If your dog is destructive when left alone, you may assume that your dog may do so out of spite, as a way to revenge for not taking him along with you on a car ride or to work.
Contrary to what we may have thought tough, dogs do not act out of spite.
To better understand the behavior of dogs destroying things when left alone, it therefore helps better understanding how dogs think.
Not Out of Spite
You unlock the door only to find out your dog has chewed up all the sofa cushions leaving a big mess behind. You are fuming with anger. You dog looks at you with a guilty look, slinking away with his body low.
Turns out though, that guilty expression shown when we open the door, isn’t an actual acknowledgment of wrongdoing, but an “appeasement gesture in response to our irritated or angry body language.
The dog in this case is not playing guilty but likely saying something along terms of “I know you’re upset; look how unassuming and non-threatening I am. Please don’t hurt me," points out veterinary behaviorist Dr. Amy Pike in an article for Veterinary Practice News.
Something important for dog owners to understand is that, despite being domesticated, and the thousands of years split from their wild ancestors, some dogs still feel very wary of being left alone.
Most likely this is because in the wild, animals left alone instinctively felt in danger, and therefore, it's not unusual for a puppy or dog to experience some residual anxiety when they are left alone, points out Nancy Kerns in the book: Whole Dog Journal Handbook of Dog and Puppy Care and Training.
A Matter of Boredom
Here's a fact: most dog breeds have been selectively bred to carry out some task. If you take a look at several dog breeds and research their history, you'll notice that, most of them were used for some type of work.
Hounds were tracking scent, retrievers were carrying downed birds in their mouth, collies were herding sheep and even the smaller dog breeds were used as lap warmers for aristocratic ladies.
Nowadays, most modern dogs are left unemployed for most of the day with little to do. Their minds and bodies though are eager to keep busy, but they have no outlets.
It therefore comes natural for bored/under stimulated young and rambunctious dogs to seek ways to stay busy, especially when they are left alone.
Rover may therefore decide to have fun and disassemble the remote or he may decide to de-gut all your stuffed pillows to keep occupied while you are away.
One key element of bored dogs, is that they are usually calm when you come home.
"Boredom or play/exploratory behavior is another cause of destruction when home alone. I commonly think of this when dogs younger than one year of age present to me for separation anxiety. A video tape reveals that these dogs are calm, but destructive. They may destroy the couch or papers left out, but not usually the door the owner exited through. "~Dr. Meredith Stepita, board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
A Way to Release Stress
It goes without saying that dogs can be prone to stress when left alone too.
For many dogs, it's just too much responsibility keeping an eye on the home and they may get stressed by many sights and sounds which they may care less about when in your company, but act as super stressful triggers when alone.
Chewing and destroying things may therefore be a coping mechanism that can help your dog wind down. This can be likely the scenario, if your dog is fearful of certain noises such as thunder, fireworks or airplanes flying overhead.
A Sign of Anxiety
"Tell me what your dog destroys when you are away, and I can tell you more about him." This may sound like one of those fickle quizzes you may stumble upon, but there's a lot of truth actually based on your observations.
For instance, dogs who are destructive when left alone and focus particularly on scratching and chewing exit points such as windows and doors may be showing signs of separation anxiety (although they may sometimes also tear the couch).
Separation anxiety in dogs is s a disorder of hyper-attachment leading to a physiological panic response when they are left alone.
On top of destroying things, affected dogs will often pace, drool, pant, whine, bark and howl when left alone, and sometimes they may also have accidents in the house.
Did you know? Separation anxiety is one of the most common canine behavior problems in dogs. Among dogs referred to animal behavior practices in North America, it is estimated that between 20 and 40 percent of dogs suffer from separation anxiety.
A Matter of Reactivity
Sometimes, dogs may act destructive out of frustration/reactivity upon spotting triggers from the window.
If your dog is a window barker, consider this possibility, especially if you come home to chewed and scratched door frames or window sills.
Now That You Know...
As seen, when dogs destroy things when left alone, they do so for a variety of reasons. Once identified that underlying reason, you may be wondering what to do about it. Based on your dog's underlying motive, you may need to use a different approach.
How to Stop s Dog From Being Destructive When Left Alone?
Here are some tips for dogs who destroy things when left alone.
Ensure exercise, training and mental stimulation. Bored and rambunctious dogs need daily opportunities for exercise, training and mental stimulation (brain games!).
Make sure that, before leaving your dog alone, he has been walked, played with and trained so that he's not left with too much energy to drain.
Make these daily opportunities a routine. Dogs thrive from more structure and predictability in their lives.
Provide productive outlets. Just as in people, teaching dogs how to occupy themselves in a productive way is an essential element of staying alone.
Whether your dog is crated, kept in a play pen or dog run or in a section of the home closed with a baby gate, make sure he has access to some chew toys or activities (food puzzles, treat-release toys, frozen peanut butter Kongs, Kong Wobblers, Everlasting treat balls, treasure hunts) that will keep him busy without engaging in destructive behavior.
Items left with your dog should be safe, sturdy and interesting enough to convince your dog to engage with them, barely noticing that you’ve left him on his own.
Make sure to rotate toys so that he never grows bored of them, and make sure to provide them also when you're home to prevent your dog from associating a pattern of toys and food puzzles being left when you are leaving.
You may also want to monitor your dog with food puzzles initially so that you can ensure he consumes them in a safe manner without swallowing large pieces which may predispose him to a blockage.
Help your dog make good choices. Leaving your dog in a room with pillows to un-stuff, curtains to tug on and shoes to chew, is setting him up for failure.
Too many tempting items left around! To help your dog succeed, remove as much tempting items as possible keeping them off the floor and out of the dog's reach.
Dog-proofing the room so that there's little to destroy, while leaving around several legit and safe items your dog can play with and chew, will ensure he can only make good choices.
Provide relaxing distractions. When your dog must be left alone, provide him with relaxing distractions. For dogs who bark and chew, draw the curtains to block out stress-triggering visions and leave the radio on to a classical station or play some dog calming music CD's.
Some dogs may even enjoy watching a nature show. Dog TV is a channel that broadcasts a variety of shows crafted with dogs in mind. The relaxation channel offers calming scenes and soothing sounds meant to keep your dog relaxed during the day.
Avoid leaving him alone. Not everybody may afford this, but it's worthy to point out for those who can. In other words, avoid as much as possible leaving your dog alone.
Nowadays, you can take your dog to doggie daycare (much better than the dog park if you find one that carefully screens dogs for health and aggression) or you can hire a dog walker to stop by mid-day to keep your dog occupied and happy.
For those lucky enough, a friendly neighbor or relative who loves dogs who is willing to swing by, may also do the job.
Record your dog's behavior. Sometimes, it may be challenging telling apart a bored dog from a stressed or frantic dog just based on our findings when we come home.
Recording your dog's behavior while you’re gone (as long as it is safe to do so) may provide you a better picture.
If possible, set up a live webcam so that you can remotely monitor your dog and promptly return before he destroys anything or ends up injuring himself.
This way, by watching your recording, you can tell whether he is displaying stress signals such as frantic whining, crying, pacing, panting due to separation anxiety or whether he's relatively calm and seeking outlets for this bored mind (dog is tugging at curtains, seeking garbage cans for goodies), then that's dealing with an entirely different problem.
For an accurate diagnosis, have a dog behavior professional take a look to provide his/her professional input.
Invest in a Remote Feeder. As the name implies, a remote feeder is a gadget that allows you to feed your dog at intervals throughout the day. This can keep dogs busy when left alone so they have less chance of acting destructive.
The Furbo Camera, is a remote camera which offers the advantage of, on top of allowing you to monitor your dog when alone, feeding him treats/ kibble as often as desired.
Tackle the underlying anxiety. Dogs suffering from stress or anxiety may benefit from calming aids along with behavior modification (seek a a veterinary behaviorist for this). Dog-appeasing pheromones (DAP) come in diffuser or collar form (like Adaptil diffuser and collar) and help create a calmer environment. Other calming aids include Composure, Zylkene and Soliquin which are oral supplements crafted with anxious dogs in mind.
Severe cases may need prescription medication such as Trazadone or Fluoxetine to calm the dog down enough to initiate behavior modification. Clomipramine (Clomicalm) is the only FDA-approved medication for treating separation anxiety in dogs.