I often talk to my clients about a certain thing I call puppy proofing. If you have you a puppy out and about the house without a leash attach to yourself and the puppy, it is up to the pet parent to make sure the house itself is a safe place. It is also up to the pet parent to set up your puppy for success.
Dogs are natural opportunistic scavengers. Add on top of that Pet parents who must leave their dogs alone 5 plus hours a day for work it can easily set a dog up to failure. Often times we as humans tend to forget to leave something behind that keeps dogs stimulated which in turns helps to stop puppies/dogs from getting into trouble. We also tend to have the bad habit of keeping the “no no” items in reach of wet noses.
Items that most pet parents forget to put out of paws reach:
- News Papers
- Trash cans (that are over flowing, easy to open)
- Trash bags left out in the kitchen
- Food items on table and countertops
- Couch area
While the list can change depending on the dog what should we do as humans. This issue doesn’t just stop at puppy hood which is why I tell owners to keep puppy proofing to increase the chance of the extinction behavior. No matter how well we teach “Leave it” we are not home 100% of the time and thus we need to work on the behavior stated above.
Extinction behavior is observed in both operantly conditioned and classically conditioned behavior. When operant behavior that has been previously reinforced no longer produces reinforcing consequences the behavior gradually stops occurring.
In basic terms we make sure your dog can not practice that behavior even if you are not at home. They do not earn the reward (chewing, eating and so on) of the items that are the no no items. When we limit this chance of the dogs to practice the unwanted behavior it slowly fade away.
Emma the dog when out of her crate home alone would pull down magazines and rip them to shreds when the owners were at work. This allowed Emma, to reward herself with the feeling of the paper being ripped it also doubled the reward allowing her to deal with the boredom, stress and loneliness. And the finally reward herself even though it was negative and not pleasant was in the form of attention from pet parents(pet parents come home and yell at Emma).
So how do we fix this issue with Emma. One rout is the crate, while this would lower the work for humans its not much space for the dog for 8 hours a day. Most pet parents wish to allow their dog a larger area to stretch and walk around during the day.
The main rout to go is to remove the magazines away from the normal area, and even make sure they are higher than Emma can jump in case she finds the new location. Next, what do we have to offer to stimulate Emma’s mind to keep her from getting bored? While having a bunch of toys out for your dog to access if you have the same toys out all the time they will get bored of them. So change out the toys you have out for your pups/dogs, this will make it like a birthday every other day for your dog. Puzzles, know how I mentioned that does were scavengers? Make them work for their food while you are away (great for single dog homes if more dogs in home have multi areas with treats in different puzzles. Feed them their normal morning meals before you leave.) Frozen Kongs are always a great way to keep your dog busy while you are away.
By giving them items to keep busy one you wear them out and two they do not have to look around for items to keep them busy.
Another way to go at this if you do not want a crate but wish to keep your dog out. Pick an area in your house where there are no items you wish them not to touch. Block this area off with a baby gate. This is your dogs area, its larger than a crate they can walk around, and still reach all their safe toys. If a baby gate is too small making a nice inside fence area can be made easily .
Using nice wood and black heavy grade chicken wire you can make a tall fence in area you wish your dog to stay in. You could even make it with hinges that will allow you to close it up once you are back home.
When it comes down to it take the time to puppy proof even as they age. Set your dog up to succeed while you are not home. If you have to do a quick walk around the house the night before right before you go to bed. Then once more right before you leave the house. Yelling at a dog when you get home will not change the behavior as they will not associate being yelled at with the item that was destroyed.