Chewing and Destruction. Finding his Own Employment

Chewing everything, jumping up and toileting in the house.

Chewing everything

Marley

Chewing and toileting indoors are enough to drive a patient dog owner mad! These are the negatives. Marley is beautiful. He is affectionate, gentle, brainy and funny.

They have been very fortunate with their older dog, an unusually placid German Shepherd. When getting a second dog, they hadn’t bargained for a ball of energy like Marley.

The nine-month-old Cocker Spaniel is so much like my own Pickle at that age in temperament. I have first-hand experience of a working dog without sufficient employment. He too would have been finding his own things to do by way of chewing and destruction had I not done things differently. Despite having had many dogs, Pickle was a big learning curve for me. I had never lived with a dog that required so much mental stimulation.

I wasn’t prepared for having to spend quite so much time doing things with my dog in order to keep him ‘good’. This meant providing some of the fulfillment his working breed requires.

He’s an ongoing project. It never stops and he’s now six years old.

The first thing I learnt very quickly with Pickle was that ‘No’ made him worse (see here how ‘No’ doesn’t work). Even though I knew from both experience and learning, that ‘No’ only makes things worse in the long term, I’m only human and sometimes couldn’t help myself! It made me feel better.

I also learnt the importance to my sanity of adapting his environment.

I particularly understand the frustration for busy people who have a dog like Marley or Pickle.

Adapt the dog or adapt the environment?

Pickle – a pen didn’t work

Marley’s most infuriating trait is his constant need for chewing.

To my mind he has access to too much of the house and there are too many things for chewing about the place. He will chew just about anything and has demolished a couple of DVDs in the past two days. I saw the chewed leg of a nice piece of furniture.

People often try to adapt their dog to fit into their environment.

I recommend they do the opposite – adapt their environment around the dog by making significant but mostly temporary changes. This by lifting and removing everything tempting or chewable and providing a constant supply of chew items. By shutting doors and blocking areas.

Adapting the dog means constant vigilance. Adapting the environment means teaching the dog what is acceptable one thing at a time.

Although the goal of my visit is to stop Marley chewing everything (as well as toileting in the house and jumping up), these things are just symptoms. They are symptoms of a dog that needs more one-to-one time, providing even more enrichment than his good off-lead walk a day.

Some activities are mentally stimulating whilst also stress-reducing – like hunting, foraging ….and chewing. A long walk, particularly if spent chasing a ball, may have the opposite effect.

Chewing helps a dog to calm himself – as it does ourselves. We chew chewing gum for instance.

The destruction is about keeping himself busy and maybe also helping himself to calm if he’s over- stressed (aroused/excited/bored). Digging, chewing, wrecking things, humping and so on are all symptoms – of ‘stress’.

Dogs do what works.

If jumping up works in terms of getting anyone’s attention, then Marley will jump up.

The price we pay, if ‘not jumping up’ is important to us, is for everyone, both ourselves and visitors, to react in the same way. Take away the ‘reward’ – attention. Then and just importantly they show him what does work. It will need time and patience.

Maybe as his jumping up is light and doesn’t hurt, they should decide how important this is to them and to pick their battles?

My Pickle never jumps up and it’s not because he is highly ‘trained’ (he’s not). Right from the time he arrived as a four-month-old puppy jumping up simply didn’t work. No notice of him was taken if his feet were off the floor. Plenty off attention was given when his feet were on the floor.

If chewing things satisfies a need to relieve frustration, boredom or other stress, then Marley will chew anything he can find. He needs regular activities and enrichment provided by his humans, and not only when he’s doing something they don’t want him to do. Initiating activities when he’s relaxed and restful is making ‘calmness’ rewarding.

Sometimes the time and hard work needs to be shared a bit more equally between family members and then it doesn’t seem quite so bad.

Effort put in on Marley now will pay off big time later on. I would guarantee that if he was taken out daily with a ‘positive force-free’ gun dog trainer who worked him, he would have more self-control at home. He would no longer be chewing things, jumping on people and toileting indoors.

Unrealistic and impossible, I know. But we can do other things that fulfill our brainy, working dogs.

My attempts to catch a photo of Marley!

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Marley. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Frustrated and Bored. Stealing and Biting

Another first! I have been to a Basenji mix before but not a pure Basenji, despite having helped thousands of dogs.

He’s frustrated. This drives Benji’s uncontrolled behaviour.

Benji is frustrated

Benji is born to hunt.

The adolescent Benji will steal anything he can find from table, shelves or floor. He runs of with it or destroys it.  This leads predictably to a chase with Benji cornered. He may then become aggressive when they try to get the item off him.

Benji, when thwarted or told off, can become very frustrated. For example, he may frantically dig the leather sofa. When told off, he then may charge around, jumping at the older lady, grabbing her clothes and biting her.

Seemingly out of the blue, he may do the same thing when she is busy – particularly when she’s moving around outside in the garden or wearing rubber gloves. Benji attack golves.

These things are not really out of the blue. His ‘erupting’ will be the result of a constant internal build-up of stress, invisible and unheard because Benji doesn’t bark. This arousal will result in frequent explosions.

The young lady has worked very hard with Benji from when he was a puppy. He was a very good puppy. When he was at a very formative age certain unfortunate and unavoidable things in their lives occurred. Benji’s behaviour changed.

It was immediately obvious to me that Benji has no physical boundaries where the young lady and Benji are temporarily staying. It’s impossible to escape from him.

I could see also that he must be over-aroused and stressed a lot of the time. He is frustrated. He was born to hunt and has no fulfillment. They dare not let him off lead (though have just recently found an enclosed field to hire on an hourly basis which will be great). 

They will no longer ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ when he’s peaceful!

Understandably they are thankful for the break,

Life with Benji is one of being on the constant lookout for him doing something wrong and trying to stop it. All his attention is generated in this way and he milks it.

No item, even if on the dining table, is out of his range. He simply stands on his back legs and gets it off. Among many other things, he’s ruined the edges of the PVC table protector by chewing it.

Another quote from Wikipedia: Basenjis often stand on their hind legs, somewhat like a meerkat, by themselves or leaning on something..

Benji runs up and down the boundary with the neighbour’s dog barking the other side. They felt this was good exercise and left him outside, unstopped. It couldn’t annoy anyone because Benji doesn’t bark. If he did bark they may see it as being very stressful for him, not fun.

To quote Wikipedia: The Basenji produces an unusual yodel-like sound commonly called a “baroo”, due to its unusually shaped larynx. This trait also gives the Basenji the nickname “soundless dog”.

Benji gets easily frustrated and this builds up. The more frustrated he feels, the more ‘naughty’ he becomes. Stress stacks up inside him – and they probably won’t even notice.

To change Benji’s behaviour we are getting to the bottom of why he does these things. He obviously gets something out of it. It will make him feel better in some way .

They now need to find acceptable things for him to do that also make him feel good.

They need to supply him with many suitable and varied activities to exercise his brain as well as his body. He will then become a lot less frustrated. Here is a great link: 33 Simple Ways to Keep Your Dog Busy Indoors

Instead of constantly fielding the unwanted stuff, they will consciously look out for and reward every little good thing he does whether it’s simply standing still, lying down – or looking at the table without putting his feet on it.

He can earn much of his food in this way.

They will work hard on getting him to come to them when they call him and make it really worth his while. This will be a lot better than cornering him when he runs off with something. They will never simply take things off him. Exchange will be worked on until he enjoys giving things up.

Just as with a puppy or toddler, they will need to be even more careful with leaving things about – he has a particular liking for remote controls, mobile phones or a wallet – all things that smell most of his humans.

Benji needs some physical boundaries.

They need to be able to walk away from him or place him somewhere with things to do.

They will put a gate in the doorway between sitting room and kitchen. They can give him alternatives to the table cloth, books in the bookshelf, remote, paper documents and so on that he manages to get hold of. Gated in the kitchen, he can get to work on a carton of rubbish from the recycle bin with food buried amongst the rubbish. Anything that gives him an acceptable outlet will result in a less frustrated dog.

Keeping him as calm as possible by avoiding situations that stir him up too much, managing the environment so he doesn’t have the opportunity to keep doing these things and adding a lot more enrichment to his life should turn the corner for Benji and his family.

It will take time. The hardest thing is for the humans to change their ways and to be patient!

It’s no good getting cross with the dog for just being a dog (whether a Basenji or anything else). We are the ones who must do things differently.

They Come Home to Destruction

Staff mix is destructive and bored

Lola

The young couple, with their dog, are caught up in a downward spiral of manic behaviour, destruction, scolding and nearly tearing their hair out. The young lady is reduced to tears.

They have a well-behaved but slightly odd Staffie called Saxon, 5, and Border Collie/Staffie Mix, Lola – a one-year-old adolescent behaving badly.

I say Saxon is odd, because his normal lying position is with his back to people, and every now and then, whatever he is doing, he may freeze or shake. These are thing which we can look into later, but at the moment their main issue is with Lola.

Saxon lies with his back to people

Saxon

Over time, in addition to wrecking other furniture, Lola has destroyed one sofa and has now started digging a big hole under the cushions of the new one. This has happened when they are out. She is bored and alone despite the company of Saxon, and if she’s feeling restless (which she is much of the time) she will start to chew furniture.  It could also now have become a habit.

Yesterday she started chewing on the bottom stair while the lady was upstairs – the stair gate was open and she was free to follow. Once Lola starts a ‘project’ she will continue!

When they go out she is left with food in various places with the intention of keeping her busy, but she starts on it before they have even left and has finished it all soon after they are out of the door. They have videoed her.

They have a little girl age three and the young man works shifts, so finding time to give Lola the amount of daily stimulation and exercise she needs is difficult.  It’s not safe for the lady to walk Lola if she has the child with her.

Lola is constantly on the move. She may prance about and make little growly sounds if someone is on the floor playing with the little girl and ignoring her. Saxon takes as little notice of her as he can! In this state she is just constantly looking for ‘trouble’ – stuff to occupy her and to release some of her stress. At my suggestion they will now have a gate on the sitting room doorway so Lola can be removed if necessary to avoid possible accidental danger to the little girl (a child who gives the dogs space and who both are very good with).

While I was there we ignored jumping up – looking away and tipping her off, whilst constantly rewarding calm behaviour. She became more settled than they had ever seen her. As often happens, the day after I left she was so much calmer and happier, and so were the people. Then the next day, yesterday, she chewed the stair carpet. Then they had an excitable visitor and the day continued to go downhill.

There is a common pattern where things start off brilliantly then go rapidly downhill for a couple of days. This is the time that people must hold firm and keep faith – and consistently stick to the plan until they work their way through this until things start to improve steadily, if slowly. There are all sorts of other related things to be dealt with at the same time that when established should influence the eventual outcome.

Because the lady goes to work a couple of days a week, Lola has to be left alone and logistically there is nowhere else other than the sitting room to leave the dogs. Whenever she is left they could either come home to destruction or to no damage at all. I suggest for now leaving her all sorts of items she can chew and destroy – cardboard cartons, toilet roll tubes, empty water bottles with lids removed, maybe stuffed calcium bones. I am always wary of dogs being injured by chewing on things left for them, but in this case stuff around the room could be a lot more dangerous. I so hope that this helps while they work on her.

I have also lent them a crate. I have known very restless dogs who, when crated, settle. They won’t be able to use it straight away though. If they can spend the next couple of weeks getting Lola to love that crate (and it is possible if taken slowly enough and associated with fun and food), they can start to leave her shut in there for the shorter absences.

If Lola is happy in the crate they can relax. If she is given more exercise and stimulation this will help her mental state – and they will have to find a way somehow if they want to improve the situation. If she simply has no opportunity to chew inappropriate things for long enough, she should get out of the habit too.

It is going to be hard work.

A week has gone by and I received this message: ‘We are really good, feeling a lot more positive and actually enjoying our dogs which is great, dont get my wrong we still have a long way to go but the change in a week has been amazing!  Since Tuesday the dogs have been left on there own on the Thursday, Friday, Tuesday and today. Now I do not want to jinx anything however so far no damage at all.  
Lola and saxon are left in the lounge with the babygate closed. They have a box of toys and chew left the room, I have found if I leave it in the box lola likes to help her self its more exciting for her, we also leave milk cartons with a few biscuits in (no lid) and the odd toilet roll etc. we also put our ironing board and washing basket on the sofa and our washing airer in front of  it to stop them jumping up.  We have had a couple of sucessful trips in the car without any dribbling or sick ( this is a true turning point for her)’.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lola and Saxon, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).