We love giving our dogs new toys. But no matter what kind of toy it is, both Luna and Brody will eventually try to destroy them. I know we're not alone in this - it's pretty common for dogs to destroy their toys. You're also not alone if you've asked yourself "why do dogs destroy their toys?" Read on to find out the possible reasons for the behavior, the risks of toy destruction and what you can do to prevent it.
1. Prey Drive
Dogs descended from wild canines who had to hunt, capture and kill their prey. Though domesticated, our dogs still instinctively exhibit behaviors from their ancestors. So one theory about why dogs destroy their toys is that it comes from their innate impulse to hunt and kill prey. This is similar to the idea that dogs love squeaky toys because they resemble prey and trigger an instinctive prey drive. This is also similar to the theory that dogs shake their toys because that was the method their ancestors used to kill prey. Toy destruction motivated by prey drive is commonly seen with noisy toys and dissipates once the noise has been successfully "extinguished" (or removed).
Pro Tip: Try giving your dog toys that look like or match the size of what would have been their prey. For example, a duck-sized toy for large dogs and a mouse-sized one for small dogs. Bonus points if it's a squeaky toy as that will resemble the sound of their prey.
2. Boredom or Frustration
Dogs are energetic animals that become bored or frustrated when they don't receive enough physical exercise, mental stimulation or attention. The boredom or frustration comes with excess energy they can't expel, which often compels them to turn to destructive behaviors. And your dog's toys may be their latest victims. Destroying toys is one way they release pent-up energy (much in the way zoomies do) or get their owner's attention.
Pro Tip: Make sure your dog is receiving a sufficient amount of physical exercise, mental stimulation and attention. Daily walks, playtime, brain games, puzzle toys, hiking, running, pats and cuddle sessions can all work to alleviate boredom and frustration in dogs.
Dogs are also sensitive and emotional beings that can develop anxiety, particularly separation anxiety when left alone for awhile at a time. Much like destroying toys releases energy from boredom or frustration, the same can be said for anxiety. A dog may destroy its toys to release anxious energy (though they commonly turn to tearing apart household items). Dogs with anxiety typically need more attention and reassurance than dogs without it.
Pro Tip: Exercise can help dogs with anxiety. For separation anxiety, try exercising your dog before you leave them to ease their stress and tire them out. Also give them puzzle toys, feeders or safe chewing bones to keep them busy while you're gone. If none of these help, consult your vet and consider a professional trainer.
4. Learned Behavior
Dogs are quick to learn, especially when they receive positive reinforcement. Destroying toys can also be a learned behavior. How so? If an owner finds it cute or endearing when their sweet pup acts all tough and mighty, destroying their toys, they may unintentionally encourage the behavior (by laughing, smiling, praising, etc.). The positive attention teaches our dogs that this behavior is okay, thus becoming a learned behavior they will continue to do.
Pro Tip: You may be able to curb your dog's destruction of toys by playing with them and removing the toy when playtime becomes too rough. Teaching your dog a "drop" cue can help them know when to let go of a toy as well.
5. It’s Fun, Challenging And Interactive
Some dogs destroy their toys simply because it's fun. Dogs like doing challenges and having a task to complete. Destroying a toy can be seen as a task to your dog, since it has a clear end point or goal. Furthermore, dogs may see the ripping noises a toy makes as a "reaction" to your dog's play. This makes it more mentally stimulating than something that doesn't change or react in any way.
Pro Tip: Try giving your dog more interactive toys or tasks to complete. You can do so with puzzle toys, brain games, nose work and other problem-solving games.
6. The Wrong Type Of Toy For Your Dog
Some toys just aren't good matches for certain dogs. Thin or plush toys often won't hold up to heavy chewers and toy destroyers. If you know your dog is one of these, opt for more durable options like hard rubber toys. Your dog may also benefit from toys that are designed to pose a challenge, such as treat-dispensing and puzzle toys. Buying the wrong type or size toy is a common mistake that every dog owner makes (and almost has to, to find the right match for your dog). Fortunately, it's easy to fix.
The Risks Of Toy Destruction
Though it may seem mostly harmless, toy destruction poses some risks. For starters, your dog may eventually expand their destructive behaviors beyond toys. Dog beds, couch cushions, pillows, furniture, base boards and more can become your dog's next chewing victims. More urgently, though, destruction of toys and other items can be dangerous to your pup. Your dog may try to eat what they destroyed, which can be a choking hazard or cause intestinal obstruction (which could require surgery to resolve). So you'll want to supervise your dog during play, make destroyable toys inaccessible while away and quickly remove any parts of toys your dog un-stuffs.
How To Prevent Toy Destruction
Toy destruction can be a tough habit to beat but there are a few ways to deal with it:
- Only give your dog tough toys or toys for heavy chewers.
- Give your dog more interactive toys for mental stimulation (like brain games, puzzle toys, treat-dispensing toys and other task-oriented games).
- Provide your dog with sufficient physical exercise (daily walks, runs, swimming, hiking, etc.).
- Spend more time with your dog, (for example, through one-on-one playtime and cuddle sessions).
- Train your puppy to play gently with toys.
- Remove access to destroyable toys while you're away.
- Give your dog things to chew, such as bully sticks and other long-lasting treats.
- Consult your vet or find a professional dog trainer and behaviorist.