Destructive dogs…why can’t THEY just chill out?!
Welcome to February, and being very late to joining the “Welcome 2018” train, Happy New Year? From the Dog Trainer Mama perspective, January was pretty interesting…the entire month simply got away from me! The kids went back to school, the holidays are over, and we are immersing ourselves back into all of our after school sports, academics, and play dates. So where does that leave my dogs while I get my crap together? At home. Up until the past few weeks, my dogs normally free roam the house when we leave, and it’s not an issue. I can’t say it’s never been an issue, because while Karma was amazing from day one, Vino had a normal puppy stage of nonsense thefts, and chewing. He was always a food motivated little weirdo, but we worked through it, and he’s learned a healthy respect for what is mine…until recently.
This week alone, I’ve had multiple clients contact me about their dogs “suddenly becoming destructive for no reason”. I kind of chuckle when I think about what our idea of “for no reason” is, and what the reality is behind it. So I decided to put myself on blast for a moment, and let me be the example, and the learning moment for all of you, because it can seriously happen to ANYONE!
I want you to disconnect from your relationship with the struggling dog, in this case, we will use Vino. Forget what their past was for just a moment, and let’s talk about what the current issue is. Vino is stealing food off of tables, counters, and various locations if it’s unattended, and if you have turned your back. He has been tearing apart his beds, blankets, boxes he finds, and various kids toys. In 15 years of dog ownership, I have never had a dog dig through the trash…well Vino can now check that off of his bucket list. He can also thank that adventure for his crate time when I leave the house now. I am often surprised at how many of my clients have assumed that damage and “acting out” is just okay, but it’s not, it means something!
I Don’t think I really have a problem – So in reality, the first step is realizing there is an issue with your situation to begin with. IF you leave home, knowing that you will return to potty accidents, or damage to your personal items, and property, then this is likely going to be pretty helpful to your household. Because…Those things should NOT be happening. Period. You shouldn’t have to pick up the aftermath of your dog when you get home everyday, and this doesn’t sound like the set up for a super healthy companionship to thrive in. It is, however, a pretty good sign that your dog is missing something, and is replacing those energy release needs with what he CAN get to. Which is your wall…
Taking responsibility – Now that we know there is a problem, we move on to our second part…which, in this case, is taking responsibility for my part in all of this. This is why I find the “for no reason” comment so amusing, there is ALWAYS a reason. Around the first part of November, we caught the nasty flu bug, and it circulated our house (NO JOKE) for 2-3 straight months. It felt like death (really, Ava was even hospitalized at one point!)…which means, a lot of my normal activities stopped for about that same amount of time. In reality, it messed with our daily walks, I stopped running with them in the evenings, our training sessions were not as often, or as long, we haven’t attended a class, and all in all, their normal exercise (both mental and physical) was seriously lacking. When you take into account what my dogs are used to doing on a daily basis, it’s even harder for them to do next to nothing. Karma is great at bouncing back to and from down time, but Vino needs much more than she does. We had a few instances each day, where we would leave to take Aiden to school, and come back to find that he had snagged ANYTHING he could find, and devoured it…it’s dangerous for him, and frustrating for me. Remember above, when I said it’s not normal to expect disaster, and clean up when you come home…good example! So obviously we crated him when we left from that point on…good start, so…I’m done now, right? Nope.
I’ll just get a crate – The crate can, and is, a reasonable way to react to destruction. The dog clearly can’t be cool when he’s free, and alone for a lot of reasons. I don’t want to dismiss a perfectly safe option based on sympathy (you had no problem putting up play pens for your baby so he didn’t stick his finger in an electrical socket…just sayin’…). Safety really is my biggest point with crating, i don’t want to leave my dog alone if he can get into dangerous items, or find himself caught in precarious places. However, another important point is how it is going to effect our connection (or “bond”) by leaving my dog in a position to constantly destroy my home, and my things. While crating is a good start, it’s NOT the only thing needed here. Shutting your dog into a small space instead of dealing with the underlying issue is more of a “bandaid” for the moments I cannot watch what he’s up to. It’s absolutely not going to fix the issue at hand. So what is the issue at hand then? It’s surprisingly pretty simple, this dog is NOT getting what he needs to burn the physical and mental energy he has (In my case, in a way he is accustomed to). Which leads me to my part in combating the problems we are having at home.
Just like all of you, I have 24 hours in a day, and it’s up to me to make sure all of my family gets what they need in that time frame. That’s kind of what I promised my dogs when I decided to make them part of our family, so they should be allotted some of my time to keep them balanced daily as well. Another words, even if I feel justified with sickness keeping me down, I SHOULD make sure they are getting enrichment, and exercise each day, and prioritize it into my schedule. If I don’t, then I really can’t be upset with my dog, for being bored. You know, the saying, “A tired dog, makes a happy owner”, in this case, it’s pretty spot on. Tire the brain, exhaust the body, then your dog won’t have to find other ways to do that for himself!
What a thief – Now that we have that pesky responsibility issue out-of-the-way, lets back track to his food issues. Remember when I said to push the history of your pup aside? Now it’s time to bring that back into play! It does help give me insight to his previous training, and needs, but don’t rely on what has worked before being the only option. Vino has always been a serious food hound, and as a puppy we really had to work hard with him on impulse control. With that being said, impulse control exercises are a great way to start, for a lot of reasons! They are a great tool for mental exercise, and can be so unbelievably versatile, and easy to fit into your schedule. You can start with;
-Control feeding times, and make them work for meals.
-Play games (hide and go seek, find it, cups, you name it!)
-Load puzzle toys with meals (there are TONS online now to purchase!)
-Make them work for whatever they want! (Food, toys, ride, walks, anything!)
-Work on “LEAVE-IT!” Up the anti and progress with your dog to further stimulation, and build reliability!
-The “wait” command is my fave, and you can progress with your dog, continuing to make it more of a challenge as they catch on.
-Stay is great, add distance, distraction, and duration!
-Introduce them to new things! Physical items, sports, games, anything!
-This one is VERY important for those of you that have a counter surfer, and super hard for those of you with kids! Now that your dog has made the reward connection to your counters, and tables, make sure you ALWAYS keep your counters clear. If they check often, and find nothing from now on, it is no longer a lucrative exercise, because there is no longer a reward. If you leave snacks, even small ones, they make for a pretty tasty reward, and the repetition of a nasty habit!
Let’s take a walk – This is my second get real moment, walk your dog. Run your dog! Hire a dog walker…it doesn’t matter, both stimulation’s are important to tire your dog’s needs. Take into context the personalities, AND BREED, when you take in a dog, or when you are judging the exercise needs for your pal. Vino is a higher energy mastiff breed (lol, yes that exists), which is WHY I got him in the first place. We have dabbled in running together (he fails here…this is past his lazy point), Agility (he loves this!), and nose work, on top of our normal obedience. I knew this is what I was in for the day I told myself, “yeah, I can totally take in a tiny Cane Corso…”. So it’s absolutely necessary for me to meet his physical exercise needs on top of his mental energy needs.
Training is a MUST – Dogs are not born knowing what you want from them. Sure we are connected in a way, but that doesn’t mean they can read your mind. So take your dog to obedience classes, just give it a try! It doesn’t mean you can’t “do it on your own”, in fact most good group classes are literally just giving YOU the skills to teach your dog on your own in the most constructive way! Search out a good “positive” trainer (a topic for another day) that can help you earn a good relationship with your dog. By positive I mean someone who can work with your dog outside of slapping on aversive tools to hurry anything along. As your dog progresses, move on to some fun sports that will offer you both a good bond, some fun, AND exercise (both mental, and physical). If you like to compete, and your dog is on board, there are tons of ways to find a group near you.
Combine it all!- Let’s recap, destruction of any kind is not okay. Crating is alright, but not a resolution. Dogs need both mental, and physical stimulation…cough, cough, I can’t say this enough…this is the millionth time…Look at your dog, and say, “what can he need from me?” Instead of “this dog doesn’t get it!” because it’s usually us. Take in to account the personality, and breed of your dog when you decide what exercise they need. Get some thinker toys, use your training wisely with meal times, always make them work for a reward, and don’t be afraid to try out new classes!!!! Nothing in life is free, you can look at food and treats as currency if it makes it easier for you. When your dog is tearing up your house, your yard, and “acting out” if you will, realize they are missing something, and give them what they need. Your dog is a part of your life for a reason, so make the time to help them have a healthy and happy life with you!