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Destructive Dog Behavior

Inside every bad dog there is a good dog trying to get out. But when they start destroying things you really want to keep, your dog is displaying destructive dog behavior. If this is the only bad thing your dog displays, then it is considered to be a primary destructive behavior. But if your dog has other bad habits, such as separation anxiety, then it is considered secondary destructive behavior, and taking care of the other behaviors may indeed stop the destructive behavior as well.

Types of Destructive Dog Behavior

Primary Destructive Behavior

As discussed earlier, primary means that this is the only bad behavior your dog is showing. It includes many different symptoms:

Destructive Dog Behavior
  • Chewing on small items in the house that are not dog toys meant for chewing
  • Eating or chewing on your house plants
  • Digging excessively in the yard
  • Chewing furniture legs or cushions

With Primary Destructive Behavior, it usually does not matter if you are around or not.

Secondary Destructive Behavior

With secondary destructive behavior, many of the same symptoms can occur, but the difference is that you are usually there when the behavior is exhibited. Things are destroyed simply to get the attention of you!

Secondary Destructive Behavior can be further broken down based on the primary cause of the destruction:

  • Separation Anxiety related destruction - Symptoms of this disorder occur almost every time the owner leaves the house. Your dog may go to the bathroom in the house, even though she has been house trained, and never makes a mistake when you are around. She may destroy door and window sills. She may be chewing on your personal items. All of these happen while you are gone, and seldom when you are there.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive related destruction - This behavior can occur with and without you being in the house. Have you noticed she spends entirely too much time licking or chewing on furniture or other things, including her own legs or feet? Is she frequently eating non-food items?
  • Fear related destruction - This type of destructive behavior occurs while you are home as well as when you are away, though it is probably much more pronounced when you are gone. Fear (perhaps fear of thunder storms or fear of any loud unexplained noise) sets off the symptoms, which also might include hiding, pacing the floors, panting, and shivering.

Causes of Destructive Behavior in Dogs

There are many things that can cause your dog to exhibit destructive behavior. Things to consider include:

  • Medical issues - If you have an older dog that just started exhibiting destructive behavior, it could be a serious sign of such things as brain disease or a brain tumor. Also, upper gastrointestinal irritation or pain in the teeth or gums can result in destructive chewing. If your dog seems hungry all the time, or if she eats non-food items regularly, this could be the sign of other diseases. When in doubt, a visit to your vet is highly advised.
  • Separation Anxiety - Dogs are social animals - they need plenty of company and social interaction to keep them happy and content. Separation anxiety is one of the most common problems that dogs develop. It’s an anxiety disorder, and is defined as a state of intense panic brought on by the dog’s isolation or separation from her owner.
  • Fears or phobias - If your dog is extremely fearful of loud noises or the clap of thunder, she may display destructive behaviors. And it can be harmful to your dog as well, if she attempts to break through windows or doors to get away from what she is afraid of, she could actually injure herself in the process.
  • Boredom - Dogs need a lot of social interaction, with her adoptive family, with other animals, with other people. If she does not receive this interaction, or if she is left without playmates or toys to otherwise occupy her time, destructive behavior could well be the result.
  • Teething - When a puppy is teething, her gums may experience pain. Chewing helps to relieve that pain. If this is the cause, the destructiveness should disappear once the permanent teeth appear.

Notice that I did not list revenge as a cause? Or simply being destructive out of spite? Dogs just cannot experience either of these emotions. No, she is not just out to get you!

So What Can I Do to Stop My Dog’s Destructive Behavior?

There are several things you can do to help eliminate this unwanted behavior. Here are just a few:

  • Regular exercise - A tired dog is a good dog! Make sure you are giving your dog as much exercise as you can, whether it be long walks or just playing in the yard or around the house. Teach her Fetch, and play it with her regularly. Take her to dog parks as often as you can. If she likes to swim, take her to a nearby lake or pond.

    Keeping your dog active will not only help curb her destructive tendencies, it will also help keep her healthy, and stop other possible unwanted behaviors as well.
  • Provide alternatives to destructive behavior - Provide inedible chew items, like hard rubber toys, to occupy her time. Also consider food puzzle toys, such as Buster Cubes or Kongs. These not only give your dog’s jaws a workout, they also will stimulate her brain! Once you have provided these “right” things to chew on, teach her to avoid the “wrong” things. If you see her putting something in her mouth that she shouldn’t be, redirect her attention to one of the legal toys.
  • Consider cage training, and use the cage while away - None of us can devote all of our time supervising our dogs and keeping them out of trouble. A comfortable cage may provide the solution when we must be away from home. Teach her to consider that cage as her sanctuary, her home inside of home. And keep it filled with her favorite toys, to keep her occupied while you are gone.
  • Make what she likes to chew less appealing - Spraying your furniture, wall boards, window sills, whatever seems to capture your dog’s attention with something that tastes awful may stop her destructive behavior. A solution of vinegar and cayenne peppers has proven to do the trick. Or commercial items, such as Grannick’s Bitter Apple.

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