Destructive Doggies – Tips for Survival

Don’t put your young dog in the position to make THIS choice!

By Maureen Patin CPDT-KA, Founder/Head Trainer of What a Great Dog! Training Centers

Does your dog get into everything in sight while you’re away? Preventing this takes some time and effort, but with the right strategies you can teach your dog to consistently choose his toys and not yours!

Just like toddlers, dogs, especially puppies want to put anything and everything in their mouths! While scolding can seem like the right thing to do, punishment can decrease your dog’s desire to want to train with you. The other problem with punishment is that your dog doesn’t really know why he’s getting in trouble, especially if the destruction happened earlier in the day.

Training is really all about creating the right HABITS in your dog. Learning will occur best when you set him up for success and make sure he gets LOTS of practice doing the things you want him to do. In this case, that means he needs a lot of practice choosing his toys and chew bones. You’ll also need to manage him in a way that he does NOT get to practice the habit we don’t want (i.e. destroying your things).


All dogs need lots of mental and physical stimulation. But, this is especially true with the young or destructive dog. Having a bunch of dog toys isn’t enough for this dog. He needs truly irresistible chew items and enrichment games that satisfy his needs on a daily basis. I recommend a frozen, stuffed Toppl once a day (or even twice) for the young or destructive dog. Additionally, plan to have bully sticks and NoHide chews at the ready. We also recommend increasing physical exercise for the destructive dog.  However, it is often the excess mental energy that is the bigger culprit in these cases. Going for sniff walks and participating in group training are two excellent ways to satisfy your dog’s mental enrichment needs.


When you’re home, you can set your dog up for success by first making sure he always has enticing chews and toys available. Equally important is that you keep your house picked up so he doesn’t have a chance to practice the unwanted behavior. If he does manage to get a hold off something you don’t want him to chew, convince him that his things are even BETTER!  For example, if your dog is chewing on a shoe, trade the shoe for a super yummy appropriate chew (maybe a bully stick or equally awesome item). It’s important that you have chews that your dog finds interesting and desirable, otherwise, the fair trade will not work.
If you manage the environment (not allowing access to things he shouldn’t have) for your young dog, he will develop the HABIT of chewing only his things. Then you’ll find you can ease up on yourself a bit as he chooses to walk by that shoe on his way to the chew he’s in the HABIT of playing with and chewing one.

When you’re not home, your dog most likely needs to be confined. Most young dogs and virtually all puppies are going to be destructive if left alone, loose in your home. Setting them up for success means confining them in an appropriate manner (crate, ex-pen or baby gated in a safe area) AND leaving them with super enticing (but safe) chews and toys. You want to create the HABIT of them focusing their attention on their things, not yours. It’s not fair to expect him to choose his own toys over yours if you haven’t helped him learn that habit.

Realizing that it is your job to prevent destructive behaviors from becoming your dog’s habit is the biggest part of the solution.  Only AFTER you see that your dog is ready to make the right choice, i.e. the chew bone instead of the chair leg, should you start experimenting with gradually increasing your dog’s freedom.  The outcome of your careful efforts, a lovely family companion that does not destroy your things. That’s an outcome worth working for!