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Dog Tip: Constructive Ways to Deal with Destructive Behavior

By Robin Tierney

NOTE: The content on this website cannot be used in connection with any profit-seeking activity due to agreements with the writers, editors and sources contributing to the content. These articles may NOT be reproduced in any form without author permission. To contact the author, email Robin at Tierneydog@yahoo.com.

Check out "Home Sweet Home or a Demolition Derby?", an excellent article from nationally respected canine behaviorist Pat Miller in the October 2007 issue of "Your Dog" newsletter ( www.tufts.edu/vet/publications/yourdog/dogabout.html ).

Here are just a few of Miller's nuggets of wisdom:

* Determine the root of the destructive behaviors so you can choose the best ways to stop them.

* Getting angry does no good, especially since the dog didn't engage in the unwanted behavior out of spite.

* Prevention is, as always, better than cure. Take action to prevent the development of (further) destructive behavior.

* Common roots of destructive behavior:

1. Boredom and energy to burn. Shredded cushions, strewn garbage and gnawed items "are signs of a dog with too much time and energy on his paws." Often, the dog was given house freedom before he was ready for it...or a routine (such as your work schedule) has changed. Miller's Rx includes more exercise before you leave for work ... management in the form of confining in a smaller, dog-proofed space when you're gone until he is able to handle increasing periods of "home alone" time ... and mental exercise both when you're home (positive training games to engage the canine mind) and when you're gone (sturdy toys such as Kongs).

2. Change in routine: Longer work hours and/or changes in the household can fuel anxiety.

3. Teething and chewing: Remember that puppies, adolescents and even adult dogs, explore the world with their teeth. So strive to block access to "off-limits" items while providing appropriate and stimulating items to chew on.

4. Isolation distress and separation anxiety. In the article, Miller explains the difference. Separation anxiety is like a panic attack brought on by inability to be with the people with whom the dog has most deeply bonded. Crating is not usually effective for managing the dog with S.A.; get an in-person evaluation from a canine behavior specialist. In contrast, isolation distress is less extreme and easier to resolve, sometimes by short-term crating with his own chew items until he learns you'll always return home...sometimes by having a companion dog.

5. Stress stimuli: The mail carrier or noisy after-school passersby arouse many dogs. Stress-relieving symptoms can range from barking to chewing off-limit items such as a rug. Some dogs have an innate fear of thunder (which requires different treatment approaches).

And sometimes, the dog is reacting to wild animals that are burrowing beneath a floor before the humans ever detect them. A sign: digging a specific spot on the floor.

* Occasionally, after successful counter-conditioning or desensitization measures, an anxious dog can relapse. Typically, restricting freedom and engaging in behavior modification for a brief period will get your dog back on the right paw.

Subscribe to Your Dog and you'll find detailed guidance for preventing and solving behavior problems, as well as new insights on canine health.

More Resources:

Behavior management books on the Books List


Separation anxiety








Thunderstorm anxiety



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Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport