How to Stop a Destructive Dog

Dogs are meant to live active lives!

Many studies, especially those conducted by zoos, have shown that enriching an animal’s environment improves the psychological and physical well-being of animals which can help stop a dog from being destructive.

The co-authors of Beyond Squeaky Toys break down enrichment for animals into six different categories and there are games to consider that may be a good fit for your dog (and you). Remember that enrichment is for ALL dogs, some may need a “job” and some may be couch potatoes but this applies to every canine!

Beyond Squeaky Toys: Six types of enrichment to help stop destructive dogs

1.   Social enrichment

It provides opportunities for a pet to spend time with other animals and people in new, different environments. Examples include:

  • Trips to a public space. My three dogs enjoy outings at the beach and river.
  • Going shopping. We work on leash reactivity and any retail outlet that allows dogs is a great environment for enrichment.
  • Going to the office. My husband takes our dog Sherman to work on Thursdays.
  • Snuffle Mats: These provide a way for you and your dog to bond! You fill up the shuffle mat with tiny treats and they hunt and forage. This can also fall into the next category.

2. Cognitive enrichment

Provides opportunities for thinking and problem-solving. Examples include: 

  • Puzzle toys. Fantastic for dogs that are constantly busy and need a job between meals.
  • K9 Nosework. Another sport we’re big fans of. All dogs can excel at this odor game.
  • Hide and seek. Hide treats in kongs and hide them throughout the house!

3. Physical enrichment

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Day Twenty-One Another fun little exercise to try, is to set up an obstacle or ‘confidence’ course for your dog. This can be easily be modified to suit the fitness or age of your dog (e.g puppies should not be jumping over/off of objects more than a few inches from the floor). Both of these will help with your dog’s proprioception. Proprioception is essentially your dog’s awareness of space and their understanding of what their paws and body are doing. With better proprioception comes better balance and more confidence to safely explore their surroundings. It’s especially important to work on this with puppies so that when they experience new textures and obstacles, they do not become scared of them, but can instead fall back on their previous learning in order to cope with the situation. This is where a “confidence course” can be used with your dog gently being encouraged to explore a variety of surfaces such as bubble wrap, plastic bags, rubber mats, wooden planks etc. You can also use anything safe in the environment, in order for them to get used to stepping over objects, walking between parallel lines or bending around obstacles such as cones or poles. Movement should be slow and considered and nothing should be forced upon your dog. We set up a quick one this afternoon, stepping onto and over a box, walking over the rungs of a ladder, through the legs of the stool and over bags and bubble wrap. For older dogs (usually 1+ years), agility is a great way of building your dog’s fitness, balance, flexibility and enhancing your bond with your dog whilst continuing to work on their proprioceptive skills. Twix usually goes to agility training, but with the current situation, that’s come to a halt for now. We have a few bits of equipment so have still enjoyed a bit of training, but there are lots of things you could use in order to recreate a mini agility course. Use garden canes and pots to create a jump, or even a broom will do! You could even (safely!) make a little ramp for your dog to walk over or recreate a tunnel with chairs. Keep everything slow, safe and appropriate for your dog and have fun with it 🙂.

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Blanket forts andtents! Dogs enjoy when you mix it up at home and add elements that they’re notused to seeing in the environment. 

  • Provide a bury/dig pit. This is simple. Buy a dog or kiddie pool and fill it up with sand. You can even hide toys for your dogs to dig up. If your dog likes to dig like ours do than you will be their best friends after introducing this!
  • Pop-up tunnel. Similar to what’s used in agility, these can be purchased online, and our doxies love tearing through them in the backyard.  
  • Fill a kiddie pool with balls: Load balls into it, which prove to be utterly impossible to get out, while bobbing around in the water!

4. Sensory enrichment

Sensory enrichmentisn’t unique but a form of enrichment that stimulates any of the five senses.Nosework is another good example.  

  • Bubbles, bubbles, and bubbles! You can even buy bacon-flavored bubbles for dogs. And you should buy these!
  • Herbs and spices. Are you growing mint in your garden? Add that to various areas where your dog likes to use his nose.
  • Farm animal scents. We use our chickens and all the wonderful smells as a way toenrich our dogs when we take afternoon walks.
  • Wind chimes can be fun toys that offer new sounds to cats and dogs. Note that if your dog is super sound sensitive to choose chimes that are “softer” sounding!

5. Feeding enrichment

This enrichment area is all about making mealtime more interesting! Hand feeding can be enriching for dogs that need to learn to use a soft mouth. Ask our staff about these below toys! We sell them all! One is for kibble (puzzle toy) and the others you could hide in a sandbox.

  • Treats under a blanket. Simple—just hide them out of sight!
  • A puzzle feeder can slow down gulpers and stimulate the mind.
  • Ice cube containers. Try freezing small toys in giant ice cubes and see how long before they can get access to them!
  • Muffin tin ball feeder. Cheapest nosework game you’ll find. Literally, put tennis balls in the muffin tin and hide food under some of the balls.
  • LickiMats are all the rage these days! These mats can be enjoyed by dogs for hours. You simply add food to the mats and your dogs lick it off!

6. Toy enrichment

Toy enrichment alleviates boredom! Get creative! (see above pic for other toy ideas!)

  • Stuff old clothing with anything smelly, like grass clippings.
  • Snoops: Planet Dog makes a puzzle toy that even the smartest dog needs a little assistance with after it is full of treats.
  • Old paper towel rolls: Fill these with tiny treats and your dog will spend his snack time finding his reward.

Enrichment doesn’t take a lot of time or money. Many of these tips are low maintenance and take just a few minutes, but will go a long way in stopping your dogs from being destructive.

You might also be interested in “Organizing Dog Gear: How to Declutter on a Budget”

enrichment to help stop destructive dogs
Cute Treeing Tennessee Brindle striped dog flying through the air air to catch a frisbee which is a sport called Disc Dog at a big grass field on a beautiful sunny morning.

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