You know your dog has a paper shredding problem when you come home to find what’s left of the toilet paper roll in the living room, unread mail torn and scattered across the floor, and every tissue box in the house suddenly empty. The old excuse of “my dog ate my homework” now seems like a valid explanation, and you can’t figure out why your otherwise well-behaved dog can’t keep their teeth from tearing up all the paper in sight.
Vetstreet lists Boxers, Cairn Terriers, Maltese, and Golden Retrievers as breeds most likely to shred, but ripping up paper into tiny pieces is something any dog can get attached to. It can be funny and cute the first time, but when you’re constantly cleaning up after your furry confetti maker, the novelty fades. Shredding paper and other objects like shoes and stuffed animals is a completely natural behavior for dogs, but that doesn’t make it any less tiresome. Here are a few possible reasons why your live-in ransacker loves to shred.
1. An Ancestral Need
Your dog has never had to go into the wild and hunt their own food, but the instinct to do so is ingrained in their minds. Dog Discoveries says,
“Even though dogs are domesticated, they have inbuilt motor patterns reminiscent of the old days when they were hunting, and paper may fulfill a dog’s needs to grab bite, shake, and dissect.”
The feeling of paper tearing between their teeth is a cleaner and less violent equivalent to ripping through flesh. Grabbing an envelope and shaking it “to death” and tugging individual tissues out of the box is all a part of a dog’s instinctual behavior. It doesn’t mean they’re secretly aggressive, it’s simply their way of safely expressing what comes naturally.
If you come home from work to find your pup calmly lounging in the middle of a disaster zone, there’s a good chance boredom is to blame for at least part of the mess. Young dogs especially need mental and physical stimulation to keep them happy. Like children, they get bored easily and find creative ways to solve the problem.
When the mail carrier slips a few envelopes through the slot in the door, your dog sees it as a fortuitous break from their boredom. They have no way of realizing those pieces of paper aren’t meant for them, and you can’t blame them for taking the opportunity to break up the monotony of their day with a bit of fun destruction.
3. Stress and Anxiety
Underneath boredom, shred-happy pups are sometimes stressed and anxious. Like people, a stressed-out dog tends to resort to compulsive and obsessive behaviors. People tap their fingers, count objects, and bite their nails in an attempt to deal with stress, and shredding everything in sight is a dog’s way of doing the same thing. Pet Health Network lists these examples of reasons dogs shred because of stress:
“Lots of factors, such as very subtle changes in a dog’s routine, can cause a dog to feel anxious. Examples include the introduction of new pets or people into the house, a change in your dog’s or your schedule, a new piece of furniture or rearranged room, or even a change in your cleaning products or cologne.”
4. Sensory Enrichment
A dog’s number one method of learning about the world around them is using their sense of smell, but taste and touch are also important. Parents of toddlers know their babies like to put things in their mouths as a way of exploring new things, and pet owners should know dogs like to figure out what things are by first sniffing and then taking a bite.
Paper is an interesting kind of texture, and it feels good when it’s ripped apart. Mail is extra attractive because it’s covered in interesting scents, and paper they find in the trash can have food remnants calling their name. They’re exploring with their mouths, and unfortunately, that usually ends in a pile of confetti.
5. Attention Seeking
When you raise your voice and rush after your dog every time you catch them with a filched magazine in their mouth, you’re teaching them a confusing lesson. To them, there’s no such thing as negative attention. As long as you’re looking at them and interacting with them, they’re happy. They don’t necessarily care that you’re mad. In their mind, shredding paper always leads to getting their owner’s attention. You’ve accidentally reinforced their naughty behavior.
How to Make it Stop
Shredding is a natural behavior for dogs, but that doesn’t mean it’s harmless. It could end up putting you in an awkward position with your boss, teacher, or electric company, but more importantly, it puts your pet’s health at risk. Dogs occasionally swallow paper while they’re busy tearing it apart, and this can cause serious digestive upset. Consuming large amounts of paper can create a blockage in the intestines, and even small bits can make a dog feel sick.
The most effective way to stop the shredding is also the most obvious: make sure there’s nothing for them to shred. Invest in trash cans with secure lids and keep bathrooms and offices closed off when the dog can’t be supervised. You can also place tissue boxes on high surfaces where dogs can’t reach, and install a dog-proof mail tray to catch envelopes sent through the door slot. You can also request to your mail carrier an alternative method of delivery.
Removing the temptation is the first part of the process, and the second is providing a replacement. Help your dog realize what objects are okay to chew by providing new and exciting chew toys. Dogs are attracted to novelty, and they frequently get bored with old toys. Try rotating toys in and out of their collection to keep them interested. Toys that make noise or contain treats are best. Always remember, however, to never leave your dog unsupervised with a toy they could potentially destroy. Hard rubber toys like the GoofBall and PortoBallo are good options for pups that “play hard.”
Featured image via Flickr/Eugene Chan