You come home to find your slippers chewed to bits or your rose bushes dug up and strewn all over the yard. Though your first thought may be that your dog is punishing you for leaving her home alone all day, these acts are never done out of spite or revenge–that’s just not the way dogs operate. Dogs do, however, find ways to occupy themselves in the absence of toys and social interaction, so it’s important to provide plenty of appropriate forms of amusement before your pup comes up with her own.
Like many undesirable canine behaviors, destructive habits usually develop because a dog is bored, lonely, or both. It’s not fair or realistic to expect your dog–especially a working breed –to spend long hours quietly sitting and waiting for your return. By nature dogs are curious and sentient beings; see that she has enough mental and physical stimulation to minimize the impulse to dig and chew.
How to treat the problem
- Give her plenty of attention. If you’re away for more than a few hours at a time, hire a dog walker or consider doggie day care.
- Tire her out. Make sure she receives daily walks, play fetch with her, teach her to catch a Frisbee. Most dogs require a substantial amount of exercise, and they become antsy or anxious when they don’t get enough.
- Consider channeling her drive to dig. Provide her with a “legal” digging area–a small portion of the yard (away from the rose bushes) where she can dig to her heart’s content. Cover the area with sand or dirt and bury treats and toys there to entice her to begin digging. When you find her mining in an “illegal” area, immediately interrupt her, show her to the appropriate spot, and praise her for digging in the right place.
- If possible, limit her access to areas where she’s prone to dig–or at least make them as unappealing as possible.
- If you catch her chewing something she shouldn’t, interrupt her with a firm “uh-uh!” and take the object away. Immediately replace it with an appropriate toy and praise her as soon as she begins chewing on it.
- Teach her “leave it”–a training tool you can use not only when you want her to leave your slippers alone, but to make sure she backs away from the chocolate bar on the coffee table or that freshly painted park bench.
- Consider applying Bitter Apple, or any nontoxic spray with a scent dogs find repellant, to the object of her desire.
How to prevent the problem
- Make sure to keep her busy–provide plenty of interesting toys, and rotate in new ones regularly.
- Create a puzzle: Stuff a Kong with peanut butter and then freeze it for several hours before letting her go at it.
- Provide adequate shelter, since often dogs will dig holes simply to shield themselves from sun or wind.
- Keep her indoors. (Assuming you don’t have a sandbox inside your home, this is your most effective tactic.)
- Set her up for success. If you’ve got a sock chewer, don’t leave any around the house. She doesn’t know the difference between those expensive ski socks you bought last night and the faded pair with holes that your kids have outgrown.
- Make sure there are plenty of appropriate chew toys around, and vary the types so that she has several to choose from at any given time.
- Keep her mentally and physically engaged. Frozen Kongs, treat treasure hunts (“hiding” treats around the house), lots of opportunities to play, and plenty of daily exercise all help stave off unwanted behavior.
Bottom line: Most destructive behavior is born out of boredom. Abundant attention from you–plus ample mental and physical stimulation–will keep her content, fulfilled, and less inclined to dig or chew.