Many movies portray dogs with destructive behavior in a comedic light. But in real life, discovering that your pet has chewed through your shoes, earphones, charger cables, or furniture can be a big source of stress for any pet owner.
More than just destroying your property, a dog that has adopted destructive habits can be a danger to itself. Chewing on wires and other non-food items can lead to accidents and injuries, for example. These habits should be recognized and corrected as soon as possible to ensure your peace of mind and the safety of your canine companion.
Understanding the Difference Between Normal and Unusual Dog Behavior
It’s in a dog’s nature to discover the world through chewing. If you have a new puppy, you may have observed it chewing on its custom canine toys, wholesale dog beds, and just about anything that it can get its cute little maw on.
For young dogs, it’s a way of exploring their surroundings and dealing with the pain caused by incoming teeth. Older dogs, on the other hand, may want to pull on their toys when you’re playing together, or they can get mouthy when play-fighting with other dogs. These are normal canine behaviors.
Destructive behaviors, on the other hand, refer to chewing on things or digging in places where your pets shouldn’t.
Types of Destructive Behaviors in Dogs
Unfortunately, allowing a pet to continue destructive habits can cause health and household issues in the long run. But before you can address these issues, you’ll need to determine what type of behavior your pup is displaying. Generally, these patterns can be grouped into one of two distinct categories: primary destructive behavior or secondary destructive behavior.
Primary Destructive Behavior
Among the common signs of primary destructive behavior in pets are:
- Chewing on items left within the dog’s reach, such as house plants and furniture edges
- Digging holes in the backyard
These can take place with or without the pet owner at home. Among the most common reasons why dogs may act this way are lack of activity, unavailability of appropriate chew toys, or insufficient attention and guidance.
Secondary Destructive Behavior
If the above symptoms occur when the owner is present and because the pet wants to get the owner’s attention, then the condition can be considered secondary destructive behavior. Any habits that are accompanied by expressions of fear, anxiety, or aggression can also be classified into this category. Unlike primary destructive behavior, these behavioral patterns may not have an easily identifiable cause.
In some cases, dogs may compulsively lick themselves or the items in the house, and this is one of the signs of obsessive-compulsive behavior. Housetrained dogs that uncharacteristically relieve themselves where they shouldn’t may be suffering from separation anxiety. The same can be said for pups that destroy windows and doors, furniture, or their owner’s belongings when the owner isn’t at home.
Do any of your pets make a habit of destroying your belongings? Do they often act out to gain attention or deal with intense feelings? If so, you should bring the dog in question to the vet for a proper diagnosis.
Consulting Professionals for Help
Once you’ve determined what type of destructive behavior your dog is exhibiting, the next thing you should do is find out exactly why your pup is behaving this way. Your veterinarian can help you with this by getting a full history of the pet. This includes, but isn’t limited to, the training that the pet has undergone, their activity levels, and when and how the destructive behavior happens. Your vet can also do a few tests to check if there are physical issues that are causing the behaviors to occur.
Once the primary issue has been identified, you can start treating the condition. If, for example, it’s caused by a physical illness, your vet can provide the affected pet with the best treatment options. At the same time, though, you’ll likely need to provide your pet with the right training to curb their destructive behaviors.
In addition to your vet, you can also consult professionals who specialize in animal behavior, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB).
How You Can Help Address a Dog’s Behavioral Problems
As the owner, you play a big role in helping affected pets improve their behavior and address any underlying issues that may be causing the problem. Here are a few of the things that you can do on your own:
- Dog-proof your house by keeping the stuff that your dogs can destroy—such as your shoes, bags, books, and clothes—out of the reach of your canine companions.
- Use chewing deterrent sprays to prevent your pets from damaging your home or furniture.
- Provide your dogs with appropriate chew toys that they can use to vent their excess energy. To prevent boredom, switch the toys out now and then. Also, make it a point to avoid chew toys that can injure your pets, such as cooked bones and chicken bones.
- Make sure that your dogs get enough play and exercise every day.
- Identify the times or occasions when your dogs are likely to chew or dig, and give them treats or puzzles that can distract them during these times.
Training your dogs to let go of their destructive behaviors is a task that will test your patience and tenacity, but keep at it. With kindness and consistency, as well as the assistance of trainers and pet care providers, you’ll be able to help any dog with behavioral problems recover sooner rather than later.