Destructive Behavior in Dogs

It is normal for dogs to chew on things, dig, and be protective over their territory. Dogs are diagnosed with destructive tendencies when they destroy things we don’t want them to, such as furniture, shoes, doors, or carpets. Not all destructive behavior is the same, however. When a dog chews on the wrong things or digs in the wrong place but does not have any other symptoms, this is considered a primary destructive behavior. Dogs that have other symptoms like anxiety, fear, or aggression in combination with their destructive behavior are diagnosed with secondary destructive behavior. Both types of destructive behavior can lead to problems with other organs, such as teeth, skin, the stomach, or intestines, if left untreated.

Symptoms and Types

  • Primary destructive behavior
    • Chewing on small things left out in the house
    • Chewing on furniture legs or edges
    • Chewing on or eating house plants
    • Digging holes in the yard
    • Owner may or may not be around when symptoms first start
  • Secondary destructive behavior
    • Things are destroyed to get the attention of the owner
    • Owner is around to see things being destroyed
  • Obsessive-Compulsive related destruction
    • Too much time spent licking or chewing on furniture, rugs, or other things
    • Too much time spent licking or chewing on its own legs or feet
    • Frequently eating non-food items (pica)
    • Owner may or may not be around when behavior happens
  • Separation anxiety related destruction
    • Chewing on furniture, rugs or other things around the house
    • Chewing on owner’s personal items (shoes, etc.)
    • Destroying doors or windows and window sills
    • Going to the bathroom in the house when it has been house trained
    • Owner is not around when destruction occurs
    • Symptoms occur almost every time the owner is gone
  • Fear (phobia) related destruction
    • Owner is around to see symptoms
    • Symptoms may be more severe when owner is not around
    • Fear sets off the symptoms (fear of storms, fear of loud noises, etc.)
    • Pacing
    • Panting
    • Shivering
    • Hiding
  • Destruction of doors, windows, or window frames
    • Aggression related
    • Usually the dog is protecting its territory
    • Destruction happens when other people or animals approach the pet’s territory
    • Doors, windows, window sills and window frames are damaged
    • Owner is usually around to see the behavior


  • Primary destructive behavior
    • Not enough supervision
    • Not enough, or the wrong kind of chew toys
    • Not enough exercise
    • Not enough daily activity
  • Secondary destructive behavior
    • No causes have been found
    • Protecting territory may be both learned and inherited


Your veterinarian will need a complete medical and behavior history so that patterns can be established, and so that physical conditions that might be linked to the behavior can be ruled out or confirmed. Things your veterinarian will need to know include your dog’s training history, level of daily physical activity, when the destruction first started, how long it has been going on, what events seem to set off the destruction and whether or not your dog is alone when the destruction takes place. It is also important to tell your veterinarian whether the destruction has gotten worse, better, or remained the same since it was first noticed.

During the physical examination, your veterinarian will be looking for signs that your dog has a medical problem that might be causing the behavior. A complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urinalysis will be ordered. These results of these testes will tell your veterinarian whether there are any problems with your dog’s internal organs. A blood thyroid hormone level may also be ordered so that your veterinarian can determine if your dog’s thyroid level is low or high. Sometimes, imbalances of thyroid hormone can add to destructive behavior.

If your dog is eating items that are not food, a condition referred to as pica, your veterinarian will order blood and stool (fecal) tests to specifically test for disorders or nutritional deficiencies that would lead to pica. The results of these tests will indicate whether your dog is able to digest its food properly and is absorbing the nutrients that it needs from the food. If your dog is older when these behavioral problems start, your veterinarian may order a computed tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance image (MRI) of your dog’s brain. These tests will allow your veterinarian to visually examine the brain and its functioning ability, making it possible to determine if there is a brain disease or a tumor that is causing the behavior problems. If no medical problem is found, your dog will be diagnosed with having a behavioral problem.


An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness


A type of ravenous appetite that causes animals to eat or lick at strange substances


A real fear of something

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