“Help, my dog is destroying everything!”

Naughty Boston Terrier - Behavioural Disorder Dog

“Help, my dog is destroying everything!”

Shoes, cables, phones, felt-tip pens, sofas, carpets or waste bins – nothing seems to be safe from the destructiveness of some dogs. Within a very short space of time, wild dogs can turn a home and all its furnishings upside down. But why do some dogs have destructive tendencies and how can they move away from this behaviour?

Dog owners experience a huge shock when they come home for the first time to find their living room looks like a battle field. When the initial rage has subsided and the home is looking halfway back to normal, most ask themselves if this was a one-off tantrum. What should I do if something similar happens again? After such an experience, you certainly won't be as footloose and fancy-free next time you leave your home. At the very latest if their dog breaks valuable items or has to go to the vet because it has swallowed a large hard object, all dog owners know that their actions are to be questioned. But what can be done to tackle such destructive behaviour?

First aid measures

Imagine you come home from a stressful engagement, close the door and see that toilet paper is spread across the entire hallway, your favourite chair has been bitten to the point of it breaking and the entire contents of the dustbin are lying on the expensive carpet. Keeping calm and not going berserk yourself are understandably very difficult for most people in such a situation. However, even if you want to scream at your dog and throw a vase against the wall, you will soon realise that this is no solution and only makes the situation even worse.

 

Even though it's difficult and maybe even sounds a bit silly, close your eyes, count to 10 and take a deep breath. You'll notice that you will become calmer and have your initial rage better under control. Before you get on with collecting the rubbish, cleaning the carpet and winding the toilet paper back up, you're best off first of all grabbing your dog and taking it out for a walk or run. This relaxes both you and your dog, as it will probably also be quite agitated after so much destructive rage. When out in the fresh air, you can brace yourself for the chaos at home and calmly consider what the next steps to improve the situation could be.

Can I make my home more “dog-proof”?

Over the next few days, you can try to make your home more “dog-proof” by clearing away all valuable or dangerous objects or rubbing them with nasty fluids to take away your dog's desire to chew at them. These measures really help but are only short-term. So-called “anonymous punishments” offered in some forums as a solution actually make the situation worse rather than helping in the long-term. Hence, you're best off steering clear of “impulse spray devices” that spray water in your dog's face via remote control as soon as it approaches an object and “clattering cans” that fall on the floor and frighten the dog as soon as it growls at the object in question.

 

Nevertheless, you should ideally not leave valuable objects or things that can easily be broken lying around the next time you leave home. Put your shoes away in the cupboard, don't leave any dirty laundry lying around and tuck phone cables behind cupboards. By doing so, you can at least somewhat limit the damage your dog can do in your absence.

Research the causes

The problem of the “first aid measures” outlined here is that they only tackle the symptoms and don't analyse the causes of your dog's behaviour. A permanent solution to master your dog's “destructive rage” can only start with looking for the causes in a targeted manner. The fact is that dogs don't cause destruction because they enjoy annoying you. On the contrary, serious physical or psychological problems that severely affect your dog mostly lie behind this misconduct.

When does my dog act destructively?

A first possible step to get to the bottom of the causes is asking when your dog acts destructively. Does it only show destructive rage when you are absent? Does it begin as soon as you have left the house or only after you have been away for quite a while? In order to find out, you can install a small camera in the room to film your dog during your absence.

Destruction due to boredom and lack of exercise

If your dog only starts destroying things after you have left the house for a certain amount of time, it's probably simply doing so out of boredom. In fact, boredom is the most common trigger for destructive behaviour amongst dogs. Under-stimulated dogs that don't get enough physical or mental activity tend to seek out their own “tasks”. By tearing out cables, investing rubbish or chewing cushions, they are trying to satisfy their stifled curiosity and get rid of excess energy.

Ensure mental and physical stimulation

Be it a large sheepdog or a little “lapdog”, all dogs love exercise and like to be mentally stimulated. Of course, the urge for activity differs depending on the breed, age and sex, but no dog is meant to spend all day lying around at home and waiting for its owner. Once you have found out that your dog is messing up objects and chewing them out of boredom, you should definitely provide more exercise and stimulation in its daily routine. Short walks around the block are absolutely not enough to satisfy your bored dog. Explore the great outdoors together with your dog, let it run alongside you whilst you cycle, go jogging together or let it take a dip in the lake. You know your dog best and will know which form of activity it takes greatest joy in.

Dog sports for bored dogs

In addition to physical activity, dogs also wish to be mentally stimulated. Intelligence toys, search games, retrieval or teaching little tricks are suitable possibilities to mentally stimulate your dog and to steer its energy in the desired direction. Furthermore, attending a dog school is recommended.

Sign your dog up for a suitable dog sport that you can attend together regularly. Be it agility, obedience, dog dancing or man-trailing, the selection of sports for dogs is so versatile nowadays that there will certainly be the right thing out there for every dog. For some dogs that were originally bred as working dogs, it's possible to train as a service or rescue dog.

What else can you do

Dogs that are physically and mentally stimulated are much calmer and more even-tempered at home. Even the most active bundles of energy enjoy a little nap in their basket or on the couch after they have exerted themselves. Before you have to leave the house without your dog for an extended period, take your dog on a long walk with retrieval games, for instance, so that it is already tired and willing to fully enjoy the peace and quiet at home. If you are away for a long time and worry that boredom will strike again, give your dog something to occupy itself with during your absence and to leave your furniture in peace. A box with dog toys, an old blanket or food-ball awake your dog's interest and will distract it from its destructive rage.

Destruction due to stress and separation anxiety

Along with boredom and lack of stimulation, stress and fear are also possible causes of destructive behaviour. Once you have established through your little observation test with the camera that your dog starts to “let off steam” as soon as you have left and attacks your furniture, it could be the case that it is stressed due to separation anxiety. This fear of being left alone is often preceded by very unruly behaviour. Dogs suffering from such an anxiety disorder bark, howl, run around restlessly or even urinate as soon as they observe that their owner intends to leave the house without them.

Get professional help

In contrast to destruction due to boredom, you won't be able to solve destruction triggered by separation anxiety without professional help. If you are afraid that fear and stress could be the triggers for your dog's destructive rage, you should speak to your vet, a dog trainer or animal psychologist. Thanks to their expert knowledge and experience, they can categorise your pet's behaviour and recommend suitable professional training for the two of you. It will certainly take a while for your dog to overcome its anxiety disorder and for you to be able to leave it alone for short periods without worrying. Be patient and don't over-challenge your dog too early on. The experts will be able to give you tips on how to manage this extended therapy period and come out of it stronger.

Further causes of destructive rage

Sometimes though, dogs' destructive rage is merely a phase that will pass of its own accord. For instance, when young dogs suffer from dentition changes, which generally take place between two and seven months of age, they tend to chew at everything that comes between their teeth. Like small children that shove everything in their mouth, some simply discover the world around them in this way. Chair legs, cushions, carpets – nothing is safe from their little mouths. Even though this oral phase mostly comes to an end of its own accord as the puppy gradually becomes an adult, you should set your puppy boundaries as early as possible. With loving consistency, puppies can learn what is expected from them and what things are taboo.

Testing boundaries in puberty

Loving and consistent training is also required if your dog starts to show increasingly destructive behaviour only at the puberty age, which dogs experience just like us humans. Depending on the breed, dogs reach maturity at around six months to one year in age. In this time of a flood of hormones and the formation of new nerve cells, your dog won't know if it's coming or going. Whilst some pubescent dogs simply turn stubborn and ignore commands, others test their boundaries to an extreme extent. When looking for an answer to the question “how far can I go before my owner gets angry?”, many young dogs bite the sofa set, your favourite shoes or the whole wardrobe too.

Stay consistent

It's important that you still stay consistent and show your dog that you won't tolerate such wild behaviour. Uphold your commands and reward your dog with a treat, for instance, if it manages to control itself. In this way, it will learn that obedience and cooperation rather than wild, rebellious behaviour lead it to its goals. Should your dog prove to be a very stubborn case that won't be captivated by positive reinforcement, don't shy away from using the help of a dog expert at an early stage. Anxiety disorders and aggressive tendencies often begin during puberty. The earlier they are recognised, the better the chances of your dog developing healthily on a psychological level.

What if no causes apply?

Indeed, there are also dogs that chew everything although none of the outlined causes apply to them. Even though this is rather rare in these parts, some dogs are simply suffering from hunger when they get stuck into blankets, shoes or cushions. Nothing is safe from dogs on a strict diet: they search through kitchen cupboards and rubbish with their hunger pangs and satisfy their urge to chew on any objects they find in the home. Not least for this reason, a zero diet is absolutely the wrong path to take for dogs to lose weight, as it is for us humans too. Overweight dogs need low-calorie food that still provides all the important nutrients they need for their health.

Be honest

Whatever may lie behind your dog's destructive rage, you should always be honest with yourself when investigating the causes and the ensuing possible solutions. Most dog owners want the best for their dog, but none of us are perfect. Mistakes can happen, be it due to a lack of time, knowledge or being over-challenged. It's crucial to recognise these mistakes and be prepared to do something to tackle them. It's never too late to bring dogs (and owners) to their senses!

 

We wish you and your dog lots of success on your journey together!

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