Kathy Diamond Davis

Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States

Author of the book "Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others," 2nd edition published by Dogwise Publishing. Canine Behavior Series at www.veterinarybehavior.com

Monday, October 31, 2005

Destructive Chewing and Crating

I just answered a question on destructive chewing in a case where the person would prefer not to use a crate, and thought it would be interesting to add to my blog (It's a male dog, so I'm using the male pronoun):

Scolding won't work on the chewing, but redirecting his chewing into appropriate items will work, when combined with supervision and him having time to grow up. Right now his teeth are screaming at him. They come in loose and have to be set into the jaw bone by chewing, so the chewing is a genuine need. It can also bestow lifelong benefits in dental health, if you get him into the habit of chewing good toys now. This is your best chance to get that chewing directed into the right items, during this special stage of his life.

Don't let him have access to things he tends to chew that are inappropriate, when you are not with him to supervise. Find some "dog proof" (for him--every dog is different as to what they'll chew!) area for him to hang out in when he's unsupervised. Some people use a room, but there are dogs who will chew the room apart! It helps to have a doggy door--or two, stacked, for sufficient height that he won't jump over--rather than a solid closed door. When the dog can see out, destruction to the door seems to be less common.

The crate is what most people use for the alone time, but it's not the only way. The bottom line is that it be safe for the dog and nothing there for him to tear up. Remember that you must not come in and punish the dog for destructive behavior, because that will produce separation anxiety, a really devastating problem. It will also make a dog fearful and distrustful of people like the one doing the punishment--something you definitely don't want with a giant breed.

When you see the dog chewing something inappropriate, have a spray bottle of a bittering agent such as Bitter Apple or similar products within your easy reach--put them around the house if necessary! Get up, say "Leave It" in a calm voice and spray THE ITEM with Bitter Apple. Don't touch the dog, don't spray the dog, don't yell at the dog--don't even give the dog a dirty look! Just make the item taste bad. Bitter Apple is not like some sort of force field that will protect an item from chewing. To do that, you would have to spray the item about 4 times a day, because it evaporates quickly. But Bitter Apple is awesome for training.

INSTANTLY after you say "Leave It" (calmly!) and spray the item, get a toy your dog likes and tease the dog with the toy just enough that the dog wants it. Make sure your husband understands, this is not to be a big rousing game: the objective is to quickly get the dog chewing that toy. You are switching the chewing from an inappropriate item to an appropriate one. You're going to do this over and over and over, and as your dog matures and you set this habit, you will have a dog who seeks out his own toys to fulfill his chewing needs.

Look at the textures of things your dog chews, and provide toys of similar textures--those are the things he's feeling his teeth need. No toys are safe for all dogs, so monitor, monitor, monitor. I like to provide three textures, usually solid rubber toys, hard Nylabones of the largest size that dog will chew, and large rope toys. If you have just one dog, you can put treats into a Kong or other toy built to hold food. If you have multiple dogs, do not leave them together with treat-filled toys, because they might well start fighting over them. The same is true of rawhide and other edible chews.

The crate or other confinement area doesn't teach the dog anything--you do the teaching. The confinement area is only to keep him from getting hurt or developing/strengthening bad habits when you are not supervising. So if you can do this without a crate, that is fine. I've done it both ways with different dogs.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Male vs. Female Dogs as SoulMates

Answering a question someone asked online today, I got to discuss an interesting subject I thought would be good to post here:

Males are likely to enjoy exploring. I have found my male therapy dogs love to go through the nursing home or other facility and see who or what will be around the next corner. Male dogs, if neutered, can be good, flashy performers for dog sports as well as work such as assisting a disabled person. Male dogs seem to have a special sense of loyalty, and that may be a little enhanced when the owner is female.

Female dogs are the mommies and nurses. You might find this dog, with just the right early experiences, taking a motherly attitude toward small animals and children. The female is more likely to lick your ear because it's a bit sore--the male may be licking it because it's tasty! Female dogs tend to be somewhat more obedient. If a female dog is shy, she may be especially nervous in unfamiliar settings, because she's not quite as interested in exploring as a male dog is.

I like both sexes for my personal dogs. I have for quite a few years had two females--which is the toughest same-sex balancing act for keeping the peace--and one male. I feel that the females do not really "oppress" one another in choosing which is the top girl, but they also don't resolve it once and for all as well as the males seem to. That's my intuition as the reason girl-dog fights sometimes go to the death, and seem to never really be solvable. If you can keep them in balance, it can work. I've had two duos that did great, but the one I have now is more difficult. It works because one is mentally weak and the other is mentally very sound, and they both know it. So the weak one reluctantly lets the sound one prevail, and the sound one is, thank God, strong enough (younger and about 10 pounds heavier and about 3 inches taller) to make it stick.

I keep only one male at a time, because I feel that he helps to keep the girls in balance. He is like the final, top authority in the dog pack of three. They both respect him, and in fact, they both seem to find him very attractive and to want his attention.

When two males are kept together, they seem to have a tendency--in SOME breeds, but NOT in all breeds--for the males to decide who is top and who is bottom dog. They seem to pick a more stable pack order. The bad thing about that is what it can do to their temperaments. The top male can be too full of himself and potentially even have his attitude toward humans become slightly more dangerous. The bottom male can be forced to such submission that his life is somewhat oppressive and he is not capable of the accomplishments in life that he would have been able to rise to without that pack relationship forcing him down.

So, I don't want to keep two males together myself. I like the boy feeling like he is very special and has two girl dogs--or one girl dog--to make goo-goo eyes at him and get behind him when he "protects" her at the fence outside, and generally to let him have a healthy ego. I don't think it hurts a female dog mentally to be slightly subordinate to one other female dog, and that male in the pack is the REAL boss, so both girls seem to stay pretty mentally balanced. I think that, as with humans, males and females have different needs for their egos. We women have a stronger sense of who we are, perhaps? And males need a little more validation of that from what they are able to accomplish in the world they inhabit?

I'm going somewhat on intuition here, but I think it can be helpful to you in deciding what you want to do about the sex of your dog. The more interested you are in dog training and the more likely you are during the life of this dog to have another dog in your home, the more difference the sex of the dog could potentially make. But as I said, I prefer owning both sexes myself. I have had wonderful workers and lovies of both sexies!