One of the reasons we have allowed dogs to share our lives is because of their intelligence. Dogs can be trained to live in our homes and to also understand our language. Human beings value intelligence and dogs are one of the most popular animals to have as a pet. However, if dogs are not given adequate stimulation they will engage in destructive behaviour.
Dogs who spend extended periods of time in one place, who are not walked each day, or are separated from their humans are more likely to become bored and therefore engage in chronic destructive behaviour.
Destructive behaviour usually takes the form of chewing, digging and barking. All dogs engage in these behaviours from time to time. However, when these behaviours become chronic it can be extremely upsetting and irritating for us, particularly if we value our belongings or live close to our neighbours. Sometimes we misinterpret our dog’s destructive behaviour for ‘payback’. Destructive behaviour is by no means meant as punishment, dogs cannot act maliciously, they do not have the capacity to understand how their behaviour can impact on others.
Dogs associative memory is also very short so punishment, even several seconds after the fact, will be counterproductive. Your dog may look ‘guilty’ but really this is his way of reacting to your mood in an attempt to try to calm you down. Simply punishing the destructive behaviour is not fair for your dog because a dog that engages in any of these activities may simply be experiencing boredom and trying to seek some relief from the monotony of his life.
You would be far better off to see any destructive behaviour for what may be underlying it. Have you given your dog a meaningful walk in the days before? Did you leave your dog with some interactive food toys? When was the last time you did some meaningful training? Has your dog been separated from you for long periods?
The question of separation is an interesting one. I would classify a dog who lives in the back yard, even when their humans are inside, as alone. If you must have your dog living outside your task will be greater to offer your dog meaningful walks, training, interaction with family members and environment enrichment. Dogs kept outside still require a serious time commitment.
The best way to combat boredom is to spend more time with your dog, allow your dog to live in the home with you and take him for appropriate walks. You can also enrich your dog’s environment for times when they are separated from you.
Dogs are social animals and thrive when they have the companionship of their family and interesting things to occupy their time. Every dog requires a change of scenery, your daily walks should be as much about physical exercise as they are about mental exercise. Allow your dog to smell the smells and watch the sights, train him on a walk with simple attention cues like looking at you when you say his name and practice sit and focus exercises. Bring your dog inside after a long off lead walk and you will find he will settle down nicely, having your dog around you is an easy way to alleviate his boredom.
If you need to keep your dog outside give him something appropriate to engage his energy. Toys on their own are unlikely to help, the toys need to be reinforcing in a constructive way, the toys that do this best are the ones you can stuff with your dog’s food or treats. If your dog spends long hours alone feed him exclusively from these toys and from your hand for training. Zoos around the world are doing this with great success among captive animals to stop them from becoming bored in their enclosures.
Not all destructive behaviour is boredom related, however, try some of the above suggestions and see if it makes a difference to your dog and to your home. A good dog trainer will also be able to help by taking a thorough history, diagnosing the possible cause of the destructiveness and coming up with a plan of action specific to your situation and needs.