Welcome to Day 25 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
Decker is all over today’s challenge…this is most certainly within his wheelhouse… (Link)
Dissection & Destruction
At a glance:
- just like chewing, dissection (ripping things up) is an important and often forgotten part of the canid predatory sequence – this means it’s part of the in-built motor patterns in all dogs
- dissection is normal, natural and necessary dog behaviour
- food based (more feeding behaviour based) and sensory based enrichment
- providing appropriate chewing and destruction outlets is vital for their health and welfare and to protect your destructibles
- get the family involved in this one – for the most part, the dog will be doing all the destruction but children might like to help choosing and preparing
- not all dogs are all about destruction but many dogs are and it can be an important part of enriching their lives
What do you need?
- food rewards, toys your dog loves
- boxes, paper bags
- paper for wrapping
- paper books
- socks, fabric materials
- provide outlets for dissection related behaviour
- to encourage interaction with their environment and help in the development of behaviours/strategies for manipulating the item, acquiring edible parts or chewing and dissecting
- to provide dogs with a choice of appropriate destruction outlets that satisfy different preferences and goals
- to encourage dogs to choose and introduce choice into their day to day life
- to help dogs calm themselves and settle themselves
What goals can you add to this list for your pets?
Many dogs like to destroy all sorts of things, tissues, paper, shoes, and fabric being favourites, while lots of dogs will love to rip up their own soft toys and stuffed beds too.
Just like chewing, dissection functions in dogs’ lives beyond the acquisition of food. And while providing food based enrichment is important for dogs, appropriate dissection outlets helps dogs experience new levels in their sensory world, with plenty of crossover between categories of enrichment.
Dissection is goal oriented behaviour so providing exposure to positive stress or eustress. All of the challenges through #100daysofenrichment are designed to provide dogs with lots of opportunities for eustress. The more the animal has experience with good stress, the more resilient they become.
Manipulating the destructible facilitates the development of dexterous skills, contributing to cognitive challenge.
Sniffing out, tasting and ripping it all offer sensory pay off, but so does finding each destructible, determining its value, and engaging in the puzzle of satisfying the chewing goal.
Offering different types of destruction opportunities that require different sorts of manipulation, provides feedback from different textures and materials, and facilitates different feeding related behaviours contributing to a well rounded sensory experience for dogs.
Dissection encourages pets to interact with their environment – just the very interaction with the item is encouraging the pet to manipulate their surroundings, to get the things they like.
How can we achieve these goals?
- provide your dog with a safe, comfy space for dissection
- make a range of appropriate opportunities for destruction available for your dog
- use stuffables to help encourage chewing
- always supervise your pet with things they might dissect – it’s easy for them to accidentally swallow small pieces that may be dangerous if ingested
Remove small pieces, plastic, metal, tape and so on before giving it to your dog. Paper, cardboard and tissue are probably the safest destructible, relatively speaking.
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of dissection:
Dissection is part of the canid predatory sequence meaning that all dogs come with a tendency to dissect, in-built. Dogs are built for chewing and destruction.
There are times during the dog’s life when destruction might be more intense for many individuals.
Chewing and dissection will generally increase in intensity from about four months of age, in puppies, as their adult teeth begin to move. For most dogs, their adult teeth will be down by 6 or 7 months of age.
At about 11-13 months of age, lots of dogs will go through what seems like a secondary teething period when their adult teeth bed in as their skull matures.
Chewing appears to provide relief to teething dogs and they may chew quite intensively to ease their discomfort and because their jaws are maturing and their adult teeth are stronger, they become much more effective chewers! But dissection seems to be an important part of chewing too and dogs will chew to dissect and dissect to chew.
In general, adolescent dogs will chew and dissect quite intensively as they continue to experience the world through their mouths and to aid in reducing stress, something that teenagers are quite sensitive to.
Intensive chewing and destruction will often be seen in dogs who might not have appropriate outlets for their energy and behaviour, and when they are experiencing high levels of distress. This ‘destructive’ behaviour often becomes a problem for people as the dogs seek out items that may not be meant for them.
Chewing and dissecting behaviour may provide dogs with a range of outlets including opportunities to exercise and hone their jaw muscles, improve manipulation and dissection skills and to get food to ingest.
Dissection behaviour functions to separate skin, feather or fur from flesh, and helps dogs open body cavities to reveal organs for devouring.
All of this is important to practice if you are to be a hunter/scavenger, which is what our dogs’ bodies tell them to prepare for.
As companion animals, dogs rarely get to eat diets that truly satisfy all their destruction needs. Even when bones and fresh foods are fed, other destruction outlets are likely required. And if dogs are fed a commercial diet, they probably don’t do much chewing or dissection at all to get their food.
That’s why stuffables and puzzles, that encourage chewing and destruction, are so important – dogs are made to chew and dissect to get to their food. The types of behaviours and behavioural goals we are satisfying, or attempting to satisfy, are important to consider in enrichment.
Making sure dogs’ behavioural needs are met is an important stress buster, but chewing and dissection in and of itself supports the dog’s psychological health. Chewing and dissection activate the gastrointestinal system, leading to the production of serotonin, a neurochemical associated with improved recovery from stress and self-calming. Chewing and dissection are literally stress-busters.
It’s no surprise that dogs who are alone, distressed or bored resort to destruction. It’s often labelled ‘destructive’ behaviour because it becomes a behaviour problem for us. But, it might indicate that the dog doesn’t have sufficient, appropriate outlets and that he is seeking comfort and relief from stress.
Stress can be good and bad and dogs will need help to recover from both types; to bring them back down a little and help their body recover. This is important even after good stress, excitement and happy activities, such as play.
Take a chewing or dissection break during and after physically or mentally exerting activities.
Option 1 For the love of dissection
Some dogs just want to dissect. Decker is one of those dogs, so I give him items and buy him toys specifically for dissection.
He doesn’t need the addition of food to motivate this behaviour, so I just hang around to clean up the mess.
- balls of paper, paper bags, tissue, kitchen roll and similar
- used baking paper, sheets (this adds a food component so watch for too much ingestion)
(Link) This is an empty paper bag from microwave popcorn.
- boxes of different sizes and cardboard types
- paper books like phone books (if they even exist any more!), puzzle books are also a good option as are old, unwanted paperbacks
No food needed…just dissection, for the love of it! (Link)
- stuffed balls (stuffed with strips of toweling or fleece, or socks)
- soft/stuffed toys (take care to remove eyes and small pieces and don’t give beanbag type toys)
Option 2 Rip it up!
Add food to balls of paper and let the dissection begin:
- add food rewards to balls of paper
- hide paper food balls or scatter them
- add those balls of paper to boxes, tubs, tubes, lattice balls
- set up a sniffing course: line out balls of paper, some with food, some without
- suspend paper food balls
Add food rewards to paper bags or boxes (we talked about Busy Boxes on Day9).
Add food rewards to random pages throughout a paper book.
Add food rewards to socks or fabric stuffed in a lattice ball.
Option 3: Open your own gift!
Wrap up your dog’s favourite toys and allow them to open the gift…it’s like Christmas every day!
Stick a ball or toy in a sock for a homemade Wubba toy, a tug or fetch toy or for dissection and destruction.
Managing ‘destructive’ behaviour
Allowing dogs to dissect paper and packing and so on often causes pet owners concern that their dog will become more and more interested in destruction, honing their skills and then practicing on things that we don’t want destroyed.
That’s a valid concern and I am not going to say that won’t or can’t happen. But, I will reassure you that your dog is already a destruction-expert. They don’t need a whole lot of practice to get pretty good at this; it’s an installed motor pattern, after all.
If your dog is destroying and dissecting things that you would rather he didn’t, we need better management rather than deprivation.
Because dissection and chewing are installed motor patterns, dogs are good at them, enjoy doing them, and must have outlets for these behaviours in order to be healthy and happy.
Here he is, just chewing on a plastic tub lid I gave him…lots of toys, but this is apparently special! (Link)
Decker is pretty much as destructive as a dog can be. He doesn’t really do it in a sufficiently intense way that there is a massive distress or relief component, but he certainly throws himself into any dissection task at hand (he’s ENTHUSIASTIC about everything in his life). But, Decker has never chewed, dissected, destroyed one thing not intended for him, not once in his seven years with me, not once.
We have yet to find any toy that is Decker-proof; he will eventually get through any and every “indestructible” toy! Link
That’s the case because I was diligent about managing his access to things he might destroy. He just never got access to these things without my input. I put things away, up high, I closed doors, I use baby gates and he is impeccably crate/confinement trained. For his first 18 months he only ever got acceptable chewables and destructables so that he became addicted to these, having never had the opportunity to destroy anything else.
And along with that, every day, he has been given access to appropriate outlets for chewing and dissection behaviour, along with other behavioural outlets.
He always has a variety of chew and dissection items available. Always.
When wound up, I direct him to those; well, he does it himself now, without my input. I rotate items so there’s always fresh things to explore and destroy.
Destruction has never been a problem for us.
Things that might help:
- good management…human training – put things away
- sensible confinement and supervision
- providing your dog with a fulfilled life
- get them working for food from stuffables
- make sure they have tons of chewing opportunities
- add food to dissection items to change the picture
- do dissection activities in a specific place, with a specific presentation
- use specific materials for dissection
- teach a reorientation cue to mean, come away from that thing and back to me
“But, he destroys EVERYTHING!”
Pet owners often lament that they can’t get anything for their dog, because he destroys toys and chews or dissects so quickly.
When we are looking to see what sorts of activities a dog finds rewarding, we first look to what the dog is currently doing. If the dog is destroying things, that might very well be what he needs to do. He’s simply getting his jollies.
Human rules and expectations are so often arbitrary to dogs – minding a toy or not destroying an expensive chew is beyond the cares or concerns of dogs. The point of his interactions with the toy were probably to dissect and destroy!
Dogs need a range of chewing and dissection outlets so I don’t just buy the toughest of the tough for Decker. He clearly needs to dissect and chew up, so I get toys that allow him to do that. And boy, does he do it; I have yet to find a toy that this dog can’t and won’t chew up.
Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!
Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂
We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!