Have you ever bought your dog a cute little toy, only to find it shredded all over the living room floor? Toy destruction is a common behavior among dogs, and the reason for it can vary as much as one dog's personality differs from another's. You may have your own theories about your dog's tendency toward tearing his toys apart, but are there any common motivating factors? The answer to this puzzling question lies with a dog's instincts and needs. Some are motivated by a pure instinct to work at things with their mouths, while others chew things up to express frustration, anxiety, or boredom. Here are a few possible driving forces that may apply to your dog.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs are predators first and foremost. Descended from the wolf, they have the instinct to seek out prey animals and kill them. The squeaker embedded inside his favorite plush? To your dog, it sounds just like a dying mouse or squirrel. He gets a great deal of satisfaction from pulling out all of the toy's stuffing and getting his teeth on that squeaker. Dogs also enjoy chewing up a toy because it is a leftover play behavior from puppyhood. Puppies and adolescent dogs tend to tear up everything in sight, and once they reach adulthood, it still feels like play. This may be especially true if the dog's owners had a tendency to fawn over his youthful destruction when he was young, since he will still remember the feeling of hte positive reinforcement. Sometimes, however, a dog will start to chew on things compulsively rather than for fun. When this happens, it is often because they need more stimulation than they have. This may be the explanation for a toy that has spent a fair amount of time in one piece in your house, but one day ends up scattered across the room. Your dog may have found this toy and worked at it more than usual because he needed some activity. It is also possible that your dog is tearing up his toys because he is stressed, frustrated, or anxious. Many dogs feel relief from their distress when they tear things apart, and their toys are often the most accessible objects to them. Unfortunately, we can't ask our dogs what is bothering them, so we are left only with our powers of observation. If your dog is tearing up his toys more than usual, consider whether there have been any changes in the home environment or the length of time that he is alone. If you are at work more than usual or are out more nights of the week than you have been, for example, he might be struggling with some separation anxiety.
Encouraging the Behavior
So, is it really a problem that your dog is destroying his toys? If you do believe that the behavior is happening out of boredom, anxiety, or other source of emotional distress, then for your dog's comfort, you will want to address the root issue. Your bored dog may stop chewing his toys if he has more long walks, runs in the park, or romps in the backyard. Even some dedicated human-on-dog playtime can help him to feel more stimulated and connected. Frustration and anxiety may be more difficult to handle, unless you can relieve the source of the distress. If not, you may simply need to give him some hardy toys to work out his feelings until he can adjust to whatever is troubling him. Much of the time, however, your dog's destruction of his toys is more a problem for you than for him. It may even be good for him to work out his instincts, but you may not want him to do it at the expense of your wallet. If he is going through toys faster than you would like, perhaps you need to give him different toys. Even a small breed dog can tear up a plush or flimsy latex toy if what he needs is to chew hard on something. Hard rubber can be a more durable choice, and these can even provide some extra stimulation if they are the kind that you can hide a treat inside. Rawhides and other edible treats are satisfying as well, though these tend to be best in supervised situations in case of swallowing.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your dog is eating destroyed toys that are not meant to be edible, destructive chewing may be more of a problem. This kind of pattern calls for toys that are indestructible and too large to swallow, although your dog will be safest if you watch him any time he is playing with a toy. Another potential source for concern is a dog that seems to be always chewing and tearing things apart, no matter how much attention and play time you give him. This might indicate a level of behavior that is compulsive and that requires professional attention. Don't hesitate to give your vet a call and ask if you should be worried. He or she may be able to advise you on what is bothering your dog and may even be able to recommend a behaviorist who can help.
Whether or not your dog's chewing is compulsive, it may not be the thing you want to see him do with the toys you so carefully bought for him. That makes perfect sense! Just remember that your dog doesn't know that toys cost money. He just wants to search and destroy and chew on things. If you give him the chance to do just that, in a way that is less troublesome and costly for you, he may be less "ruff" with his stuff!