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When I leave my dog alone in the house, he eats my shoes and gets into the garbage. Is he doing this out of spite or is he trying to get even with me for leaving him behind?

Our boy Macho tore into a feather duster that had crossed his path.

Neither. There are a few reasons why this could be happening and none have anything to do with a dog’s desire for revenge. The most common explanation, and the one that is more often overlooked, is simple boredom.

Most dogs live a life of extreme inactivity with up to 90% of their time spent lying around and doing little more than sleeping. Boredom and idleness are often the root causes of many annoying behavioral problems.

When a dog is alone, be it a few minutes or a matter of hours, he is likely to find an activity to occupy his time. This also regularly happens when a dog is surrounded by his humans.

Such behaviors can be a result of a dog that has too much time available with no other outlets and no means of distraction to keep him engaged. If he has access to objects that might provide him with a diversion, such as a shoe, all the better.

Boredom has other ways of manifesting in a dog. Some bark incessantly at any sound outside the door or at any sight outside the window. Others will want to chew and gnaw at something such as a shoe or furniture, which become nothing more chew toys to a dog.
This is most often true of younger, high energy dogs or those who are still teething. An unsupervised dog can also find it difficult to ignore the temptation of a nearby garbage can. All are indications that your dog may be bored out of his skull.

There is always the possibility that the behavior is due to some form of separation anxiety. A dog with even a mild separation issue may find that chewing on furniture, shoes, or other household items can have a soothing and calming effect on the stress brought on by a person’s departure or the time spent alone.

But separation anxiety is not a problem that is always easily diagnosed, especially by the average dog owner. Often, behaviors that are initially thought of as stemming from separation anxiety are found to be something else entirely.

If you suspect that your dog may be dealing with separation anxiety I suggest you find a qualified trainer or behaviorist who can assist you. A dog experiencing serious separation issues is going through a living hell and you’ll want to do whatever you can to deal with it quickly.

Let’s address the idea that a dog might be demonstrating these behaviors out of spite. Simply put, dogs are not capable of emotions such as spite, guilt, or even jealousy. At least not in the same manner in which we experience them.

When we believe that a dog is exhibiting any of these qualities we are giving in to confirmation bias. This is a tendency to buy into an idea that readily confirms our pre-existing beliefs.

We do this all the time in all areas of our lives. The troubles begin when we misinterpret signals from a species that is not able to communicate in our language and unable to correct our errors.

When we insist that the dogs behaviors and body language means something entirely different than is originally intended we set both ourselves and our dogs up for failure, thus making it difficult to move past any sticking points that might otherwise bring desired results.

If you have a dog that demonstrates such behaviors possibly due to boredom, here are my tips…

• Provide your dog with plenty of opportunity to stretch her legs. Exercise is as important for dogs as it is for humans and the benefit to both is not just physical but also psychological. Daily exercise is not a luxury or privilege but a basic right and a need.

• Make sure your dog has plenty of other outlets for his energy and boredom. Toys are good, although they’re not all equal. Find toys that engage your dog. Some toys make a dog work for his food, thus stimulating the mind. Kong’s are excellent examples of these but there are other options if you look for them.

• If your dog must be left unsupervised for extended periods of time and he is not crated consider limiting access to other areas. I’m a big advocate for managing your dog. Doors, baby gates, and other barriers ensure your dog does not get into areas where he can do damage or harm to furniture, personal items, or himself.

• Don’t make it easy for your dog to destroy your favorite things. This one should be simple common sense but I’ll just add that if you leave your brand new shoes lying around when you’re not at the house, guess what your dog is going to choose to play with?

• Engaging the assistance of a dog walker or sitter can be well worth the money. A qualified professional can break up your dog’s day of boredom and provide her with plenty of attention and some exercise. You’ll come home to a happier dog and eliminate some of the stresses of a long day alone.

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