Destructive behavior in young puppies is part of natural development. They learn about things around them and strengthen their milk teeth by chewing objects. However, of older dogs chew the leg off the grand piano or indulge in other acts of destructiveness, their owner must identify and understand the reasons for this behavior and take measures to correct it.
Causes of Destructive Behavior
There are numerous possible causes. In some dogs it can involve "mouth-type" stimuli such as being given chewable toys or chewable items of the owner's clothing, such as an old slipper, for them to use while the owner is absent, or the playing the tug of war games. Physical punishment given too long after the damage was done, typically when the owner returns home, or using isolation of the dog as a punishment can induce even more of the same behavior. Too much fuss and attention given to the pet when the owner is at home, sheer boredom, and frustration with retaining barriers, such as doors and windows, can all be factors. And as with other forms of unwelcome canine behavior, poor or inconsistent leadership on the part of the owner and lack of socialization opportunities during the critical first 3 months of life are frequent responsible.
Destructive behavior can also be a sort of redirected aggression toward the chewed-on objects. Separation anxiety may affect a dog if it is left alone for long periods, and the destructive behavior will be frequently accompanied by incessant whining or howling and a tendency for the animal to follow its owner around persistently when they return to the house.
In the case of rehomed dogs, you may know little or nothing about your newly acquired dog's past. It may have one or more unwanted behaviors, including destructiveness. It could even be a serial furniture gnawer. Anxiety is something that an inherited dog, young or old, is susceptible to in the first weeks with a new owner. The loss of the old home and family pack and the strangeness of the new regime can combine to affect the canine mind.
Destructive behavior may also affect one of the energetic, working breeds that lacks spece, exercise or sufficient time to play and socialization with family members. Clearly it is asking for trouble to keep one of the high-energy or big breeds as a pet in a bachelor' apartment in an inner city highrise. Out of loneliness, boredom or frustration, the dog may well start chewing and destroying whatever is around.
Management of Destructive Behavior
Tackling destructiveness necessitates first identifying likely causative factors in the dog's daily life and environment. Some may be easily altered, but others less so. The folowing are some additional possible approaches.
- The dog is confined in a place (or crate or kennel) where it cannot do damage or be influenced by triggering stimuli, for example, a squirrel on the window ledge) while the owner is away.
- Maximum space and opportunities for exercise and play are provided. If you are out at work all day maybe a neighbor could pop in at lunchtime to take the dog for a walk.
- Nonphysical punishment of destructive behavior should be given immediately after it occurs when you are present. The instant the dog begins to chew at the inappropriate item, scold it firmly or give a sound signal from something such as a whistle. Cayenne pepper or bitter sprays, obtainable from your vet or pet store, can be applied to household objects to deter chewing.
- It is effective to give the dog nonhousehold objects as chewable play toys, reinforcing use of them by giving praise, petting or a titbit reward. Try out a selection of toys at first to find out which ones the dog prefers.
- Chewable toys should be changed frequently - novelty maintains interest. You should buy toys designed specifically for that purpose, which are made of nontoxic material, able to withstand the surprising force of German Shepherd dog, if that is what you own.