Adrienne is a certified professional dog trainer, dog behavior consultant and former veterinarian assistant for an AAHA animal hospital.
To stop a dog from destroying the couch, you have several options but some of them require that you put yourself in your dog's paws and get inventive. Sometimes, the best solutions to doggy problems require you to "think like a dog, but act like a human."
Let's face it: Nobody wants a dog who will rip an expensive couch into pieces removing the internal stuffing and leaving around a mess as if a tornado just ripped through the house!
The worst part is that couch-ripping dogs tend to be repeat offenders. Once they get a taste of the couch, they'll want to repeat the experience over and over.
Also important is mentioning the fact that dogs who rip couches also risk complications such as choking on the ingested material or developing a dog bowel obstruction which can turn costly and complicated if surgery is needed.
But why do dogs destroy couches though? And what makes the behavior so addicting?
By better understanding the underlying causes, you'll be better equipped to help your canine companion while preserving your lovely couch.
Why Does My Dog Destroy the Couch?
The beauty of behavior when it comes to our canine companions is that not all dog behaviors are created equally. Indeed, just as snowflakes, each dog is blessed with his own personality and behavior quirks.
There is therefore couch destruction and couch destruction. Following are several main reasons why dogs destroy the couch.
Separation anxiety in dogs somewhat resembles a panic attack, taking place when the affected dogs are left alone.
According to the University of Saskatchewan, this disorder is prevalent in between 20 and 40 percent of all dogs that are treated by animal behavior specialists in North America (Simpson 2000, as reviewed by Thielke and Udell 2017).
Affected dogs tend to grow increasingly nervous as their owners prepare to leave, often pacing, whining, and trembling. After the owner leaves, their anxiety culminates into pacing, whining, drooling, barking, howling and sometimes having pee or poop accidents.
Some dogs in their sheer panic to reunite with their owners will scratch and chew doors, windowsills, or blinds.
And then some others may vent their frustration through displacement behaviors which may include destroying things such as couches and cushions, cupboard doors, or other wholly innocent targets, explains Dr. Nicolas Dodman in his book: "Pets on the Couch, Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds, and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry."
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Some dogs get particularly stressed when left alone or when they are fearful of noises or things they see from a window. Their chewing, therefore, acts as a way to release their stress.
If your dog has started to chew the couch out of the blue, evaluate whether recent changes in his life (like moving, a new baby or a new pet) may have stressed him up.
Boredom/Desire to Play
Imagine being left for hours at home and just sitting the entire time doing nothing. This is how your dog feels. It's not like he can grab a pen and play Sudoku or turn on the T.V. to watch T.V. show marathons.
Boredom or a strong desire to play is, therefore, a common cause of couch destruction, especially when a dog is left alone. This form of couch chewing is most popular among dogs younger than one year of age.
Watching a recording of these dogs when left alone often reveals overall calm dogs, but who are destructive, points out board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Meredith Stepita.
A Matter of Material
Couches have many traits that make them appealing to dogs. For instance, many dogs are attracted to leather, whether it's shoes, clothing or couches.
Here's the thing: Leather ranks high as a favorite type of material to chew on because it smells good and tastes good since it's made of cattle hide.
On top of this, chewing on leather is rewarding on its own as it tends to become softer and tastier the more the dog chews on it.
Couches with stuffing can also be fun to destroy. This is because, from a dog's perspective, the stuffing reminds them of prey animals.
Basically, the stuffing mimics the entrails of a prey animal that needs to be de-gutted. Hence, why dogs love so much to break open toys and remove the stuffing (to the owner's dismay!).
As mentioned, younger dogs are particularly prone to engaging in chewing and general destructive behaviors. This is because young dogs have high energy levels and get easily bored. Adolescent dogs in particular need lots of mental stimulation to keep busy.
Think only puppies are prone to chewing due to teething? Think again. Many puppies and young dogs love to chew even long after their permanent teeth are in place.
It is rather common for chewing to continue for 1 and a half years, points out veterinary behaviorist Dr. Bonnie Beaver, in her book Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers.
How Can I Stop This Behavior?
Many dog owners wonder how to stop their dogs from destroying the couch. The truth is, as we have seen, dogs may chew the couch for various reasons. Tackling the underlying cause is therefore key to solving the problem.
Firstly though, know your enemy. Be warned that chewing is a self-reinforcing behavior. This means that chewing has an appeal of its own and that you are against some strong competition. This is why you want to get to the bottom of this and tackle it from different angles.
*If your dog chews the couch when in your presence, you may find it helpful to train him or her the "leave it" cue.
1) Accept a Dog's Need to Chew
Firstly, consider that chewing is important to dogs. They were born to chew. Have teeth-must chew. When your dog chews, he's only doing what comes naturally to him. It's ingrained and part of being a dog.
Also, consider that dogs don't have the same set of values humans do, so they don't know how expensive a couch is compared to a piece of cardboard.
By bringing dogs into our lives, it is our responsibility to prevent them from chewing things they shouldn't and to provide them with suitable outlets for releasing their stress and boredom and catering to their natural needs.
2) Record Your Dog's Behavior
You can receive some insights on what's triggering your dog's couch-destruction behavior by recording your dog when you leave him alone. You don't need to record for very long, even 15 minutes will do.
Even better, watch your dog remotely as you stick nearby so that you can promptly return should he start acting destructive.
After recording, watch the recording and look for signs of anxious or calm behaviors associated with the destructive behavior.
It's always a good idea to show the recording to a dog behavior professional such as a force-free dog trainer/behavior consultant or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist for a more accurate interpretation while also providing as many details as possible about your dog's behavior history.
3) Help Your Dog Cope With Separation
If your dog's recording and behavioral history reveal signs of separation anxiety, it's important to work on the issue.
This often requires a systematic approach involving behavior modification, possibly along with the use of calming supplements/prescription medications.
Here are several methods to stop separation anxiety in dogs.
4) Help Your Dog Cope With Boredom
Dogs who are bored and understimulated, benefit from increased enrichment in their environment. It can therefore help leave your dog with long-lasting treats that he can safely consume such as bully sticks, food-dispensing toys, frozen peanut butter Kongs and everlasting treat balls, further suggests Dr. Stepita.
I personally like to mix kibble with water and then stuff it inside a Kong to be frozen for a few hours for a long-lasting food puzzle without any extra calories.
Rotating a variety of long-lasting treats and toys is helpful so to keep your dog's interest alive. When you first try to give some specific edibles or toys, make sure you are around so to ensure your dog consumes them in a safe manner.
Consider that young dogs are often the ones more likely to chew. As these dogs mature—past 12 to 24 months—they may calm down and learn to not destroy things as they did when younger.
5) Provide Stress Release
For dogs who chew due to stress, it helps to reduce the stress in their lives. If your dog is fearful of noises, consider keeping the TV on or a fan to produce some white noise.
If there are outdoor sights that stress your dog, create a visual barrier using window film or blocking off access to windows. There are also a variety of calming aids on the market for stressed dogs.
6) Drain Some Energy
It does help somewhat to drain a dog's energy before leaving him home alone. Therefore walking, running, playing with your dog can help drain some excess energy that may be otherwise used to engage in destructive behaviors.
Mouth-oriented dog breeds, in particular, may enjoy activities that keep their mouths busy.
Try occupying their mouths by playing tug-of-war with them before leaving the home and then leaving them with several safe chews.
7) Provide Your Dog With Companionship
Your dog may struggle being left alone for too long either because he's anxious or bored and this may trigger destructive behaviors.
In such cases, it may be helpful to take your dog to doggy daycare or hire a pet sitter or dog walker or just have a friendly neighbor swing by midday.
8) Prevent Access to the Couch
Management goes a long way when it comes to destructive behaviors. Management simply means that you control your dog's environment by preventing access to things he may be prone to destroying.
Management sets your dog up for success. Although your dog doesn't learn to stop destroying the couch, at least, he doesn't get to rehearse the problem behavior over and over which makes it addicting and more difficult to eradicate.
Management works great as a transient solution, at least until your dog matures and becomes less destructive or until your dog learns how to better cope with his anxiety/ boredom.
So in this case, you can move the couch to another room or section it off using a tall and wide pet gate (like those made by Carlson) or surround it with an exercise pen making it inaccessible to your dog.
9) Restrain Your Dog
Management may also entail keeping your dog restrained in some way so that he doesn't access the couch. So in other words, your dog can be kept inside a crate, behind a baby gate or pet gate or confined in an exercise pen or playpen.
This way, you don't have to worry anymore about the expensive couch being destroyed or your dog risking a blockage.
Consider though that, in general, dogs suffering from separation anxiety struggle with being crated, so it may work best to keep the dog in a dog-proofed room, where the dog feels more comfortable.
Dogs who have never been crated before may struggle too. Crate training needs to be done gradually so to create positive associations with being crated.
10) Avoid Punishment
It is very tempting for dog owners to get upset with their dogs upon coming home from work and finding a disaster. However, getting mad at Rover risks only making matter worse.
Your dog will likely feel more stressed and this can trigger a vicious cycle of more chewing to release stress.
Not to mention that your dog may come to mistrust you and will associate your anger with whatever he was doing when you came home (like just looking at you or wagging his tail).
And despite what you may have heard, studies have shown that the doggy "guilty look" is not clear-cut evidence of guilt, but rather a dog's response to their owner's angered state, and therefore, a way to attempt to reduce conflict and diffuse tension.
What About Taste Deterrents?
Some dog owners use taste deterrents such as Bitter Apple Spray to spray on their couch. While these sprays can be effective since they give the couch a bitter taste that dogs should dislike, some dogs don't care about it and some even appear to like the taste!
On top of this, some couches may be damaged by the spray depending on the material and type of spray.
Stopping a dog from destroying the couch often requires a multi-faceted approach. By exercising your dog prior to leaving him home alone, leaving him with long-lasting chews and making the couch difficult to access, with time, you should see a reduction in the couch-destroying behavior.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli