructive behaviour can become so severe, owners simply surrender to a future of the non-stop replacing of household items, often costing hundreds and thousands of dollars.
Destructive behaviour can be developed as a young dog and simply become a bad habit, while other cases can be far more complex with underlying reasons at the core. As we always say, dogs are unique individuals with varying reasons for certain behaviours. There is no one-cause and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to combatting existing behavioural issues. If your dog is destructive, the first step is to identify the “WHY”.
Here is a list of main reasons for destructive behaviour;
TEETHING & EXPLORATION:
What do babies and puppies have in common? Everything goes straight into their mouth.
Like human babies, puppies also explore the new world around them by placing items in their mouth. This is a natural behaviour, so it is up to you as the owner to supervise your puppy to ensure they don’t have access to inappropriate items, especially things they aren’t allowed to chew on. Ultimately,the responsibility of any damage lies with you.
Puppies also teethe. Between approximately 16 weeks and 6 months of age, puppies will begin losing their baby teeth (just like humans), and their adult teeth will begin to push through. During this time, your puppy will CHEW! A lot! This is a natural behaviour to both help the process along and to relieve the pain and discomfort associated with inflammation of gums and teething.
While you may not be able to stop this, you CAN provide chews and suitable toys that support teething, aid in pain management and promote healthy chewing. If chewing continues after 6 months, it is unlikely to be teething related.
Remember, if your puppy destroys your personal items, it’s not their fault – it’s yours.
At Found by the Hound, we frequently speak about learned behaviour. Learned behaviour occurs when a behaviour or act has been rehearsed without discouragement, eventually becoming habitual. In this instance, your dog may have been allowed to chew on anything they desire without intervention and therefore continues as a habit even when you decide that you no longer want to let the behaviour proceed.
Chewing is natural and does not need to be associated with a behavioural issue. It is up to you to limit the level of destruction by ensuring your dog knows what NOT to touch.
Giving your dog a pair of old sneakers to chew will only encourage a taste for sneakers. A dog will not be able to differentiate between an old pair and your new Adidas.
If your dog has been allowed to chomp away on certain objects for long enough, it can become incredibly difficult to undo.
NATURAL DOG BEHAVIOUR:
Some destructivebehaviours are natural! It is important to remember that dogs are animals and what may come across as “bad” or “destructive” can simply be an instinct. Chewing and digging can fall into this category.
Digging for example, can happen for a multitude of reasons. Dogs may dig to hide items of value for a later time. If your dog hides his bones in your freshly manicured garden, perhaps monitor them while they have a bone or place them in an area where they are unable to bury it (such as their crate).
Dogs can also dig to cool down. The dirt underneath is nice and cool and feels great. At times dogs will dig because they can hear something under the dirt such as insects or water running in pipes and wish to investigate further. You can offer your dogs a dig pit to allow them to continue their natural behaviour without upsetting your garden.
Chewing is a perfectly normal behaviour for dogs of all ages. Both wild and domestic dogs can spend hours chewing bones. This activity keeps their jaws strong and their teeth clean. It is up to you as the owner to deter chewing on anything inappropriate and provide healthy alternatives.
ANXIETY & STRESS:
Perhaps the most complex reason for destructive behaviour is anxiety and stress.
Anxiety and stress can occur for a variety of reasons. This can be in relation to fear, lack of adequate exposure, separation, storms and loud noises and so on. At Found by the Hound, we have seen it all! We have seen digging at fence lines, destroying household items, even chewing right through walls all in the name of anxiety and stress. The severity will range from case to case and the road to recovery will be lengthy no matter what, with no absolute guarantee of complete rehabilitation.
A confident, independent, well socialised dog will be less likely to develop fears, phobias and anxieties that result in destructive behavior such as chewing through walls or destroying anything that has your smell on it. Shaping confident dogs and providing plenty of exposure is of the upmost importance and will help prevent any problematic destructive behaviour.
There is plenty that can be done to begin rehabilitation. Each case will be unique so if your dog is displaying destructive behaviour brought on by anxiety and stress, contact our team and our Trainers will help tailor a Training Plan to suit you and your dog.
If you are unsure whether the destructive behaviour is secondary to something more sinister like anxiety and stress, we are highly experienced in uncovering what lay at the core of certain behaviours and can help you identify why it’s happening.
It important to note that despite many forums suggesting that more exercise is the golden rule to combating behavioural issues such as destructive behaviour, digging and chewing, exercise can simply feed the beast. The more exercise they receive, the fitter, stronger, and more capable dog you will create. While exercise is important, it only counts for a fraction of what is classified as mental stimulation and enrichment.
The same can also be said for leaving your dog with 20 toys before you leave the house. More often than not, upon your return, those toys will be in the exact same place as you left them.
On the contrary, it is also important to note that TOO MUCH mental stimulation can cause behavioural issues such as destructive behaviour. An overstimulated dog can struggle to relax, calm down, be okay with alone time and be content just “taking it easy”.
Find a healthy balance. This would include regular training, plenty of play that involves YOU (i.e. retrieving games, fetch, nose involved games) and general exercise.
Note: While play, training and exercise are important remember that everything is should be done in moderation. Quiet time and alone time will be just as important to creating a healthy balance, curbing overstimulated behaviour and conditioning them to be okay doing “nothing”.