After a long day at work, you walk in your front door feeling apprehensive. What are you going to find THIS time? Your worst fears are realized - Bits of leather from your brand new boots, tufts of cotton from the couch cushions, and pieces of rattan that used to be a storage box litter the living room floor. Your dog is cowering at your feet, even releasing a tiny bit of urine because she's feeling so guilty. You knew she'd get even with you for leaving her alone all day, right???
WRONG! Dogs (unlike people) don't do things to "get even". They chew because they're bored, or teething, or playing, or a multitude of other reasons, none of them spiteful. Your dog isn't "feeling guilty". It's obvious to her that you're upset, but she has no idea why. She's might be submissively urinating because you yelled at her the last time you came in the door, or because she's scared of your anger, or just so excited to see you, but guilt isn't a feeling in her toolbox. Misunderstanding (personifying) your dog's chewing and her response when the damage is discovered is a common problem, and it can actually make the chewing WORSE.
Dogs are destructive because:
- They're bored. If you don't give them something to do, they'll find something to do. You might not like what they choose.
- They're stressed or anxious. People chew their fingernails, tap their pencil, or go jogging to relieve stress. Dogs chew. It could be mild stress chewing, or it could turn into a full blown panic attack. Calming treats, pheromone collars, or even vet meds (plus LOTS of training) can help here.
- They're teething. Puppies may not get their full set of adult teeth until they're 2 years old! Chewing makes their woofers feel better, so if they're not provided with appropriate chewies (and taught how to use them), they will find their own... like your shoes.
- They're playing. Sometimes they are just chewing for fun, those silly pups.
- It's a bad habit. If your dog was allowed to engage in destructive behaviors in the past, their habits can be hard to break.
So... what should you do?
- First, control yourself. Try to refrain from yelling or physically punishing your dog when you discover the mess. Chances are she went on her chewing "joyride" hours ago and has no clue why she's getting in trouble. Yelling at her will, however, teach her to associate your homecoming with bad stuff.
- Prevent her from being destructive in the first place. Consider crate training. Most dogs who've been properly crate-trained LOVE their crates. It's their very own studio apartment! Baby gates can also be used to keep her away from things you don't want her to destroy. Don't leave out your shoes.
- Give her something to keep her busy while you're gone. Bones, chew toys, or interactive toys stuffed with treats work wonders.
- Tire her out before you leave. A walk around the neighborhood doesn't cut it. Running, playing fetch, swimming, or hiking is more like it. Dogs need mental exercise too. Take a training class or a just-for-fun class together. (Opportunity Barks is awesome!) Teach her some new tricks. Play some mind games.
- Calm her down. Dealing with severe separation anxiety is a whole new blog post, but you can take the edge off mild anxiety with natural calming treats, a pheromone collar, or the Thundershirt. Talk to your vet - a prescription medication might be helpful.
Just remember - dogs need to chew. It's your job to teach them what to chew on!