Do you leave home to return to a house torn to shreds by your best friend? It seems like revenge for you leaving, even though it was for such a short while. They missed you and it was all your fault for leaving, or so they would say if they could talk. Separation anxiety, anger, and fear are the primary causes of destructive behavior. So, what can you do to identify what is causing the destructive behavior, and what can you do about it? A lot of things can cause destructive behavior but it is important to take it seriously. Even if it is just tearing things up, repetition enforces them. Fix those behaviors early.
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The Root of the Behavior
Destructive behavior typically comes from just a few sources. Fear, anxiety, and anger. Fearful perhaps that you will never come home. Fearful they may run out of food or that it is just too quiet. To be clear, let’s classify destructive behavior as chewing on things, eating plants, and digging holes. Typically, these occur when no one is around, and this typically falls under fear and anxiety. Make sure they have reduced stress in their house and environment. Separation anxiety is a typical cause of these behaviors. In layman’s terms, he gets stressed out and fearful when he does not have someone around.
If they are typically destructive even when you are around, then it can branch out a bit more. If they just obsessively tear at the carpet, chew on furniture, or dig holes, then it may be more for their enjoyment. In this case, they have either been accidentally taught that this is a good behavior for them or they receive some general stress reduction from this action. If the dog is typically stressed or easily spooked, then it may be the latter, especially when those underlying conditions have been irritated.
Another likely cause is boredom and pent-up energy. Make sure your dog is getting the appropriate amount of exercise and has things to do while he would be otherwise bored. Toys and games go a long way in these situations. In some rare cases, they will have destructive behavior in front of the owner and specifically for the owner to witness. In these cases, it is typically attention-seeking behavior or they like the way you react. Perhaps if you chase them around when they break something, then it's likely because they think it is a game. If your approach is not working, then you need to take a new approach.
Encouraging the Behavior
After discerning what the cause of the behavior is, there are quite a few things you can do to reduce it. Make sure your pet is well exercised as this will reduce the energy they have to tear and chew on things. Make sure they have an environment removed from the hustle and bustle of the household they can retreat to if excessive stress is the cause of the behaviors. Classical music works well against irritants like fireworks, thunder, and the like. If separation anxiety is the cause, then try to reduce your dog’s boredom. Get a few toys they enjoy playing with while you are gone and try to stay away from the chew toys if you can. Chew toys work well but they also reinforce that chewing is good and that is a behavior we want to steer away from in general.
If your dog is a high-stress breed or has anxiety issues in general, then they may be more genetically prone to these kinds of issues and consulting a veterinarian would be able to tell you more. However, even in cases like these, proper training and occasionally medication can change these behaviors drastically. Negative reinforcement with dogs typically creates more problems than it solves. Try not to bully or yell at your dog regardless of how stressful the situation is to you!
Other Solutions and Considerations
Destructive behavior can be caused by so many different things, but if you pay attention to the signs your dog gives you, you can usually figure out the cause and correct the behaviors. The key is consistency of your best practices when engaging your dog. No one wants a dog that tears everything up as soon as you leave the home.