Ask a Trainer! Destructive Behavior

hyperactive dog behavior

Does your dog’s behavior leave you scratching your head? Feeling like you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked? Why not ask an expert? Animal Wellness Magazine has teamed up with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers to bring you a Q&A that’s all about training! Just leave us a comment on Facebook.

Q. My dog is always snatching things and running away with them! He especially likes taking my sheets and ripping them to shreds. Any advice?

A. I’m curious when this behavior happens. If it is in front of you, where the dog snatches something and runs while you are home – than it is a “chase me” game that started out as basic attention seeking behavior and manifested into undesirable destruction. If this is the case, avoid scolding or chasing – because that is what the dog wants and it will only exacerbate the issue. Instead, ask yourself, what do you want him to do instead? And “stopping” something (chewing, barking, running) is not doing – it is stopping. What do you want him TO do?

You want him to 1) spit out the sheets, 2) walk away from the sheets, and 3) come to you. Encourage him to come to you – but be fun about it. Have something handy your dog really loves: cheese, sandwich meat, a ball, his leash, or anything he enjoys. If he brings the item (shoe, sheet, whatever) tell him what a good dog he is!!! Why?? Because 1) he didn’t eat it and 2) he came to you. He may not be able to tear himself away from sheets (get it? tear?), so instead you may have to walk up to him with the reward, to interrupt him.

I know, this will be incredibly frustrating to walk up to your dog, amidst a pile of shredded Egyptian cotton sheets, with a reward. But trust me – offer the reward in exchange for the item he shouldn’t have. “If you walk away from those sheets, I’ll give you this bite of chicken.” If your dog learns to pick things up they shouldn’t have and bring them to you – like shoes, remotes, reading glasses, books, etc. – that is great because they know bringing an undamaged item TO you gets more attention that running AWAY and damaging the item. It will take time to retrain this (retrain you and retrain the dog).

Also, the dog drops the item, avoid the “keep away” game where you try to snatch up the item before the dog does. This only trains them to be faster and sneakier. Instead, ask them to sit, show them the reward, pick up the item, reward the dog. Finally, make sure the reward if followed by love, petting, and praise. If the dog is looking for attention/entertainment – what is more exciting? Ripping up bedding for 10 minutes? Or getting a single bite of food? I’m going to say the sheets win that. But what about a bite of food, followed by a belly rub, some kisses of mommy, another bite of food, and perhaps a walk? I think the sheets loose in that one.

Over time, you don’t have to reward quite so much – but for now we want coming to YOU instead of running away to become more valuable. Now, on the other hand, if the behavior is NOT attention seeking – ie it occurs when no one is home – I would wonder if it is a separation anxiety or boredom issue. If it is anxiety, contact a QUALIFIED professional right away. Anxiety is not something to handle on your own.

If it is boredom (you can often tell because it happens after about 30-45 mins of being alone) then you must 1) confine the dog and prevent access when you are not home by closing bedroom doors, use crates and gates, and so on. 2) provide your dog something else to chew on, like a stuffed Kong toy (PB mixed with your dog’s kibble, and frozen). 3) Plenty of exercise. Depending on the dog (breed, age, personality), 1 or 2 walks a day or a romp in the backyard may not be enough. If the dog is a higher energy breed or under the age of 4, he needs to run run run! Get those yayas out. I know you’ve already worked with a trainer and had less than desirable results, so please check this out for tips:

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