Destructive Chewing

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It is normal for dogs to explore the world with their mouths. However, chewing can be directed into appropriate items so your dog is not destroying items you value. Until he has learned what he can and cannot chew, it is your responsibility to manage the situation as much as possible, so he doesn’t have the opportunity to chew on unacceptable objects.

Managing the Situation

Dogs will engage in destructive behavior for a variety of reasons. In order to deal with the behavior, you must first determine why your dog is being destructive.

Play, Boredom, and/or Social Isolation

Normal play behavior can result in destruction, as it may involve digging, chewing, shredding, and/or shaking toy-like objects. Since dogs investigate objects by pawing at them and exploring them with their mouth, they may inadvertently damage items in their environment.

Your dog may be chewing for entertainment if:

Solutions:

Separation Anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety tend to display behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to their owners. This includes following you from room to room, frantic greetings, and reacting anxiously to your preparation to leave the house.

Factors that can precipitate a separation anxiety problem:

These behaviors are not motivated by spite or revenge, but by anxiety. Punishment will only make the problem worse. Separation anxiety can be resolved by using counter conditioning and desensitization techniques (see out handouts: “Separation Anxiety” and “Stress Relief for Your Pet”).

Attention-Seeking Behavior

Without realizing it, we often pay more attention to our dogs when they are misbehaving. Dogs who don’t receive much attention and reinforcement for appropriate behavior may engage in destructive behavior when their owners are present as a way to attract attention – even if the attention is “negative”, such as a verbal scolding. From a dog’s point of view, negative attention is better than no attention at all.

Solutions:

Fears and Phobias

Some dogs are afraid of loud noises. Your dog’s destructive behavior may be caused by fear if the destruction occurs when he’s exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, fire crackers, or construction sounds, and if the primary damage is to doors, doorframes, window coverings, screens or walls (see our handouts: “Helping Your Dog Overcome the Fear of Thunder and Other Startling Noises” and “Stress Relief for Your Pet”).

Solutions:

Puppies

Chewing is normal teething and investigative puppy behavior (see our handout: “Dealing with Normal Puppy Behavior: Chewing”)

What Not To Do

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 he runs and hides, 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’re upset. Punishment after-the-fact will not only fail to eliminate the undesirable behavior, but my also provoke other undesirable behaviors.