Does your dog love to bark, dig holes in the garden, or chew and shred everything in the house when left alone? In dog behaviour, this probably means that your dog doesn’t have enough enrichment activities on their schedule, and perhaps they are stressed or bored.
Do not lose heart. Here are some fantastic enrichment ideas that will help your dog change their ways and save your home. We encourage you to try them out. But first, here is something you can do to stay sane.
Dog-proof your home
Changing the behaviour of your dog will take time and plenty of effort. There will be days when the frustration could get to you. It is more practical to start by dealing with the quick wins and avoid getting overly stressed. Start with what you have entirely under your control – your home.
Many pet owners are familiar with the term “puppy-proofing”. This is because puppies have an insatiable urge to chew due to the teething process. To cope with this behaviour, pet owners puppy-proof their homes. Puppy-proofing is just like toddler-proofing. It entails keeping items out of the reach of the dog.
Keep your home tidy and store temptations like shoes or dangerous items like phone cords or wires away from your pup. You will help him to learn how to control the urge to chew. Sometimes, the yearning to chew is too powerful. To prevent the dog from sinking his teeth on other valuables, you could give him an alternative item to chew and confine him to a crate. When your dog opts to chew on the alternative instead of your valuables, be sure to give them positive reinforcement such as a treat or praise.
If your dog cannot find or reach stuff to chew, or if they go for the alternatives you have offered, they will not destroy anything. It is the first step in reducing destructive behaviour. Here is how you can transition your dog from undesirable behaviour to performing acceptable behaviour.
Start with a visit to the vet
If your dog is mature, well trained, and well-behaved, then suddenly starts to display destructive behaviour, a vet call should be your first course of action. Your dog could be suffering from separation anxiety or have another underlying problem. The wild streak, when left alone, is their way of saying, I miss you terribly, and I am not myself when you are not around. Or, something is wrong with me, and I need help.
Anxiety in dogs is not a strange phenomenon. If your dog is diagnosed with the condition, a vet can prescribe medications and other therapies besides enrichment activities. The following enrichment activities will help your dog cope with anxiety and help stop destructive behaviour.
Increase physical stimulation
Exercise is a great way to handle stress and boredom. It works perfectly for both pet parents and their pets. A tired dog is a healthy, happy, and calm dog.
A daily workout will help your dog burn off excess calories and keep him fit. But that is not all. When the dog sweats, he also releases endorphins – a calming hormone. Thus, he is less likely to pounce on your valuables and chew. The best part about exercise is that you can have fun while exercising. Plan a few games for your dog whenever you go outdoors. That way, you will kill two birds with one stone.
Also, you do not have to wait until when you are outdoors or at the dog park to get a good sweat. You can also be creative and do some exercise at home.
Remember to vary the intensity of the workout session according to the breed and health condition of the dog. Talk with your vet or a professional trainer about setting up an exercise schedule for your dog.
Boost mental stimulation
Mental stimulation complements physical stimulation. In our beginners’ guide to canine enrichment, we affirm that a mentally stimulated dog is likely to indulge in a healthy activity when left alone. Therefore, challenging your dog to think makes him less likely to engage in destructive behaviour when left alone. The dog will sleep or play with a toy.
But how do you boost mental stimulation for a dog? Try these ideas:
- Go outdoors more frequently. Most dogs enjoy being outdoors. When you take your furry buddy for a walk, avoid using the same route too many times. Use different paths. As the dog explores the new environment, new faces and strange objects, his mind works out.
- Teach the dog new tricks – even if he is old. Spend 10 – 15 minutes every day training the dog something new like a retrieve and drop. You will be surprised at what the dog can learn in a month or two.
- Put the tricks into action by giving the dog a job. Our ancestors domesticated dogs to help with tasks like hunting. You can do the same. Give the dog regular tasks like fetching a ball from a forest of other items. Every time the dog succeeds is a moment of brain exercise and excitement.
- Rotate the old toys and add a few new mentally stimulating play items.
The intensity and extent of mental stimulation also vary with the breed. For example, dogs in the working group like Doberman Pinschers and herding groups like shepherd dogs generally require more stimulation since they are quick-witted.
A final word on how to stop your dog’s destructive behaviour
Dogs are intelligent animals that need to use their brains and bodies in order to be healthy. The more you can exercise your dog’s brain, the less likely they are to destroy anything when left alone. Physical stimulation should include a daily workout session as well as new toys and games at home for mental stimulation.
The above enrichment ideas will help reduce destructive behaviour in dogs. But it will take time, patience, consistency, plenty of love and positive affirmation.
If you’re struggling, you can call on a Behaviourist or Trainer like me if you’re not sure how to make these enrichment ideas happen. I work with pet parents all over the country and have helped them find ways to reduce destructive behaviour by providing physical and mental challenges for their pets!
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