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Destructive Chewing: How to Discourage Your Dog or Puppy

  • If your dog is destructive, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself, "What is the reason for this behavior?"  It is important to understand and acknowledge that every behavior has a reason. Once you understand the reason, it will be much easier to correct the behavior. Dogs are social animals that require attention. If behaving badly gets them more attention than being good, they will act up. Negative attention is better than no attention at all.
  • The stability of a dog's behavior depends on the social structure of a pack hierarchy. Does the dog see you and your family as consistent pack leaders? Have you established clear rules and boundaries? If not, the dog will be stressed and confused by your inconsistencies. Since dogs can't go out for a game of tennis or a trip to the local bar, they relieve stress by either chewing, vocalizing or digging.
  • Have you established a daily routine that provides the dog’s  need for exercise, socialization and mental stimulation? Behavior problems are a direct result of the dogs' attempt to fill his need for the attention, direction and stimulation that are not being provided.

Is the dog only destructive when he is home alone? Is most of the damage by the windows or doors ? Is he eliminating, salivating or vocalizing excessively? If this is the case, the dog is most likely suffering from "Separation Anxiety." This is an emotional reaction equivalent to a small child being alone and lost in a big city. Establishing a routine is especially important for the stability it provides. If your dog is especially needy you may have gotten into the habit of giving the dog random attention or attention on demand throughout the day. This means when you leave the dog, he/she is not only missing your presence but the attention that you provide. Confidence-building through positive obedience training, fetch or even agility will help de-sensitize the dog to the cues of your departure.

Treatment

Building confidence and providing stability

  • Establish a daily routine for feeding, walking and playing. "Retrieving/Fetch" is a good confidence building exercise (see Appropriate Play).
  • Practice formal obedience. Obedience opens the lines of communication and builds confidence.
  • Don't make a big deal about going or coming. Ignore the dog for a few minutes before leaving and returning. Don't give him attention until he is calm.
  • Discourage any needy (attention-getting) behaviors by ignoring the dog. Examples would be nudging you to be petted, and staring, whining or barking at you to get attention.
  • Teach "stay," gradually working up to you being out of sight. This will stop the dog from constantly following you and teach him to relax when you are not in sight.
  • Establish a secure comfortable confinement area (preferably away from the door you leave from). This should not be in an isolated area such as a basement. Even a nicely furnished family room in a basement is too isolated from the every day sights and sounds of the outside world. The dog should never be confined behind a closed door. A crate or a gate should be used. The dog should be introduced to this area in a positive way when you are home and confined at various times when you are home (so the dog does not associate being confined with you leaving). The dog should have a long- lasting bone or activity toy while in this area, as well as water.

Desensitizing

  • Take away cues - Everyone has a routine from the time they get up until leaving the house. Dogs communicate through body language. They pick up on these "cues" and begin to become anxious. Make a list of the things you typically do before leaving the house (brush your teeth, close a certain door, pick up your keys, etc.). Keep this list on your refrigerator and do these things at various times during the course of the day without leaving. The dog will no longer associate these actions with you leaving and won't have time to become anxious.
  • Use music as therapy - Play the same music or a specific artist initially only when you are relaxing and petting the dog. After doing this daily for a week or so the dog will have a soothing association with that music. You can then leave it on when you leave.
  • Keep him company - Make a video or audio tape with your voice and the sounds of a typical day in your house and leave it on when you leave. Record yourself reading aloud and play it for the dog when you leave.

In some cases anti-anxiety medication, coupled with behavior modification, may be necessary. There are also herbal anti-anxiety products such as "Rescue Remedy". Speak to your veterinarian.
These are common reasons why a dog can be destructive. The steps taken to treat separation anxiety can also be implemented for any destructive behavior. Providing for the dogs needs for exercise, mental stimulation and socialization combined with supervision and proper confinement will resolve the problem.

Wherever you have the dog confined, there should be proper chew toys for him. This means toys that are safe for them to chew when you are not present. We recommend the rubber Kong, Nylabones or hard bones such as knuckle bones and processed marrow bones that do not splinter or crack. The marrow bones are white tubular bones that can be stuffed with canned dog food and stored in a zip lock bag in your freezer.

It will take some time for the dog to get the food out of the middle of the bone. The bone can then be washed with the hose from your sink, a bottle brush or placed in the dishwasher and then refilled for further enjoyment. The same can be done with a "Kong" toy.  Kongs can even be filled with a little chicken broth and water mixture and frozen. There are so many options you can experiment with. Toys should be rotated so that your dog does not become bored. Be creative!

When your dog is supervised, have a light leash or a cotton line (tether) about six feet long attached to his collar. This line is not tied to anything but the dogs collar. It provides control and access to the dog without yelling, chasing or grabbing. Having this control will help you to be a calm and confident "pack leader.”  To deter the dog from chewing this tether (he will probably think of it as a "new dangling toy"), soak the cord in nasty tasting mouthwash before attaching it to his collar.

Provide the dog with a "toy box" so he knows what items he is permitted to have. Hatboxes work well because they are inexpensive, decorative and can be covered when not in use. Introduce it by putting in the dogs' favorite toy along with a new toy. Show him the box; name it " toy box" drop a treat in for the dog to get and when he picks up the treat say "take it.”  This will give him the idea that he is permitted to take from it. Rotate the toys regularly to prevent boredom rather than having numerous toys out all at once.

Make sure to avoid toys that are similar to materials in your home, such as toys made out of fabric; rope or that resemble common objects such as shoes or hairbrushes. Do not give your dog an old shoe or clothing and expect they will know not to chew on new ones. If you catch your dog in the act of chewing, make a loud noise (such as a loud sneeze) to interrupt the dogs train of thought before giving him an appropriate object. If you just hand him a bone, you will be praising the behavior.

Keep in mind that a dogs' strongest sense is his sense of smell. There are many items in your home that are touched while you are eating or preparing and handling food. When watching television we often snack while channel surfing, leaving the odor of food on the remote control. Other common objects that are stolen and destroyed either because they smell like food or they get the owners attention are eyeglasses, telephones, writing utensils and footwear. Baiting these items (or those the dog has already damaged) so the dog gets a "correction " from the item, rather than attention from you, will help stop stealing and chewing. For example: Take a sneaker you don't care about, soak the laces in nasty tasting mouthwash, wrap clear packaging tape around the top of the sneaker with the sticky side out and place a mound of black pepper inside the heel of the shoe. If the dog goes to pick it up by the laces he will get a nasty taste in his mouth, if he goes to pick it up by the top, it will stick to him and by the heel, his nose is right by his teeth so he will get pepper up his nose.

These types of corrections can be used for a variety of items. Have a sock dangling out of the laundry basket but first tie a string to it with an empty soda can filled with twenty pennies attached to the other end. The dog will be startled by this loud noise that comes crashing to the floor when he pulls out the sock. Put double stick tape all over a magazine, mail or other paper he tends to steal. Put packaging tape (sticky side up) around the rung of a chair he likes to chew. The dog learns that being destructive and stealing, isn't any fun and no longer gets him attention. Practicing prevention is far less costly and time-consuming than cleaning up, shopping for, and purchasing replacements for things that have been destroyed.  So get your family together, exercise, socialize, teach and play with your companion. Puppy proof to the best of your ability and have "arts and crafts night" to create "bait" to deter destructive behaviors.

 

 

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