Teaching a Puppy in Brentwood to Stop Chewing Things Up

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 4, 2016


Tesla is an eleven-month-old German Shepherd mix who lives in Brentwood and was adopted two months ago. Tesla’s guardian wanted me to stop her from chewing up things in the home, jumping up and having accidents when visiting friend’s houses.

When I arrived for the session, Tesla was sitting on the couch right next to the door to the apartment. I noticed that the edges of the couch were chewed up as well as a number of books, fabrics and other household objects that were lying on the floor.

Tesla came over to investigate me with good curiosity and behavior, but did protest a bit when I disagreed with her attempt to jump up on me.

When a dog jumps up on a person who has just arrived, it is their way of saying “hey I’ve got my eye on you” or trying to claim you for themselves. It will be important for Tesla’s guardian to not allow her to continue to jump up on her as this can give the dog the wrong impression about its authority in relationship with their guardian’s.

It’s natural for dogs to want to chew, especially at Tesla’s age. While her guardian did have a few dog toys, I suggested that she get several more that were more suited towards her dog’s chewing habit.

I started off by going over some puppy potty training basics and how to condition the puppy to recognize the command word. Her guardian had most of it down, but we added a few components like saying the command word when she starts and rewarding her after so she associates something good with doing business outside.

I also suggested that her guardian invest in a number of appropriate dog chew toys. Antlers, real bones, Nylabones (rigid) are some of my preferred options. Dogs have a strong desire to chew and many do so to self soothe, so having a plethora of options available is always sound advice.

I also recommended that she remove any inappropriate chew items. Tesla’s guardian had allowed the dog to continue to chew a few inappropriate items that had already been chewed up. But letting a dog chew on a pillow that is ruined can confuse the dog into thinking ll pillows are fair game.

Next we discussed Tesla’s day-to-day routine and I learned that she really didn’t have any rules. For some dogs having no rules is OK, but when you have a puppy or a dog with issues, setting clear rules and boundaries can help the dog see and identify the human as being an authority figure.

If the dog doesn’t see the human as an authority figure, then they feel as if they can do as they please. In Tesla’s case, this means chewing up just about anything she can get her teeth on.

In order to get the dog to respect the human’s desire to not have the items in the home chewed up, I knew I needed to show the guardian how to create a healthy leader follower dynamic between human and dog. To help the guardian start to cultivate this leadership dynamic, I went over a technique that I developed called Petting with a purpose.

By consistently asking the dog to sit, come or lay down before her guardian pets her, she will start to see her as being in the leadership position. This is an important mindset for the dog to have in order to get it to listen to you. Many people treat their dogs as if they are peers by having no rules or structure in their lives. But if the dog considers you it’s equal, then listening to you becomes optional.

While we were discussing the Petting with a purpose philosophy, Tesla went into the kitchen and returned with a roll of doggie poop bags which she proceeded to start to chew. Her guardian got up and was going to go over and take the roll away from the dog but instead I asked her to let me show her how to claim ownership of something.

This method will enable Tesla’s guardian to communicate to her dog that something is to be left alone. This is much more effective than simply removing the object as it creates a long-term solution. Simply removing the object just delays the next chewing until the object is available again.

I spent a couple minutes over going how dogs learn through association so that Tesla’s guardian can use it to help her with some dog obedience training. By correcting or rewarding the dog within 3 seconds, she can more effectively communicate what she does and doesn’t want.

As we were wrapping up that conversation, Tesla’s guardian mentioned that the dog got upset when she was playing guitar. I had her go and get her guitar so that I could show her a counterconditioning technique that will help Tesla start to develop a positive association of it instead.

Tesla responded very well to the counterconditioning exercise. I suggested that the guardian have a friend come over so they practice this positive reinforcing technique as she plays the guitar in front of the dog. With a little practice, Tesla should quickly develop a positive association with the playing of the guitar.

We spent the next few minutes discussing Teslas day-to-day routine. While her guardian was taking the dog out for walks every day, it was probably a little less than the dog needs. Upping her daily exercise quota should help with many of her unwanted behaviors like the chewing.

As a general rule of thumb, a puppy needs a good hour’s worth of constructive exercise every day. But some dogs need even more. I often tell my client “your dog’s energy is going to come out somewhere. Either you decide where the energy comes out through restructured walks and play, or the dog will find outlets such as barking, chewing, jumping up or other unwanted behaviors to release that pent up energy.

Because Tesla had a tendency to pull on the leash and did not like her harness, I pulled out a Martingale collar and showed her guardian how to apply the special twist of the leash.

Her guardian mentioned that the dog liked to bite and chew at the leash to try to get herself free. I showed her how to disagree with that activity as we headed out for a short walk.

Tesla lives in an apartment and has to walk down two flights of stairs to reach the street. We started off the walk by asking the dog to stay next to her guardian as she defended the stairs rather than walking out in front. To dogs, whoever is in front is literally in the leadership position. By leash training Tesla to walk next to or slightly behind her guardian, we can help her adopt more of a follower mindset.

Once outside, I took the leash and demonstrated how to position the dog, correct her when she got too far in front or behind as well as how to hold the leash. After demonstrating this for Tesla’s guardian, I handed her the leash and we headed out.

At first, Tesla’s guardian was holding the leash tight after correcting which kept tension on the line. She additionally sometimes pulled the leash in a backward position which also put tension on the line.

A dog will almost always pull against a tense leash so we stopped and I showed the guardian how she could apply a correction on the leash rather then pulling the dog into the position. This quick movement followed by immediately removing the tension from the line stops a dog from wanting to pull back.

After the guardian started correcting with better technique, we headed off for this structured walk.

Teslas guardians technique and timing should improve as she gets more comfortable with this Martingale set up. The goal initially is to keep the dog in the corner of your eyes so that you can correct it before it gets out of position. One of the dirty secrets to fixing dog behavior problems is disagreeing with the dog before it actually does the thing you want to stop.

Now this is what I call a Structured walk. This is done to help the dog learn o walk at a heel and respect the human. As the dog develops more respect and discipline, the guardian can start giving him time at the end of the walk to sniff about and explore. Exercise and discipline first, reward after.

When we returned to the apartment, Tesla was exhausted. We had put her through quite a lot during this dog behavior training session.

To boost her confidence and deepen the respect for her guardian, I recommended that she make a goal of teaching the dog a new command or trick each week for the next 2 to 4 months. Just like humans the more skills the dog masters, the more confident they will be.

I asked the guardian to follow up with me and let me know how things progress after our session. I also mentioned that there may be a day in which the dog decides to revert to her old behaviors. When this is the case, it will be important for Tesla’s guardian to stay consistent as this is the dog’s attempts to try to revert back to the old way of being where she could chew on anything she wanted.

Now that Tesla’s guardian knows how to communicate what she does and does not want from her dog, I’m guessing that Teslas days of chewing up books, furniture and other items in the apartment will soon come to pass.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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