Understanding Destructive Dog Behaviour in Adult Dogs

Uh Oh It wasn’t me

Destructive behaviour in puppies and dogs is one of the most complained about behaviours from dog owners.  Whilst this is not an act of spite or conscious naughty behaviour from a dog, it can be frustrating when items of furniture or other household items are chewed, ripped and destroyed.  This is more often than not, normal behaviour, especially for puppies teething who need to relieve their sore gums (just like a baby does), but when it stems from a dog being left alone for too long and is suffering from sheer boredom or perhaps from being stressed or anxious, the behaviour needs to be addressed.

Chewing is an entirely natural behaviour in most cases, and many dogs will thoroughly enjoy a bone on the lawn or a Kong stuffed with the dog’s favourite food. This natural behaviour gives your dog the chance to act in a very primal way and to chew on the bones to release the inner goodness that can be found inside. It is when a dog is chewing or destroying everything in sight that the behaviour is problematic.

In this guide, we will explore the reason’s for destructive behaviour in adult dogs and look at ways to manage this with simple advice and useful tips to follow.

The Reasons For Destructive Behaviour in Adult Dogs

Whilst it can be more complicated understanding why adult dogs chew, with a little detective work, understanding and patience, you will be able to get to the root causes of the problem.  Of course it is easier to understand why puppies have a tendency to chew and display destructive behaviour as they are teething and learning but fear not, there will be a reason for your adult dogs behaviour and this can be solved.

So let’s look at the most common reasons that you can expect an older dog to chew or become destructive in the home.

Habit

Do you know your dog’s history?  Did you adopt your dog as a puppy or as an older dog?  Did you adopt from a rescue shelter?  It is really helpful for all dog owners to know their dog’s history and whilst this sometimes is unknown, it is recommended to ask as many questions as possible about the dog’s behaviour whilst in a shelter if applicable.

For some adult dogs they may never have been taught right from wrong.  They may not know that they can’t chew furniture or tear up a pillow.  If they haven’t been taught just like with humans, we can’t expect them to understand that what they are doing is unwanted behaviour in your home.

In addition how long has your dog been with you in your home? Perhaps they are still new to your environment, need time to adjust, feel safe and settled and home. Our guide Welcoming Your New Family Member helps you and your new addition with the settling in process.

Boredom

Of course we all love our dogs but there will be times when they may suffer from boredom. Life can’t be full of excitement all the time and for some dogs boredom sets in more quickly than for others.

Without proper preparation if you are going to leave your dog for a certain amount of time, perhaps due to work or other commitments, dogs will become bored. This can lead to many behavioural problems such as excessive barking, digging and destructive behaviour.  Boredom can also contribute to more serious problems, such as separation anxiety and obsessive, compulsive behaviours.

Is your dog bored?

Attention Seeking Behaviour

Dogs can often be destructive in an attempt to get the attention of their owner. Without realising it, often owners pay the most attention to their dogs when they are misbehaving.

When your dog is lying quietly by your feet or chewing nicely on a bone in the garden how much attention to you give your dog?  The likelihood is, if you are really honest, very little!  They are being good, everything is calm, life is good.

Dogs, however who do not receive attention and positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior may show destructive behavior as a way to attract attention, even if the attention is negative.  Without realising it dog owners reward the negative behaviour by giving the dog attention therefore reinforcing to the dog that this is the way to get attention.  Does taking a toilet roll from the bathroom or chewing their bed sound familiar?

How much attention do you give your dog when they are behaving well?

Stress

Some dogs, like people, are more sensitive to the mental and physical manifestations of stress than others. What might cause sickness in one dog will have no affect on another even when both dogs are exposed to the same stressors.

Some dogs become anxious, and therefore destructive, when left alone or confined in small areas such as crates or small rooms such as a utility room or a bathroom.  As much as we love our four legged friends and wish we could spend all day, everyday with them, this is not realistic.  We have to work, go about our daily routines and chores which will at some point or another result in your dog being left alone.  Our guide on Separation Anxiety in Dogs expands further on this subject.

Others may become stressed in a certain situation such as being around a particular person, noise or smell.

In order to understand your dog and what their stress is related to, it is important to monitor them closely.  Are they relaxed when you are around or are they still on edge? Is it a particular noise or person that appears to make them more jumpy, nervous and fidgety?  Is there a particular time of day when this behaviour is displayed?  How frequent is it? By making as many observations as possible and noting these down, the likelihood is you will start to see a pattern emerging, which in turn, will enable you to seek the right methods and solutions to helping your dog.

Normal Play Behaviour

Normal play behavior can often result in destructive behavior, and often involves digging or chewing, shredding, and shaking of toy-like objects such as shoes, socks or paper objects. This is very common in young dogs and often happens when the dog is unsupervised or doesn’t have enough outlets for appropriate play behaviour.

Types of Breeds

Some breeds or the crosses of certain breeds can be terrific chewers all their lives. Many hunting and sporting breeds, such as retrievers and setters are prone to chewing. Terriers, active dogs who bore easily, often chew.

Teething and/or a Medical Problem

Some dogs will retain their puppy teeth or have problem teeth

In addition, very small dogs or those with rounded skulls and pushed-in faces can sometimes retain a number of teeth long after they are supposed to fall out on their own. If puppy teeth do not fall out on their own, your dog may feel discomfort or even pain from too many teeth being crowded into her mouth. Ouch! Retained baby teeth can cause your dog to chew well into her adult years, as well as causing tooth decay and misaligned teeth.

Managing and Treating Destructive Behaviour

Exercise Your Dog

Supervised Behaviour Management

If you are at home and see your dog chewing or displaying destructive behaviour you can take the following steps:

Positive Habit Method

  • Provide your dog with an opportunity to chew in a constructive way on an item that is healthy for your dog and that provides a great mental and physical outlet.
  • Provide other toys such as balls to keep your dog active and entertained, so he will not become bored and be tempted to transfer his attention to furniture or other inappropriate household items to entertain himself. Play with and exercise your dog extensively, use appropriate chew items as part of play and exercise to reinforce what your dog is allowed to chew on.
  • Remember to praise your dog for chewing on their given item.  Check out our guides on slow feeders and best indestructible toys for ideas.

The Deter Method

  • You will need to supervise your dog closely and use a negative consequence such as a loud noise maker if you see your dog chewing a piece of furniture.
  • When your dog approaches the furniture and starts chewing, activate the noise making device.
  • This will create a negative association between the noise, and the furniture chewing behaviour.
  • Provide an alternate chew item such as a Nylaboneor a Kong toy, in a separate location.
  • Praise and encourage your dog to chew on the appropriate object.
  • Reward him with treats for chewing on his chew toy to replace the furniture habit.

The Claim Method

  • If your dog has started chewing on a piece of furniture, block him from access to that furniture.
  • Under your supervision, wait until your dog approaches the furniture he has been chewing and put your body firmly between him and the furniture. Give a ‘leave it’” command or a firm “No”.
  • When your dog retreats from the furniture, praise them and give them an alternate chew item.
  • Encourage and praise them for chewing the appropriate item in an area separate from the furniture they have previously chewed on.
  • Maintain separation when unsupervised, and when supervised do not allow your dog to even approach the furniture that is the object of their chewing habit.
  • Claim the furniture as your territory, provide your dog with an alternate territory and chew item, repeat as necessary for several days until a new, healthy chew habit is formed that does not involve your furniture.

Unsupervised Behaviour Management

It is of course not possible to be at home all the time and to supervise your dog.  However, with the following preparation these should help your dog with their tendency towards destructive behaviour:

Dog Proof Your Home

It sounds obvious but if your dog doesn’t have access to valuable or important items then they can’t chew them.  Put away any items you do not want your dog to ruin.  This doesn’t have to be permanent but whilst you are helping your dog through their destroying or chewing behaviour, it will make things easier to manage.  The aim is to refocus your dog’s unwanted habits to a healthy one that is directed towards the items they are allowed to chew on.  Keep shoes, socks and other clothing put away.  Put away any items that are left within reach of your dog.  Remember it is up to you to train your dog, they are like a child they must be taught right from wrong!

Exercise your dog

A tired dog is a happy dog. Provide your dog both mental and physical exercise.  Try to exercise your dog right before you have to leave them by themselves. This might help them relax and rest while you are gone.

Have fun with your dog.  Play games such as tug of war or fetch.  Take your dog on daily walks and change routes or visit new places to keep them stimulated and used to experiencing new situations.

Having more than one pet can help, they will keep each other company and be playmates. However, it’s important to remember that adding another dog won’t cure boredom on its own – training and stimulation are always key.

Leave your dog a special toy

Make sure you give your dog a mentally stimulating toy such as a stuffed ‘kong’ toy, a meat flavoured chew or a treat ball. Make sure that this is a ‘special’ toy that they only get when you’re not there. Remember to put away this toy when you return. 5 Best Indestructible Dog Toys  

Encourage your dog to chew on specific toys and reward this behaviour

Provide an safe area for your dog

Often owners give their dogs free reign of their homes.  Provided that the dog is exercised, fed and watered, we would then hope that the dog would curl up and sleep for a large section of the time the dog is left alone. There is no need to allow a dog upstairs when you leave the home or to give access to the living room or dining room.

If the dog is completely free from behaviour problems, then giving them free reign is not problematic but to avoid any potential unwanted surprises upon your return home providing a safe area for your dog can be extremely helpful.

If your dog chews and is being destructive in your absence, minimising the options and possibilities for damage in the home is common sense. A kitchen and hallway should be enough, provided that it’s warm, dry, light and has a comfortable bed. Naturally, this might vary depending on your home and layout.

If your dog is crate trained this can be an ideal place to keep your dog happy and comfortable as well as preventing any destructive behaviour

Do NOT

Punishment is rarely effective in resolving destructive behavior problems and can even make them worse. Never discipline your dog after-the-fact. If you discover an item your dog has chewed even just a few minutes later, it is too late to administer a correction. Your dog doesn’t understand that, “I chewed those shoes an hour ago and that’s why I’m being scolded now.” People often believe their dog makes this connection because they run and hide, or “looks guilty”. Dogs don’t feel guilt; rather they display appeasing postures like cowering, running away, or hiding when they feel threatened by an angry tone of voice, body posture, or facial expression. Your dog doesn’t know that he’s done something wrong; he only knows that you are upset. Punishment after-the-fact will not only fail to eliminate the undesirable behavior, but my also provoke other undesirable behaviors.

Summary

Never punish your dog for destructive behaviour, instead, restrict the areas or items your dog may chew and reward them for chewing the toys specifically given to chew.  Look at getting to the root cause of their destructive behaviour.  This will require close supervision and monitoring but in the long term will enable you to put in place the right steps to help your dog through this unwanted behaviour.  Ensure you dog proof your home to minimise the opportunites for your dog to display destructive behaviour, exercise your dog both physically and mentally and ensure you always leave them with toys and stimulation to avoid boredom and or stress.

All training takes time, patience, understanding, consistency and perseverance.  Focus on praise and attention for positive behaviour and ensure you support your dog through this process.  It may feel frustrating at time but things will click into place and both your dog and you will get through this!