Destructive Behavior

Puppies will happily spend hours chewing shoes, wrecking table legs, or shredding jackets. Part of this is due to teething -- chewing makes them feel better. And partly it's because chewing is fun, and they haven't yet learned to tell the difference between a rawhide bone and your new loafers. Most puppies go through teething between four and eight months of age.

What's normal behavior in puppies, however, is a sign of problems in older dogs. Here's what it probably means.

"What else is there to do?" Dogs will sometimes trash their owners' belongings simply because there's nothing better to do, says Kovary. It is especially common in dogs who spend a lot of time alone. They get bored and start looking for excitement. And chewing is a fun diversion.

"I'm scared to be alone." Dogs are social animals who don't like being alone. Most dogs learn to cope with it, but some get nearly frantic, and chewing and other forms of destructive behavior are their way of reducing feelings of loneliness and fear. "Your clothes and belongings have your scent on them," Kovary says. "Your dog will feel closer to you and less lonely if she chews on them and inhales some of that scent."

Regardless of what's causing your dog to chew, it's usually not that hard to make her stop, Thomas says. Probably the best solution is to buy a few chew toys -- assuming, of course, that the toys are more appealing than your possessions. "The Kong toy is one of the best toys you can buy," Thomas says. "It's made of hard rubber and is virtually indestructible. And it's hollow inside so that it can be stuffed with treats to make it even more attractive."

Another great toy is the Buster Cube. These are hollow toys with hidden compartments you can fill with food. As dogs mouth the toy and push it around, bits of food will occasionally fall out.

The promise of food can keep dogs happily engaged for hours -- and when they're playing with their own toys, they're less likely to show an interest in yours.

Dogs need more than toys to burn off excess energy. Regular exercise is essential, Thomas says. Dogs who wear themselves out on walks or by running around are much less likely to get bored and lonely. "A tired dog is a well-behaved dog," Kovary says.

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