Are you wondering how to stop a dog from tearing things up when left alone? First, you must determine the cause of their problem behavior and then address it directly. Some common reasons for destructive behavior in dogs that get left alone include health concerns, separation anxiety, boredom, stress, and a lack of training.
Health Concerns may be the cause of tearing things up
When your dog displays destructive behavior when left at home alone, the first thing to consider is the possibility of a physical or health concern.
One of the most frequent reasons dogs chew things up is teething or problems with the mouth, gums, or stomach.
Teething puppies will chew anything they can to try and relieve the pain of their adult teeth coming in. Dogs with mouth sores or irritation may do the same.
Other dogs may chew things they should not because they have a stomachache – this is often the case in dogs that eat grass.
What You Can Do To Stop This Behavior
If you suspect that your dog is exhibiting destructive behavior because of a health concern, it is always best to check in with your veterinarian. Your vet will perform a basic physical exam of your dog, and they may also take a blood and urine sample to check for any causes of stomach irritation due to parasites or bacteria.
You can help your vet to identify why your dog is exhibiting destructive behavior by keeping track of:
- Anything that provokes your dog to chew or shred things.
- If your dog is shredding one thing in particular.
- How long your dog has been exhibiting this behavior and anything that seemed to prompt its start.
- Anything that stops your dog from their undesirable behavior.
- If you have noticed any other symptoms that might indicate that your dog is ill (for example, worms in their stool.)
- Indications of pain or irritation (for example, pawing at the mouth.)
Dogs with separation anxiety can display destructive behavior when separated from a person or animal with whom they have a tight bond. This type of anxiety can manifest in undesirable behavior (like tearing things up), self-harming behavior (like chewing on the feet), obsessive behavior (like spinning in circles,) and vocal expression (like howling or barking.)
What You Can Do
Separation anxiety is notoriously difficult to treat. Treatment options include medication, behavioral modification (for example, desensitization,) and lifestyle adjustments. Medication can provide immediate relief of anxiety symptoms for most dogs, giving you time to work on a more long-term solution like behavioral modification techniques with a professional trainer.
Medication – Medication is a good option for dogs that experience extreme separation anxiety as it can relieve the immediate physical signs of stress like high respiration rate, racing heart rate, trembling, excess salivation, pacing, and panting.
Behavioral Modification – Behavioral modification is a more resilient method of treating separation anxiety because it changes how your dog reacts in situations that might otherwise make them anxious.
For example, retraining your dog to think that your leaving the house means that they will get their favorite treats. This positive reinforcement and behavior remodeling can make turn leaving the house into a more positive experience.
You might also consider crating your dog or cordoning them off with a baby gate to establish a safe area where they can’t access anything that they shouldn’t.
There are also lifestyle adjustments that you can make to reduce your dog’s separation anxiety.
For example, if you work an eight-hour day and you are not allowed to take your dog to work with you, consider taking a long walk together before work. This will tire your dog out and they will sleep for a large portion of the day.
You might also consider –
- Hiring a dog walker to visit your dog during the day.
- Taking your dog to doggy daycare when you are at work.
- Arranging playdates for your dog while you are at work – having a friend watch your dog and their own dog and returning the favor on another day of the week.
Another reason that dogs frequently act out when left alone is that they are bored!
Dogs left alone are more likely to become bored if they are
- Left alone for long periods.
Like us, our dogs require stimulation through interaction with others, exercise, exposure to new settings, and activities that engage their problem-solving skills.
Dogs that are “working breeds” or “sporting breeds” are more likely to experience boredom because of their high level of intelligence and innate drive to work.
Dogs that act out because they are bored are much easier to work with than dogs with separation anxiety.
What You Can Do
Treatment for bored dogs that act out is merely a matter of engaging and stimulating them.
If your dog is tearing things up out of boredom, try incorporating more activity into their life. Suggestions include –
- Exercise your dog before you leave for work. Exercise will tire your dog out and make them sleep while you are at work.
- Invest in interactive and “smart” dog toys that will keep your dog engaged while you are gone.
- Try doggy daycare for a couple of days a week to give your dog socialization and an outlet for excess energy.
- Enrolling your dog in activities that you can do together after work (choose activities that give your dog a sense of purpose!)
A dog does not have to have separation anxiety to exhibit signs of stress. Your dog may be stressed because they can hear your neighbors in the apartment next door and feel as though they are encroaching on their territory.
The key to helping a stressed dog is to find out why they are stressed. The best way to monitor your dog’s activity is to install a doggy cam so that you can see when your dog is acting out and monitor anything that may have caused their behavior.
What You Can Do
If your dog is acting out due to stress, the only way to treat their behavior is to collaborate with a recognized trainer to slowly desensitize your dog to its stressors.
It is important to use a trainer when desensitizing your dog to stressors because you can cause more problems with desensitization if done incorrectly.
For example, desensitization is a slow and methodical process. Forcing your dog to face a stressor inappropriately may traumatize them into becoming fearful – not only of the original stressor but also wary of you because you put them in that situation, to begin with.
Desensitization is about time and trust, so invest all you have and do not get frustrated!
A Lack of Training
Lastly, another common reason that dogs act out when left alone is a lack of training.
Training is a crucial process for every dog as it teaches your dog what you expect from them and provides them with a blueprint of how to interact with the world around them.
Failing to provide your dog with this type of blueprint means that your dog is unable to identify what they are allowed to chew versus what they are not allowed to chew. For you, this means that your dog sees your new Prada shoes in the same light as a toy or a bone.
What You Can Do
The only way to see your dog through this problem is to engage in a training program. You can opt for one-on-one training, a training class with other puppy parents and their dogs, or – if your dog has a special role – engage in a specific training camp or course.