I am a proud owner of a terrier who likes to give advice on how to prevent their destructive behavior.
Why Is My Terrier So Destructive?
Your terrier loves to rip up paper, and he does not care whether it’s a piece of scrap paper or a legal document. It must be satisfying for a dog, like popping bubble wrap. Your dog really gets off on carrying small throw rugs around and shaking them. This destructiveness has now carried over to welcome mats, and the edge of the dust ruffle on your bed. Your terrier is flat bad.
I know this too well. Look down a little farther on this article, and I’ve posted a couple of photos of miniature schnauzer destruction in my house. Can you relate? Oh, my miniature schnauzer is four years old—long past the puppy stage.
Now, some other breeds of dogs have the potential to be destructive. But the terrier has a special talent for ripping up your house. Let’s face it—with their high prey drive and boundless energy, terriers like to pretend that they have a small rodent in their jaws, and they need to finish it off.
Are You Fed Up With Your Terrier?
I suspect we dog people who own terriers have a chip missing in our brains. We must like a challenge! It’s what makes life exciting, right?
I know your terrier is cute. Believe me. The naughty, feisty, bossy, mischievous, and manipulative terrier has an outsized personality. Sometimes, instead of shaking your head in amazement, you just have to laugh at some of his antics. Don’t worry. After some training, your terrier will continue to act in the moment, but in a more controlled way. The charm and spunk will still be there, but your possessions will be spared. The results will be worth every bit of time you put into training your dog. And like me, you just might be able—finally—to go and look at new furniture in the department store.
I’m going to assume that you already provide enough exercise for your terrier. That might be an unwarranted assumption, though.
It’s absolutely essential that you drain some of your dog’s energy on a daily schedule before you can have one prayer of stopping his destructive tendencies. Remember, a tired dog is a good dog.
Try to walk your terrier at least once per day for 30 minutes. Twice per day is better, but if you can’t, there are games and other physical activities that will help. Teaching your dog a complicated trick is a good mental exercise that may tire your dog (remember how you felt after you finished taking a difficult exam?) My miniature schnauzer, Meadow, gets walked 1.5 miles every morning, and I plan to do even more daily walking once we get past this heat wave here in Texas.
When Is Your Terrier Destructive?
Is your dog destructive only when you’re at home? Or does he/she tear up paper once you have left the house?
I’ve got to admit that Meadow confines her destructiveness to the times that I’m home. It’s almost as if she wants more attention, and any kind of attention, even negative attention, will work for her. Meadow is a perfect angel when I leave for several hours. I’ve also been in contact with a professional dog trainer, Julie Bjelland, and it’s her opinion that some dogs view their owner’s presence as a source of stimulation and excitement, and that sometimes goes off into destruction.
If your terrier exhibits destructiveness when you are out of the house, make sure that he doesn’t have separation anxiety. Talk to your vet about this. Your dog may also be bored while you are gone, and if he doesn’t get enough exercise, that’s just asking for trouble.
At any rate, here is what has been working for me. I used Bjelland’s book, Imagine Life With a Well-Behaved Dog as a guide. I recommend her work.
How to Start: 10 Precious Days
Now that we know the exercise needs are being taken care of, it’s time for two things.
First, wear a belt around your waist, put your dog on-leash, and tie the end of the leash to your belt. Keep your dog tethered to you most of the time while you’re home. It’s not that hard—honest!
Tethering your dog to you is a standard method that many trainers recommend. Do you know why? If they’ve got a bothersome behavior to correct, your dog is close to you at all times, and you can catch him in the act. This is many times recommended for dogs that are having difficulties with housebreaking, but it is also good for destructive dogs.
While tethered to you, your destructive terrier cannot reach most forbidden possessions. He has to pay attention to you, and follow your every move. This gives him something to do while you are teaching and reinforcing obedience commands. If he doesn’t have the freedom to get into things, he at least has the opportunity to do some good things, which you, like a good dog owner, will notice and comment on, right? After all, you’ll see just about everything he does. Keep treats nearby while you are on the computer, and praise him when he lies quietly at your feet. He’s being so good that you can’t help but give him treats!
I recommend keeping your dog on-leash with you for ten days to two weeks. This is really easy to do if you are home a lot, but if you are employed, I recommend you do it when you are on vacation, with a week and two weekends to work with. Dedicate that ten days to working hard with your dog.
Keeping Meadow on-leash and working with her on obedience, I noticed a difference in her behavior within four days.
The next thing you should do during that two weeks is teach your dog obedience commands, or reinforce some commands he already knows.
At the very least, teach him “sit”, “sit-stay”, “down”, “down-stay”, “leave it”, “come”, and “drop it.” You can find many books at your public library which will give you the basics, and there are scads of articles to investigate on the web. I’ve included some training links at the bottom of this article.
You’re going to have to be very determined with your terrier. Your terrier is stubborn and wants things done his way, so be prepared. Keep practicing the commands, and eventually, take a step up and work with distractions. You want your dog to follow your commands, both inside and outside on a walk or on a Thanksgiving visit out of town.
Terriers and Training
How easy are terriers to work with on obedience? How smart are they?
According to the book The Intelligence of Dogs, by Stanley Coren, the ten most intelligent dog breeds do not include the terrier group. The top ten features such dogs as the border collie, the poodle, the German shepherd, the golden retriever, and the Doberman. These are the easiest dogs to train because they not only learn commands fast, but they are more consistent in performing the commands—on the order of 95% of the time. I’ve also got a toy poodle, and I know it’s true in my experience.
The miniature schnauzer is ranked number 12 (in the next group of #11-26) on the list of breeds. This group is designated the “excellent working dog” group. The mini schnauzer is the only terrier in this smart group.
When you get to the next group, the “above-average dog”, many terrier types are in this group – among them the Yorkshire terrier, the Airedale, the Cairn, the Norwich terrier, and the American Staffordshire terrier.
Why am I bringing this up? Because I want you to know that there is a reason why your terrier is harder to train. But don’t throw in the towel too soon. Never give up on your terrier. Be patient, and you’ll see results.
I still don’t have a solid and consistent “down” for Meadow, and we’ve been practicing for two weeks. We’ll get there.
What You Can Expect to See
During the first two weeks, I predict you’ll begin to see your dog’s mind working. Has your terrier always loved to upturn the mat in your kitchen? Does it look ragged because of that? You may see your terrier hesitate for a couple of seconds, pass by the mat, and go get an appropriate chew toy instead.
You see, your terrier has always known that certain objects are off-limits. He knows that there are toys and rawhide chews that he should go and get when he feels restless and bored. And that’s mainly because he usually got a piece of your mind when he was observed with a piece of your mail in his mouth. He continued, however, to show a lack of respect regarding your possessions, because either you weren’t consistent enough with your corrections, or his energy wasn’t drained properly, or some other reason that is patently obvious.
Consistency is important in training. Don’t be like the woman in the video here, with her schnauzer. I’m tempted to laugh at this video of Chester and his owner, and I still do, because I have observed this very naughtiness so many times with my own schnauzer. Terriers exert their own brand of irresistible charm, don’t they?
With longstanding behavior problems, it sometimes helps to have some training aids. I own all of these aids, and I recommend them all very highly.
The first one, the Sofa Scram, is a great idea to deter dogs from jumping up on your sofa, or to make them stop removing throw pillows from the sofa, which is the problem I had. One or two times is all it takes. The alarm is highly sensitive to paws touching it, even the paws of tiny dogs. And it's a loud, squealing alarm. You can also use it under the edge of a rug, if your pet is showing too much interest in your nice rug. It will certainly get them thinking twice about urinating on your rug, or lifting up the edge! After a few times, you could probably remove the battery, and store it in a closet, or maybe loan it to a friend. As long as you don't fold and unfold the Sofa Scram too much, it will last.
The second item is the Pet Corrector, a product from the UK. This is a canister that you can carry around with you on walks, if needed. Push the button on the pressure can, and with one brief spurt, you get the sound of compressed air escaping, or a hissing noise. This is extremely effective. I've even witnessed it breaking up dog fights in the past. It scares dogs badly, and makes them jump back. But, perhaps it works best if you give a verbal warning first. Then, if your dog ignores your warning, you can press the button. The Pet Corrector is in a red can with white lettering, and it can also serve as a visual deterrent if you rest it on a forbidden object like a keyboard or a rug.
The last item is a Tattle Tale Sonic Pet Training Alarm which emits a sound lasting a few seconds if a pet tries to get a forbidden object. The alarm detects vibrations, and that's what makes it go off. Again, one or two times is all it takes. This little alarm works best if you put it under a single object like a pillow or a piece of clothing. It also detects vibrations, such as could happen if a cat jumped on a counter top. You could even mount it on a window for security reasons. I used it on my settee, and put it under a pillow, and neither of my dogs ever got on that settee again.
Change Your Attitude
Above all, remember that you’ve got to change your attitude toward your terrier. He now exists to please you, and he will learn to live within your rules, boundaries, and limitations, as Cesar Millan often says. Give affection, but I recommend giving it only when your dog responds well, and performs a command on cue. Don’t reinforce any bad behavior – only pet them for good behavior. When they begin to learn respect, you can lavish your affection a little more freely.
I think you’ll find that your terrier will continue to test you daily, even a little bit, no matter how much obedience you drill into his brain. That’s just the nature of his personality. It’s the same thing that happens with some kids. Your terrier wants to please you, but there is a part of his brain that is always looking for adventure. But at least, you can greatly improve his destructive tendencies through obedience, re-direction, games, and exercise. I know it’s working for me.
I’ve got to go now. By the way, Meadow has been tethered to my belt the whole time I’ve worked on this article. I’ve decided that her worst times for destructive behavior are when I’m on the computer for more than a few minutes. She will now be my constant buddy, computer-side!
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.
Vicente on October 16, 2019:
I let my Boston Terrier loose at night. She was destroying my furniture so I decided to keep her outside at night. Initially, she enjoyed so much being loose and in the yard. She sleeps in the balcony under cover, but lately she's been destroying everything she can. Plants, cactus, yard furniture, carpets... I wake up and wait to see what mess she has caused that night. Is stressful and scary. How can I control this??
gracenotes (author) from North Texas on February 05, 2012:
Eiddwen, thanks for your comments. None of this is easy, for a dog like I've got.
Eiddwen from Wales on February 05, 2012:
Oh what a great hub;I am so glad I found it on here .
Here's to so many more to share.
gracenotes (author) from North Texas on November 06, 2011:
Nature, thanks for your compliments. Glad you liked my writing.
Yeah, Meadow has conquered some of her more obnoxious forms of destruction; however, others I still have to be vigilant about. There's not a bathmat she doesn't want to carry around. I'm presently working with a trainer in my home, and I will be purchasing a canine treadmill, since Meadow is very difficult to tire. But a tired dog is a good dog!
Dawn Ross on November 06, 2011:
Very informative! This is great information for any breed. Training is a must, but sometimes a dog is going to do what a dog is going to do - and you're right, sometimes you just have to shake your head and laugh at their antics. I don't have a terrier but my Labrador Maya sure gives me plenty of opportunities to do just that.
gracenotes (author) from North Texas on November 05, 2011:
Yes, Mary615, eventually it seems most schnauzers become more reliable around the house. Meadow was a rescue dog, so I can't say what went on for the first couple of years of her life.
I am glad you liked the hub.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on November 05, 2011:
I loved this one! Meadow looks so much like my Baby. When Baby was younger, she loved to shed newspaper. She seemed to prefer the sports section. I'm glad to say she has never destroyed furniture, though. Enjoyed the videos, too.
gracenotes (author) from North Texas on September 19, 2011:
Getting them past the "rip up paper stage" is difficult indeed. Chihuahuas are very cute too, by the way.
Thanks for your comments.
Silver Poet from the computer of a midwestern American writer on September 18, 2011:
I love terriers. I love their feist. I own chihuahuas, and they can be almost as feisty. I never thought of the tethering idea. One of mine likes to rip up toilet paper. I'll have to try that. :)
gracenotes (author) from North Texas on September 01, 2011:
I hope that they work on your "rottie", Felicity. Another dog breed that I just love, by the way.
felicitylovespari on September 01, 2011:
Will have to see if some of these tricks work on my rottweiler!
gracenotes (author) from North Texas on August 31, 2011:
Thanks for your comments, lundmusik. I have followed you as well. I look forward to seeing more of your work.
I have to say that, early this morning, I got a phone call, and couldn't feed Meadow when I normally do. She is very apt to start acting out when she has to wait too long to fill her stomach. She has to give me a reminder that she's hungry. Yes, I had to correct this.
lundmusik from Tucson AZ on August 30, 2011:
Thanks for this hub and all the great links,,, i've written a couple of hubs on puppies,,, the one on training is a pic of our 10 weed old chijuajua/doxy mix.. I'd like to follow your hubs if that's ok.. you're welcome to follow mine too.... your comments on my animal hubs or any other of my hubs is certainly welcome!