Introducing New Rules to Stop Mabel’s Chewing and Destructive Behavior

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 18, 2013


Mabel is a two-year-old old English bulldog. Her owners had contacted me due to Mable’s recent interest in chewing the floor paneling, carpets and the stairs of her home.

When I arrived Mabel was very curious to know who I was, but didn’t jump up or bark a single time.

When I sat down with her owners to discuss the situation, I found out they had been able to leave the dog out without incident for several months until one month ago when she suddenly started to become destructive when left alone.

Mabel had a few rules in her life but I suggested a few more to her owners such as making Mabel sit before letting her in or out a door, making her wait for her human owners to go through the door first, respecting their personal space etc.

I also suggested a set of escalating consequences for his owners to use whenever Mabel broke any of these new rules. When introducing new rules, it’s important that the dog’s owner is very diligent in their observance of the dog to correct the dog before it engages in the unwanted behavior. Dogs are very much creatures of habit. If we can get them to behave a certain way for a long enough period of time, that usually becomes the new normal for them.

Next I demonstrated a leadership exercise that will help Mabel recognize and respect the authority of her owners. I only had to repeat the exercise two times before Mabel understood what I was asking of her. Once she surrendered to the exercise, I coached both for owners through it with her as well. This particular exercise is excellent at building up the authority of the humans in the dog’s eyes as well as teaches the dog to self-restrain, a skill any destructive dog needs to learn.

Next I walked her owners through a different way of feeding Mabel. Mabel was starting to become a bit of a finicky eater, occasionally not eating at all. This is not unusual for dogs who are in a free-feeding situation. When we leave food in the bowl all the tim,e we reduce the importance of it in the dog’s daily life. In the wild a dog eats only after a successful hunt or if they are able to scavenge something. If they are unsuccessful in either, the dog will not eat it all. Therefore when the dog has an opportunity to eat in the wild, it doesnt think it will “get to it later.”

In a domesticated situation, adding structure to mealtime is an excellent way for humans to be seen as an authority figure in the dog’s eyes. Because dogs equate rank and authority in the order in which members of the pack eat, it’s important that we always eat before the dog gets his or her turn. Because Mabel’s owner was feeding her prior to eating herself, this likely gave Mabel the incorrect opinion that she outranks her human counterpart.

I had her owner put food in Mabel’s bowl but also block Mabel from getting to it. Once she had established her ownership of the food, her owner walked over to the couch, sat down and ate a light snack in front of Mabel. Mable lay down a few feet away from her bowl resigned to the fact that she needed to wait for her owner to give her permission to eat.

When her owner finished eating, she got up and walked over to Mable’s bowl and stood next to it. Mabel remained lying on the floor but her eyes were following her owner intently. As soon as her owner snaped and motioned towards the food, Mabel jumped up to excitedly walk over to and eating everything in the bowl.

By repeating this structured mealtime twice a day, Mabel will be reminded of her owner’s authority and leadership position. It’s little things like this that are repeated every day that really have a cumulative effect on a dog’s behavior and personality. I tell my clients all the time; “everything you do trained your dog, only sometimes you mean it. ”

Throughout the session, Mabel’s behavior and social graces gradually improved. At the end of the session I stood in an empty room with Mabel and tossed several high-value meat treats on the floor all around Mabel. She still the middle of the room patiently waiting for me to give her permission to eat a treats which I did one by one.

I suggested that Mabel’s owners test her by leaving her alone for short periods of time to see how long she is able to be trusted. By gradually increasing the length of time her owner’s leave her alone, Mabel will learn to relax for longer periods of being alone. I also suggested that they take her out in the backyard for a quick game of fetch or a nice walk her prior to leaving her home alone. A tired dog is always less inclined to get into trouble.

By practicing the leadership exercises and giving Mabel a few weeks to a month for the new rules and boundaries become habit, a foundation of leadership will be built up. This combined with gradually increasing the length of time she stays home alone will stop Mabel’s chewing and destruction of their home.


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This post was written by: David Codr