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Destructive Doggies

Solving digging and chewing problems

Most puppies have a strong natural desire to investigate and chew. But this desire can be a major problem if your puppy digs up your roses or destroys your new shoes. Many families focus on punishment to correct the problem, but you’ll find that reinforcing good behavior works better and keeps your dog happier. Be sure to puppy-proof your home so your puppy can safely explore and investigate without getting into trouble. Just as children enjoy playing with new and novel items, you may find that your puppy prefers to play with your possessions over her own toys. When all else fails, remember that unwanted chewing or digging is never caused by your dog’s desire to get even with you.

Chew and feeding toys

It’s important to provide a supply of safe and interesting toys so your dog can entertain herself when she’s on her own. When selecting chew and feeding toys, begin with a variety of toys to determine which type your pup prefers. Rotate different toys in and out every few days to keep them interesting. When you see your pup chewing her toys, reward her with affection or a bit of puppy food. Toys made of durable rubber, beef-hide chews, and dental treats are generally good options. Some toys are designed so you can stuff food into the openings. Others can be covered or filled with a small amount of food spread. This will increase your puppy’s interest in the toys and will extend the length of time she stays occupied. Other toys that might capture your pup’s interest are ones that must be moved or manipulated to release small pieces of food or kibble. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and provide great mental stimulation. In fact, by feeding most of your dog’s food, along with a few treats, in these toys, feeding times can be longer, more challenging, and more enriching than eating from a food bowl.

Preventing problems

Even with an excellent selection of appealing chew toys, many household items may still be more inviting to your pup. Never give items to your puppy to chew that are similar to household items you don’t want destroyed. For example, your puppy may not be able to distinguish between old and new shoes. Sessions of play and exercise are a must, since unused energy contributes to her desire to search and destroy.

Until you can trust your pet, supervise her constantly or confine her to a safe area, such as her dog crate or exercise pen, where she can nap or play with one of her chew or feeding toys. A good way to prevent your puppy from chewing undesirable objects in your presence is to leave a long leash attached to your dog so you can easily guide her away. Leaving the leash attached to a head halter can provide more immediate control of the muzzle.

As your puppy grows older and is allowed more freedom around the home, she may slip up and attempt to munch on items you want her to avoid. Some puppies can be taught to avoid this if the items taste bad. Use commercial anti-chew sprays, mentholated products, or a small amount of cayenne pepper mixed with water as deterrents.

Punishment for chewing is not a good solution because it can cause your puppy to fear you. At best, it may only teach her not to chew the items when you’re watching. If you do catch your dog in the act of chewing, just make a sharp noise or give a gentle tug on a leash (if attached) to interrupt her, then provide a chew toy.


Destructive behavior may be due to anxiety. Extreme anxiety and destructiveness during your absence may be due to separation anxiety, which may require a more in-depth consultation with our veterinarian or a behaviorist. You might lessen her anxiety by teaching her that she cannot receive attention on demand. Train her to rest or play with her toys in her own bed or crate rather than constantly lying near you. Exercise your dog before you leave home, and try to leave when she is resting or occupied with her toys. Practice short departures, then gradually increase the length of time that your dog is alone.


Dogs dig for a number of reasons: to get to deeper soil to cool off, to chase rodents, to bury and retrieve bones, to escape confinement, or just for the fun of it. Digging commonly occurs when pets are left alone with insufficient stimulation. Provide your dog with increased play and exercise before leaving her alone outdoors and give her some stimulating toys for chewing and play. For some dogs the most practical option is to provide a digging area. Build an eight-inch-deep wood frame and sink it into the ground. Mix the soil with sand and partially bury toys (smear a small amount of cheese or meat juice on the exposed ends). Occasionally give your dog food treats to reinforce appropriate digging.

Sometimes having a second dog for companionship and play can reduce chewing and digging. However, give some serious thought to adding a second pet, since you could end up with two destructive dogs instead of one.

As with chewing, punishment should not be used to stop your dog’s digging. If you do not identify and address the cause, the digging will continue in your absence. You might try to interrupt the behavior while remaining out of sight by turning on a sprinkler, using a remote spray collar, or tossing a noise device such as a shake can filled with pebbles or a few coins. Alternatively, you might cover the surface by placing chicken wire or stones over the area, or confine your dog to a pen or run that is paved or covered with stones. If your dog continues to dig, the best solution may be to keep her indoors when you are not around to supervise until she is older and less likely to dig.

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