You’re pissed off.

I get it, no one likes their stuff chewed apart by a family member. Whether your pooch is just chewing the corner of the carpet, or totally dismantling your favorite chair, it sucks and you’re mad.

It’s okay to be angry for a little while but the big question is: what are you going to do about it?

Option one is to yell and scream about it and hope your dog won’t do it again or you could try to understand why your dog would do such a thing and take the actions necessary to make sure it won’t happen again.

If you like option #1, you’re all done here, you can stop reading and go back to your chewed up lifestyle. However, I’m hoping the second option is more appealing to you and that’s what I can help you with in this post.

Most of the time the dog is not at fault for the destructive behavior – you are. I know what you’re thinking: how on Earth can it be your fault the dog ate your couch? Well, once we analyze the facts it becomes obvious.

First off you need to understand that there are really only two main reasons why your dog is being destructive.

  1. He is bored out of his mind.
  2. He’s really not ready to be unsupervised.

That’s it. It’s not because he’s being spiteful, or that he’s angry because you left him all alone, or he’s wants to show you he’s the boss. Nope. It’s almost always comes down to boredom or too much freedom – and often it’s both of those things.

Anxiety can sometimes play a role but that is in rare cases. Most of the time it’s the younger dogs between that ages of 6 months and 2 years that are the big culprits.

Why in that age range you ask?

The same reason our kids get into so much mischief – they are growing, experimenting, and need both stimulation and guidance to become healthy and happy adults.

I make sure my kids have lots of activities like soccer, dance, play dates to keep them constructively busy. At the same time I make sure I supervise them and teach them so that they can be ready to do it on their own when the time is right.

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Why Your Dog Is So Bored

How much exercise did your dog get prior to the destructive behavior?

I’m always amazed at how greatly most people underestimate the exercise needs of their dogs. All dogs wake up with energy – every single day – that needs to be drained. That energy is coming out one of two ways: constructively or destructively.

If you don’t provide enough constructive energy release your dog will find a destructive outlet. Every dog has their own favorite preference of destructive ways to rid themselves of that energy. Stereotypically, a Yorkie will bark all day long, and a Lab will chew apart your furniture, but every dog will have their own way to let out extra energy.

Basically all destructive behavior is energy use for evil instead of good.

Certain breeds have higher energy requirements than others. The average Jack Russell Terrier needs about 3 hours of sprinting a day, so those little walks around the block are doing zip for him. If you have a puppy or young dog that energy requirement also goes up.

No matter what, every dog is an individual and will have their own unique set of energy needs. As a general rule whatever you’re currently doing, do more. I’ve only met a handful of people who, in my opinion, are adequately provided enough exercise for their dogs on a regular basis.

Lack of exercise is the number one contributing factor to all behavior problems, and just about all issues are improved upon with exercise. It’s the most powerful tool you have available and its always part of my treatment plan for any and all behavioral problems.

Okay, hopefully I’ve convinced you that your dog needs more exercise so now the only question is how do we do it?

I know what you’re thinking, “but Fern, I have to work, take care of the kids, fix the house, do the shopping . . . . . .”

You’re busy, I know. We all have a long list of responsibilities that need to be taken care of every day and I’m here to remind you that one of those is your dog.

No matter how hard you try you’ll always of a long list of things that you should be doing, so I think the key schedule your dog in and to leverage the time you’re away from you dog. Here are 3 tips that should help you:

1. Get up 30 minutes earlier each day – That’s the first thing I did 14 years ago when I adopted a 10 month old, super hyper Pit Bull. Even though I was already getting up early to go catch the bus into New York City every day, I set my alarm 30 minutes earlier and ran my dog around like crazy before I left her for 8 hours. I don’t care who you are, you can find 30 minutes if you make your dog a priority.

2. Don’t feed out of a bowl – I think that feeding your dog out of a bowl is a waisted opportunity. I mean your dog is bored and he likes food so why not use that food as stimulation and exercise? There are a lot of great interactive toys that use food to motivate your dog to play and be focused on something constructive. My favorite is to take your dog’s food and mix it with some wet food, yogurt, peanut butter or canned pumpkin and put it into one or more Kongs and then freeze them (that’s for dry food, if you’re feeding canned or raw food you can don’t need to mix it with anything). That will make breakfast take about an hour or so instead of the 10 seconds it normally takes. For more ideas on what to stuff your Kong’s with get my free ebook of Kong Recipes.

3. Get him some dog time – Nothing can replicate the energy expenditure of playing with another dog. The nonstop wrestling and running around is the best way to tire your dog out. Set up a play date with a neighbor’s dog, hit the local dog park (dog parks can be scary places sometimes, listen to my podcast on how to use them best) or take them to dog daycare. Dog daycare is my favorite option because the dogs are healthy, friendly and it’s supervised by an impartial third party. I know it’s an added expense but how much is that new couch going to cost?

For some more ideas on how to exercise your dog check out this podcast episode.

Too Much Freedom

Most people give their dogs run of the house much too soon. You need to keep your dog’s world small and slowly expanding it as he learns the rules of living in this very human world. Giving your dog too much unsupervised freedom is just setting him up to fail.

Newsflash: you dog will act like a dog.

dogs in living room

Almost all problem behaviors are just dogs being dogs. On his best day your dog will be a dog – always. And he will make decisions as a dog no matter what.

Our job as responsible dog parents is to guide him as he learns the rules of our human world. We need to be there to say sitting on the rug is good, but eating it is bad. If we’re not there, it’s not his fault – he’s just being a dog and hasn’t learned yet how to be a dog in the human world.

So this means you need to supervise and confine while your dog is still learning the rules.

You need to supervise your dog when you’re there so you can teach him what’s appropriate and what you would prefer that he not do. Yes supervision requires your active involvement which means more of your time but it’s a necessary investment. And like all investments, if you invest wisely today you will get big dividends in the future.

It also means you need to confine your dog more than you may like (for now). Leaving a young dog full of energy unsupervised in your living room is like leaving an alcoholic in a fully stocked bar. We’re setting them up to fail.

There’s no magical amount of time when you can say your dog is officially ready to be left alone in the house unconfined, you just take a leap of faith and try it. When you do try it though, you have to set him up to succeed. If you get up in the morning, take your dog for a ten minute walk, pat him on the head, say “be a good boy,” and go off to work for eight hours, you’re really not giving him much of a chance.

The first time you leave him you want to run him like crazy, and then give him something to do (like a frozen Kong), and only leave him for about an hour. Then, slowly expand the time, always making sure he’s exercised and has something to chew on besides your valuables.

That’s setting him up to succeed and before you know it you’ve created a well behaved habit of not getting into trouble while you’re away. Remember all habits are created as a result of repetition and constituency (for good for for bad). You need to set your dog up to do lots of good repetitions (like NOT chewing apart your stuff) and limit the negative repetitions and then those behaviors will continue due to sheer habit.

So don’t be so quick to blame Fido for sampling your furniture if you’re the one leaving him there like a coiled spring with nothing interesting to do. Find constructive ways to get him the energy release and supervise him so you can teach him the rules of the house before you leave him all alone to make his own decisions.

Your dog is just doing what dogs do – being a dog. It’s up to you to show him how to be a dog living in the human world. Now put a cover on that ripped up couch and get to work on this stuff.

 

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