I’ve been enjoying watching #TheVetLife on Animal Planet recently, but I have to comment on something they showed last weekend. Dr. Blue and his wife have recently adopted India, a dog that is, as he describes her, “the size of a horse”. One of their concerns is that the dog is eating their woodwork and has punched a hole in their bedroom wall. Their solution was to hire a trainer, who appears to do a great job, using positive rewards such as food and affection to train India to sit, stay, lie down, etc. However, no amount of obedience training is ever going to cure destructive behaviors in the house.
I’m hoping they’ll see this post and give some thought to showing an animal behaviorist, who will likely tell them that most destructive behaviors are the result of boredom. It’s great that they’re spending dedicated time with India and teaching her the obedience basics – that’s important – but it won’t solve the problem they were complaining about.
India destroys stuff because she doesn’t like being left home alone while they are at work. She needs a job to do to keep her mentally challenged. Some suggestions:
Make a puzzle food dispenser. One of the best I’ve seen used 2-liter bottles with holes drilled through the necks to accommodate a dowel rod. The ends of the dowel rods were hung on a frame that allowed the bottles to be tipped over. It looked kind of like a barbecue spit. The dog’s food rations were then placed in the bottles, and if the dog wants to eat, she must figure out how to flip the bottles to dispense the food.
Another way to do this is to place a few kibbles in selected slots of a muffin tin. Jam tennis balls in all of the slots, and the dog must remove the balls to find out which ones hold food. (Note: my dogs would have this figured out inside of five minutes, so this is not a long-term solution.)
Buy food dispenser puzzles. Tully’s Training has a great blog post showing the different types of toys that are available. I’ll describe just a few here:
Puzzles that use “trap doors” (for lack of a better description). The dog must figure out how to open the doors to get to the treats.
Time-release food dispensers. A bell rings at pre-determined intervals, and your dog is rewarded with the opportunity to get some kibbles. An example of this kind of dispenser is The Foobler. I LOVE this one! Here’s a video demo: Note: The project was crowd-funded through Kickstarter, as mentioned in the video, but has now been released to market and is available on Amazon.
Kong toys, many of which double as food dispensers. We used to have one that was kind of a “Weeble”. You put the food inside, and there were holes along the mid-section. The dog had to tip the dispenser to get the food to come out of the holes.
Look, India is a big girl – like me! If there’s one thing I know about big girls, it’s that we like to eat. If they make her work for her food, she will put her energy into eating rather than destroying the house.
The other important factor is to make sure she is getting enough physical exercise. In my opinion, they ought to hire a dog walker or someone who enjoys jogging or hiking to take the dog out at midday every day for a long, long period of exercise. Even spending an hour or two at the dog park would likely tire India out enough to enable her to behave until they got home.
If you’re struggling with a dog who is destructive, keep these suggestions in mind. And if you know anyone at #AnimalPlanet or #TheVetLife, please pass this along!
Until next time,
Good day, and good dog!