Dog Talk: What to do when your pet is destroying your house

  • Animals
  • Monday, 28 Jan 2019

What is a good, pain-free way of teaching your dog not to chew things around the house? —

Dogs are adorable but when they chew up your house and home, you have a problem.

Ideally, you invite a trainer to come to your home, and you work out what needs to be done. Going for weekly classes is also a good idea. The thing is, many families are already pushed to the max with long work hours, unending school days and other responsibilities.

In an effort to help dog lovers and pets everywhere, we take a look at the issues presented by Whiskey, a sweet girl with a few behaviour challenges, and get advice from a trainer on helping her learn better manners.

In order to make it as useful to readers as possible, the trainer did not meet the dog – so what you see is the real deal in terms of dog behavioural training principles and methods. That means you can try it out at home right away.

Whiskey’s issues

Whiskey is 14 months old, a lady dog who has the classic lines of a whippet.

“Whiskey was about six months old when we got her,” Her mum says. “She was a rescue pup who was raised with a group of three or four dogs.”

Whiskey used to enjoy playing in her garden during the day and only coming in at night. However, ever since her street flooded, she has been afraid to be out when it rains. Also, thunder and lightning terrify her.

“When she is let inside, she bites things like the corners of the walls and stairs,” her mum says. “If you touch her or hug her, she really doesn’t like it. She will nip at your hands quite hard.

“But even when there is no rain, she would chew everything! When she used to chew our shoes, we would smack her with them when we saw her do it. Now she doesn’t chew our shoes inside the house. But she will when she is outside.

“When she is outside, she barks to come in. And she would chew our shoes in revenge.”

Whiskey’s family are allergic to fur, so they don’t let her go upstairs or into the bedrooms. But as the dog is afraid to be outside, she sleeps indoors at night.

“She takes ages to settle down,” her mum says. “We’ve given her a rug by the stairs. We chain her up, give her a treat and leave her. She will whine, then realise nobody will come and then she will settle down. She’s learned that.”

The family found Whiskey was making too much noise. On seeking advice from one trainer, they put a shock collar on her for three weeks. However, on more advice from other parties that shock collars are cruel and promote aggression in dogs, they took it off again. But with the conflicting advice, the family are at their wits’ end.

“She still doesn’t listen and she chews things,” her mum says. “She’s also a really picky eater. She won’t eat her food for days. Her tummy is okay, and I cook for her, but she often just won’t eat.

“Help! How do we get her to mind us, and to stop chewing things?”

What the trainer says

Originally from Johor Baru and now living in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Rubini Maruthian studied dog training in the United States. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer from Animal Behaviour College (USA), a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers USA, owner of the Dog Gone Good Pawfessional Dog Training and has 10 years hands-on experience.

Rubini advocates Positive Reinforcement Methods, which basically means there is no screaming, hitting, shock collaring or other violent approach. So, how does that work?

“Training is best done when you meet the dog and family, and work together on issues,” Rubini advises. “However, there are basic principles that anyone can apply when training their dog.”

“With Whiskey, everything is inter-related, so I’d suggest a three-step approach where we fix the eating first.”

Dogs are just like us in that if you offer them a mix of food they love and food they don’t like, they’ll skip meals, waiting for the good stuff. Therefore, Whiskey’s mum has to work out a diet plan that dog will eat consistently.

“You either cook every day or find a commercial food Whiskey likes,” Rubini advises. “Do what fits your lifestyle and works for the pet.”

At the same time, you work on step two.

“The dog is chewing because she needs more exercise,” Rubini notes. “A good dog is a tired dog. Like kids, if you let them play to the max, they crash and go to sleep. Running around in the garden is not enough.”

Walks are not simply a matter of letting your dog pull you on a leash. “A properly structured walk is where you let her sniff and see new things,” Rubini advises. “At the same time, she walks on a loose leash because this should be a fun and relaxing activity for the both of you.

“A medium-sized dog like Whiskey should have two walks a day that are at least 30 minutes, each. So when she’s home, she’s tired and she won’t chew or indulge in bad behaviour.”

Step three involves a dog only space. “Dogs like to hide away in a dark, cool, safe space,” Rubini notes. “You need to recreate this. Think dog cave.”

This dog space has to be presented as a safe haven. Then, when she’s afraid of the weather or male visitors, she can go and hide there.

“You can use a crate or a space with any kind of cover, like a dog basket with a blanket tented over it,” Rubini says. “Important: never ever tie her up in the crate or lock her up in it. Because if she sees it as a trap, she’ll hate it. She has to go in and out as she likes.”

To train her to love her safe space, she needs to associate it with positive things only. When she steps in, pet her, give her a treat and praise her. If you can, feed her next to it, too.

“Dogs learn to accept their safe spaces in as quickly as one week,” Rubini notes. “But it can take as long as two months, depending on the dog. Be patient!”

So, the three steps are: fix the food, walk the dog daily, and create a safe space.

Talk to us

Whiskey’s family are taking this advice on board and they will report back in a month to share what happened. In the meantime, if you have a pet with the same issue, please do try this method, and write in and tell us about it.

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