I was talking to a friend of a friend the other day about her
Golden Retriever. We’ll call the dog “Fido” to protect the
guilty. Fido is 9 months old and has a serious appetite for
Italian leather and designer woodwork. Every time his human
companions leave him alone in the house, Fido goes to town. So
far, the dog has done over $2000 worth of damage to furniture and
walls. My friend was lamenting that her dog had “separation
anxiety” and was wondering about medicating the poor distressed
Upon further interrogation, I discovered that Fido doesn’t get
upset when his owners leave. He doesn’t piddle in the floor or
whine. He doesn’t get all crazy when they come home. He just eats
things. All kinds of things. He rips up pillows. He chews the
couch legs. He gnaws at the doorframes. Nothing is safe.
Coincidentally (or not, as the case may be), he also was allowed
to roam the house during his entire puppyhood as Destructo-dog.
Because, you know, it would be so cruel to confine him. So now
his owner is talking about drugging him or giving him away. Which
So where did this well-meaning person go wrong that she couldn’t
teach her dog what she wanted?
Well, she did teach him. Just not what she wanted to teach him.
She left him alone. She gave him the option to chew inappropriate
things while he was growing up. He couldn’t be corrected, since
no one was home. By the time they came home, no correction would
tell him what they were angry about. He’s just a dog – he doesn’t
know what his people are mad about so long after the fact.
When you give your puppy the option to chew inappropriate things
and don’t correct him, he forms bad habits. Habits, as most
anyone knows, are very hard to break. You need to teach your
puppy from the start what is his to chew and what isn’t. The only
way to do that is to supervise him every single time he has the
option to chew something you don’t want him chewing. If you can’t
supervise him, he needs to be confined somewhere with appropriate
things. A crate is best, since there are no walls or cabinet
edges to tempt him. Confined in his crate with good toys, such as
a Kong or other safe chews, his only option is to play with
appropriate things. He forms a habit of chewing on things that
are appropriate for the rest of his life. Since he might live to
15 years of age or more, what’s a year or so in confinement
during the teething and rowdy stages?
Every second of every day that your dog is awake, he is learning.
The word “training” brings forth the mental image of dogs in
competitions and earning titles for many folks, but “training” is
really just a way of directing your dog’s learning. If you don’t
direct it, your dog will find his own way of having fun – and it
probably won’t be an idea you like! If he has a grand old time
making mincemeat of your chairs and you aren’t there to stop him,
he learns to enjoy chewing on wood. After that, chewing on wood
furniture becomes a habit. Breaking that habit is a lot harder
than just getting him in the habit of loving his Kong!
Do your dog and yourself a favor. Confine him during his most
active learning period, before he gets a chance to form bad
habits. Let him learn to enjoy his toys. Your couch will thank
you for it.