Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
To stop a dog from destroying plants, it helps to get to the "root of the problem," pun intended. By "digging deeper" and understanding why your dog is ultimately performing this behavior, you can have better insight into your dog's mind and learn how you can "eradicate" this problem behavior before it "puts roots" and becomes more and more established.
While dogs don't have a green thumb in the same way humans do, they certainly find plants fascinating and sometimes even our behaviors may influence them.
However, they show their passion for plants in some peculiar ways: by grabbing them, shredding them into pieces, or ingesting them—hopefully not the toxic ones! Their approach to "gardening" certainly won't be appreciated by any plant-lover out there!
So why are dogs so enamored with plants? And most of all what can be done to stop Rover from munching on your plants? The following are several reasons why dogs keep destroying plants.
Why Do Dogs Love to Destroy Plants?
We may never really know why dogs do the odd things they do. Until Rover can sit down and talk to us, we can only make some assumptions. The following are some possible reasons why dogs are so fixated on destroying your beloved plants.
The Power of Emulation
Has your dog ever started digging after watching you shovel? Have you ever seen him uproot your flower bulbs after you have just planted them? Dogs may sometimes feel tempted to imitate what they see us doing.
The technical term is "social facilitation." Socially-facilitating behaviors in dogs may include barking, playing and anything else dogs see people or other dogs do and that they may feel compelled into doing. In simple words, it's the phenomenon of one dog or person doing something which draws others into doing the same thing.
So if your dog is attracted to your plants, it may simply be because he has watched you interact with them, only that dogs interact with plants the only way they know: by using their mouths and paws, which leads to... you got it... destructive behaviors!
A Matter of Boredom
Sometimes, your dog may be more bored than usual. Perhaps too many snowy days in a row have led to missed walkies or perhaps your dog has a surge in his energy levels and this may have created a deeper deprivation state.
Here's the thing: When dogs are bored, things they normally see can become extra salient and therefore attractive to them.
Plants Draw Attention
Perhaps, something about a particular plant has caught your dog's attention. Perhaps you had recently watered it and the dirt smells good, maybe some worms or bugs may have established, maybe a leaf fell to the floor and it stimulated your dog's prey drive or maybe as she walked by she brushed her fur against the plant and this got her attention. Several possibilities. . .
Possible Tummy Troubles
If your dog has never chewed up plants before and now he is suddenly eating leaves as if there's no tomorrow, consider the possibility of an upset tummy. There are many signs of an upset stomach in dogs.
Maybe your dog got a bit nauseous and decided to nibble on the plant. Many dogs are drawn to plants, grass, flowers, or leaves when their tummy is upset as they naturally feel the need to ingest grass to induce themselves to vomit.
A Combo of Factors
Sometimes, more than looking at one culprit, dog behavior is triggered by a combo of things. Something about the plant caught your dog's attention: Maybe she was a bit bored, and you were away, and therefore, the stars may have just aligned right, giving her the perfect opportunity to engage in the behavior.
How to Stop a Dog From Destroying Plants
Now that you know several possible reasons as to why dogs destroy plants, consider this: Because dogs find the act of destroying plants reinforcing, they'll feel compelled to repeat it again.
This can happen to you too. If you enjoy a nice flick at a movie theater, you'll feel more motivated to visit the movie theatre again in the future.
That's the power of reinforcement: Behaviors that have a favorable outcome will strengthen and repeat.
With this in mind, let's get to the beefy part of this article: how to stop your dog from destroying your plants. Here are a few ideas that come to mind.
Rule Out an Upset Stomach
Signs of tummy troubles in dogs include drooling, smacking lips, licking carpets/floors, swallowing often, burping, pacing and trying to ingest grass when sent out in the yard.
There can also be some other underlying medical causes for dogs who engage in new behaviors out of the blue. So if your dog suddenly becomes obsessed with eating plants, it may be worth mentioning it to the vet.
Provide More Mental Enrichment
This may be worth considering because sometimes dogs undergo life changes where they may need more mental stimulation than usual (like during doggy adolescence).
Among the possible owner-absent problematic behaviors displayed in dogs, boredom, needs to be kept in top consideration. "Idle paws are a devil's workshop" goes the canine version of this biblical statement.
Here's the thing: When boredom sets in, there is only one solution that comes to mind in dogs: alleviating it! And what better way than ripping those leaves into a million pieces? And oh, it's so nice to sniff dirt and empty the pot. So much fun!
If you look at the history of most dogs, you'll find that they were mostly working for most of the day. Need some examples? Beagles were busy chasing hares; Yorkies kept mice out of mills; coonhounds were barking their heads off when raccoons were treed; Goldens were catching shot birds falling down the sky for most of the day.
After a day of work in the field, once home, these tired working dogs could only think about ending their days eating a meal and then falling asleep by a crackling fire.
This means, that most modern dogs nowadays struggle when they are kept home unemployed for most of their day. It's not like they can engage themselves with a TV show or a game of Sudoku!
Left to their own devices, they'll come up with their own "hobbies," but owners won't certainly find them amusing when it involves their precious plants!
So try your best to keep your dog's brain busy with some chew toys, brain games or food puzzles. If your dog loves to dig, provide him with his own private digging area with sand and buried toys.
Train Your Dog to "Leave It"
This handy cue will inform your dog that you don't want him to interact with whatever he's thinking about interacting with. When trained fluently, it can stop your dog in his tracks. So use this cue when you notice your dog is thinking about playing with your plants. Here's how to teach it: how to train your dog to leave it.
Now, many dogs come to learn to leave things when we are in sight, but not when we are away and not watching. If your dog's plant destruction behavior begins right when you leave, you may need to dog-proof your leaves.
Firstly, train this fluently when you are in sight. Then, pretend to leave the room, yard or garden where your tempting plant it, but watch your dog closely from around a corner, through an outdoor window if your dog is indoors, or an indoor window if he's outdoors, or you can even use a mirror or baby monitor to remotely observe your dog. The moment he begins to show an intent to mess with your plant, remind him to "leave it."
After several trials, your dog may learn to leave your plant alone however, don't count on this training entirely! A time may always come when, for some reason or another, your dog may get bored and may want to re-engage in the unwanted behavior. This brings us to the ultimate best solution: management as detailed below!
Keep Your Dog Confined
For example, you can keep your dog confined in a “dog-proofed” area where he can't rehearse his plant-destruction behaviors. You can therefore put your dog behind a baby gate to keep his mind off the plant if the plant is indoors, or you can build an outdoor kennel where you can temporarily keep your dog if your dog's favorite past-time is pestering your plants in the garden.
Keep Plants Out of Reach
Alternatively, you can keep plants out of reach. Indoors, you can invest in some pretty hanging wall vases, or if the plant is outdoors, you can use temporary fencing that can be wrapped around pots securing it with twisty-ties. This may work best for larger vases that are difficult to knock down. For large areas, more fencing options may be available from your local home improvement stores.
Often, it's just fairer to leave tempting items out of Rover's reach rather than leaving them around to lure them all the time. Sort of how it's done with toddlers- where we keep things locked up or out of reach of grabby hands!
And this can also ultimately be the safest option. After all, not all plants are dog friendly and some can be even outright toxic, so it's best to err on the side of caution with a plant-eating dog.
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.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on February 11, 2021:
You’ve created another interesting and useful article. The only plant that my dogs have ever eaten is grass, but I want to be prepared for future possibilities. Thanks for sharing the information.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 11, 2021:
alexadry Your information about dog's behaviours are accurate and most helpful. Tips such as this is important to every dog owner and you share what is important. Most dog owners don't know these behaviors and for waht reasons.
FlourishAnyway from USA on February 10, 2021:
I liked your commentary on "unemployed" dogs. With the pandemic it seems my cats say they are working overtime trying to make sure the people of the house are ok. They nip at my plants, too, for many of the same reasons you cite regarding dogs.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 09, 2021:
Only "plant" my guy likes is grass. Doesn't seem too interested in the others.
Good tips, as always!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 08, 2021:
I always wondered if dogs ate gress, etc. due to an upset stomach. This is a very good article, Adrienne, as it gives us a wealth of information on the problem out it.of dogs eating plants and what to do about it.
Sp Greaney from Ireland on February 08, 2021:
Dogs are such funny creatures. They seem to do the weirdest things. I definitely think if I had a dog doing this I would apply the 'leave it' rule or give them tasks to increase mental stimulation to avoid this issue.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 08, 2021:
Your tips are always good ones. We finally learned that a dog cage can be invaluable when leaving a dog, especially a puppy, home alone. We had lots of things ruined before we finally got a dog cage. Our first dog actually ate some prickly cactus!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 08, 2021:
Great information! I appreciate your thoughts on this with spring coming soon and with it planting season.