It happens to the best of us. We’re alone. There’s something we want. It’s in the drawer. The drawer sticks. We try to shove a comb through the crack in the drawer to move the thing that’s making it stick and the comb falls in so we pull really hard and out comes the whole drawer and it spills all over creation.
And so it is with many dogs, especially young ones, with a little too much time and access.
Destruction can come in a few different forms, some accidental, some seemingly willful, some compulsive. Some you just can’t tell.
And oh, the trouble even a well-meaning young dog can get into when left to her own devices. Like the time she was just lying on the bed, chewing her bone like a good girl but then the bone dropped down between the side of the mattress and the frame and so she stood up and she dug at it and she stuck her nose down there and tried to bite at it and then something tasted rubbery and … weird, is that water? Coming out of the bed? She got her bone and left the room.
No way that dog could have understood “waterbed”, “oak floors”, “new family room ceiling”. Just the cost of chewin’ bones.
Then there are those who spurn bones but still chew and sometimes swallow – I know of a dog who chewed and swallowed $200 cash left on the coffee table. The same dog had had previous surgeries to remove obstructions (socks, mostly). Surgically removing the chewed dollar bills would hardly be worth it. The dog was fine, the money gone. Cost of living with a dog. Just put the money directly into the dog.
Dogs can end up in the shelter either from chronic destruction that becomes too much over time, to one crazy weekend where you tore up a $5000 leather sofa or knocked over the china cabinet.
Obviously, a crated dog can’t destroy much, but those compelled by boredom or anxiety will simply start destroying themselves. Licking, chewing, scratching themselves into one gigantic vet bill, all the while making themselves less attractive to the very people they miss when they’re alone.
So crating has to be balanced with all the good stuff like fun and exercise, good food and company and full welcome in the family home when folks are around.
Eventually, you want to be able to trust a dog for an hour here or there, or if you’re just getting the mail and end up chatting with a neighbor for a bit. Or in an emergency. Or because a dog isn’t much protection, should you want that, from inside a crate.
The most common reasons for giving up a dog are families in crisis; foreclosure, divorce, financial limitations, landlords. I rarely hear anyone say, “We simply grew tired of him”. It’s happened but it’s just not that common. But once a dog is adopted, 1 or 2 of every 10 fails to stay in his first home and a big reason is his family is not too attached yet. Neither is he. So during the transition a small number of shelter dogs either growls at someone or breaks something.
We addressed aggression, so let’s tackle destructive behavior. The temporary fix is crate training but you can’t just put a dog in a box and go to work for eight hours (plus commute!). Be sure to introduce a crate gradually. Consider doggie day care or at least consult with a behaviorist when formulating your plan.
A second hand dog may fear that when people leave, they may be gone forever. If he panics when confined, reward him for relaxing on a tether just out of reach of you by tossing a treat within his reach for any signs of relaxation. Gradually increase the requirements for a treat, until he can rest quietly.
Cure the boredom. Leave toys stuffed with food, puzzles to solve like hidden toys and exercise your dog before you leave him. Lock up your stuff. Give the dog his own stuff.
And finally, change the cues that worry your dog. Jingle keys throughout the day, not just right before you leave. Pay attention to the jacket and shoes you use for fun v. work. Your dog does. Keep a jacket in your car for a few days, if he’s super smart.
Most of all have faith in dogs. They learn every day but often we aren’t teaching anything more than “That was also wrong”. If you are not sure how to explain things to a dog, get a trainer. There are something like 90 million dogs in homes all over the USA and fewer than 2-3 million ever need shelters. We can usually work it out but why not enlist the help of an interpreter?