It’s a predictable pattern—you pick out an adorable new toy for your dog and within minutes (or hours, if you’re lucky) it’s in pieces on the floor. It would be wonderful if dogs treated their toys like heirlooms or special gifts to be cherished, but the truth is that many dogs immediately go on a search and destroy mission the moment they get their paws on a fun new object. So why does your dog rip up and destroy his dog toys? The following are a few possibilities.
Your dog has learned not to rip up furniture, rugs, and shoes, but every so often, when he’s had too much time on his own, he needs to vent his pent-up energy on something. Enter, dog plush toys. Perhaps the toy has lived happily in his toy box for months, then one day you find evidence of evisceration throughout the house. When that happens, consider how much attention you’ve been giving your dog during that time period. Maybe the toy that’s in pieces on your living room floor demonstrates that your dog needs to burn off some energy. Perhaps he needs a good hike or romp with a friend. Even some one-on-one playtime with you, where your dog is the sole focus of your attention, can help to keep future boredom killings at bay.
It’s the Wrong Toy for the Job
Sometimes we give our dogs toys as a way to assuage our guilt over not being able to give them the time and attention they deserve—the toy functions as a sort of babysitter when we can’t be with them. While that’s a fine concept in theory (there are many fantastic toys that can handle the demands) you need to make sure that you’re giving your dog the right kind of babysitter toy.
A plush toy or thin latex toy can’t stand up to a determined (and bored) dog, and won’t provide the kind of constructive activity your dog needs when you’re not around. Hard rubber, treat-dispensing toys—the kind that typically come with a durability guarantee—are a better fit for unsupervised playtime, and can withstand the punishment your dog doles out.
It’s All About the Prey Drive
No matter how docile your lap dog might be, there’s the shadow of a genetically encoded prey-killer lurking within him. When presented with a toy that makes a high pitched squeaky noise, many dogs will revert to a stylized version of the shake and kill pattern of their wild ancestors. This prey-cry trigger can cause dogs to rip apart their toys in an effort to get to the sound and “kill” the squeak. Have you noticed that the thrill is gone for your dog once the squeaker is vanquished? Silencing the squeak by ripping through the plush allows your dog to experience a sequence that fulfills a small part of his wild dog ancestry.
We Teach Dogs Destroying Toys is Cute
There’s nothing sillier than a tiny puppy trying to look like a tough guy. Whether it’s mini-barking when the doorbell rings or attempting to take apart a toy, we often encourage the behavior not realizing that it will persist as the dog matures. Our positive attention encourages our dogs to continue pulling apart toys until it’s a hard habit to break. It’s possible to curb a young dog’s desire to rip up his goodies by playing with him while he has the toy (games like fetch, find the toy and tug are good options), and taking it away when he starts to get overzealous about it. A strong “drop” cue can help make relinquishing the toy easier.
It’s Fun and it Feels Good
Dogs enjoy having a job, and if we don’t provide them with appropriate work, they will happily find a career on their own. Tearing through a toy is a fun job that has a very clear start, middle, and end point: first, finding the weakness in the item through surgical exploration (“There’s got to be a loose seam somewhere!”), then working through the pleasurable act of pulling the toy apart piece by piece, and finally deciding that toy is dead and surveying the remains.
But toy evisceration is an expensive habit that can be dangerous as well. Some dogs are driven to ingest the pieces they pull off, which can lead to emergency vet visits to deal with obstructions. Bones are a better option to keep your dog’s jaws on the job, but keep in mind that anything your dog puts in his mouth has the potential to be a hazard, and you should monitor your dog when he’s playing with toys or chewing on bones.
Victoria Schade is a dog trainer, author & speaker who has contributed to The Washington Post, Martha Stewart, and other publications.