Saturday, February 20, 2010

"I chew, therefore I am"

This week I responded to an email from a very frustrated gentleman who lives with a lovely young Golden Retriever. He had very good reason to pull out tufts of his own hair-reasons to the tune of perhaps hundreds of dollars in carpet repair...!

But I will let him explain.

"The behavior started a few months after we got her.
At first my wife and I attributed it to puppy energy as she would tear up papers off of the table and things like that, but she would also rip holes in her toys and pull the stuffing out.

Gradually she moved up towards shoes, and then she ripped up two of her beds- actually it was 3 beds.

The behavior mostly occurs when my wife and I aren't home. She's chewed shoes while we were home, and the carpet attack 2 nights ago was while we were in bed. Normally she's left alone for about 7 hours a day."

Hardwood floors are not so costly after all

Dear Sir:

I have good news and I have bad news.

The good news-you have a normal dog
The bad news-you have a normal dog

Take toys-dogs "play" with toys as they would behave with prey-that's the whole point! A dog tears up a toy because that is exactly what they do with prey. That cute stuffed hedgehog with the squeaky in the middle-prey dogs (RETRIEVERS-hello!!!) "kill" Mr. Hedgehog, then spend the rest of the time dissecting him, pulling out his "intestines".

The carpet? While not a toy, she has learned that working with her mouth is a GREAT stress reliever.

So, then, what to do?

First, your girl needs more exercise. A daily walk minimum-a daily jog, better.

Second, supervision. She cannot be left to her own devices. She is not being bad ~and if you think she "looks guilty" after ripping something apart, go STRAIGHT to my website and click on Page Two.

Third, she needs plenty of good things to chew. She needs stuffed Kongs (stuff with peanut butter, cream cheese, wet dog food-the sky's the limit!). She should get her daily food in a way that she has to work for it. Either in a training session where she works for her kibble or in a Buster Cube or some other dog puzzle. In other words-she needs a rich environment.

It is not a normal state for dogs to be left alone. Dogs are very social animals! They can and do learn to tolerate being alone, but we should provide them with options and opportunity to use their time in ways we approve of-remodeling the house is probably not on that list.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Patience, Grasshopper

So many of the behavior problems we pet owners face on a daily basis all boil down to patience (or the lack of it, to be more precise!).

This part may surprise you, is not the dog's lack of patience that is the problem :) How do I know this? Experience, my friend, experience. You name the mistake and I have made it at one time or another.

What are you teaching your dog? Everything you do is teaching him something-that something is not always what we intended!

If you feed your dog while he is jumping and crashing into you and the furniture, then guess what? You have taught him this!

"So how do I fix this!?!", you may be asking yourself, as your dog rockets around the room.

The answer lies in p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e.

Take a nice, deep, cleansing breath, Grasshopper.

Let us begin.

First, if you want a dog that waits nicely before, say, eating his meal, you must be the one who sets the rules. Start by holding the dish out of his reach. Wait until he is not jumping around before placing the food on the floor. You may have to feed him in a small enclosed area (bathrooms are nice for this type of work) at first so that you can walk out if he cannot control himself. Trust me, he will quickly learn that to get his dinner, he will have to settle down first.

Bad habits don't start overnight-start slowly and work up to the behavior you want. Every day ask for a little bit more. It is not fair to punish the dog for something you taught him, is it? So no yelling allowed.

No speaking is necessary during this process, by the way. In fact, try not to speak at all- let your actions do your talking for you.

We chatter way too much at our dogs-it means nothing to them and in fact, over time your voice will become meaningless background noise-not because your dog is "blowing you off" but because you have taught him that your voice is just patter. Humans speak through verbal language-we say to someone "I hear you" when we want them to know they are understood. Dogs communicate through body language. More on THAT later.

Photo: Dexter waiting at the front door to be released.
This may save his life one day!