How to stop your dog's destructive behaviors

Is your dog displaying one or more destructive behaviors? This Q&A with two top trainers offers solutions to combat digging, chewing, barking, jumping and licking!

Do any of these destructive behaviors sound familiar? Most dogs have at least one behavior issue… this article will help you solve it!

Q: I have a Westie; I know what they’re bred to do, but is there a best way to try to prevent digging?

A: Working with a terrier can be challenging when it comes to digging since as you said, this is a dog created to dig and hunt. Terriers can be quite active and are keenly intelligent and need to have their mental and physical energies exercised in order to keep them from engaging in destructive behaviors like digging. Some things you can do are provide him with some toys that will keep him occupied, such as toys that you stuff with food that he has to find a way to get out. Or give him the opportunity to do what he wants in a way that doesn’t harm your yard. You could create a “sandbox” for the dog where he is allowed to dig, and put toys that he can search for in the sandbox. You will have to manage the dog so that he learns that this is his place where it’s okay to dig as opposed to other areas. Keeping a dog’s nails regularly trimmed also helps with deterring digging. Try to find ways to give him some other things to focus on, such as obedience training, or play sessions with toys. A dog that has acceptable outlets for his physical and mental needs is less likely to find outlets for his needs that we are not happy with. Finally, always focus on showing the dog what you want him to do, whether it’s playing with a toy or moving away from a digging area, and reward the dog for good behavior.

Q: I have a new 8 month old girl, including 2 males about 5 yrs old. Brandy has developed a tendency to rip things up. Including my mother’s clothing. She hasn’t touched mine. It happens during my time at work. Help!

A: It sounds like your 8 month old girl is definitely still in the puppy stages of her life. Dogs that are destructive at this age are generally bored and are looking for ways to pass the time. If the dog has free roam of the house when you are not there, it would be best to find a way to manage her, such as using baby gates to confine her to a room that is “puppy proofed” or crating her if she won’t be crated for too long a period of time. Provide the dog with acceptable items to chew up and play with, such as stuffed food toys and chew items such as bully sticks (but not ones made in China!). Make sure that she gets lots of exercise, such as a good brisk walk before your leave, or a play session so she’s tired out when you leave. You need to make sure that when you are home, you are always supervising her so that you can redirect her from chewing items she should not be and redirecting her to acceptable items and rewarding her. And if you are not able to supervise her 100%, then keep her in a confined area such as the crate or a playroom or in a room with some baby gates.

Q: I have a shep/beagle mix that barks from the time I get home until its dinner time (about 10 min) and because she is doing it my little schnauzer mix starts up. How can I get in my house without all the ruckus? They are ages are 7 and 6.

A: Beagles are often known to be barkers, so this is a common issue. It is important to find out WHY she is barking. Try sneaking up to your house during the day, to see if she is also barking when you are not home. Even better, if you have a webcam you can set up to monitor her while you are away, you can see if she is barking all day. Barking may be a sign of anxiety, or boredom – or simply demanding your attention!! When you arrive, be sure to ignore her. Scolding, comforting, or even looking at her is attention (to her, negative attention is better than none at all). So be sure to completely ignore both dogs when they are barking. Get some tasty treats (like cheese) and keep them handy, perhaps in a pocket or training pouch. The moment either dog stops barking – if even for a second – say “Yes!” and give a treat immediately. Ignore the barking, praise and reward the quiet. Your dogs will figure out “Hey, when I bark she doesn’t even look at me, but when I’m quiet, she gives me cheese!” Now, chances are your dog is a smarty pants and will figure out that a few barks followed by silence gets her treats. This is when you start to require longer, and longer, and longer periods of quiet over time – between treats. If you struggle, contact a trainer (try our trainer search) to help you out. Good luck!

Q: Adopted a pit bull/bull terrier mix, he is very sweet but gets overly excited when I get home and jumps on me until I pay attention to him. He is in obedience school now, with no success on taming the jumping. What would you suggest?

A: Dogs jump up when they’re excited and want attention, and of course they’re often most excited when you come and they’re delighted to see you. You need to work on teaching a very good sit and stay in calm, quiet situations. Once you have trained these behaviors to some proficiency, work on practicing them in high excitement areas such as the front door (or wherever you enter your house from the outside). Then work on practicing making entrances and reinforcing the dog for sitting and staying. It’s going to take a good deal of consistency for the dog to learn that jumping up does not get him what he wants, which is your attention. Paying attention to him at any point if he’s still jumping up will reinforce the jumping up behavior, so you need to steel yourself and wait him out until he sits and instantly reward him and be ready to ignore him and turn your back if he jumps up again. If your dog bounds up from sit easily, you may choose to work on a down-stay instead.

Q: We have the pleasure of owning 3 dogs. 3 completely different dogs. One is licking obsessed! she licks my husband to death especially at bed time. WHy? and without hurting her feelings how do we stop her?

A: Dogs lick for a variety of reasons. Some dogs do it out of nervousness, some do it because the like the salty taste, some because it’s a natural instinctual behavior to do, and others because of a medical condition such as stomach upset. A full veterinary check-up to make sure there is nothing medically wrong is important. Once the dog has been determined to have a clean bill of health, you’ll need to work on redirecting the dog away from licking onto a more acceptable behavior. So for example if the dog starts to lick your husband, gently move the body part he is licking away and give him a bone or a chew or a toy and praise him for taking the item. You may have to repeat this several times. You also need to make sure the item you give him is something he finds very valuable and that would be more interesting than licking you. You don’t need to worry about hurting his feelings, the idea is to redirect him onto something that he enjoys to do and reward him for it so that the dog learns that he can find more useful behaviors to engage than licking.