Canine Behavior/Chewing

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Question
We have been very fortunate to have adopted a beautiful Greyhound German Shepherd Cross when she was 4mon old by the name of Kyra. Kyra has been amazing to train in many ways due to her wanting to please you disposition. Kyra never chewed objects in the home other than her chew toys and bones when she was teething even when the kids toys were left on the floor. We have taken her to obedience lessons not only to teach her obedience commands but also for social skills and she has passed a level 2 obedience. Kyra was also create trained when we adopted her and in March when she was 10mon of age we allowed her to be out for the create for short periods of time and then extending the time each week. All went well and we make sure to take her for a short walk before we leave in the morning and give her a chew bone and toys and Kyra is left for no longer than 5hr before I am home to let her out. Kyra is walked for over 1hr in the evening as well as working on obedience.  However the last two weeks Kyra has taken to chewing items in the house but most of all my shoes even though the kids shoes and my husbands shoes are right next to mine. As soon as we enter the house we know if she has been good or not by the look on her face. I do not understand why she is doing this as we make sure all her needs are meet. I would be very grateful to your insight on this chewing phase (I hope) and ways to overcome it. Many thanks in advance for your advise.

Answer
I have no idea what sort of "obedience" work you've done but if it involves coercion, it's working against you.  If it does not (positive reinforcement only), then you have a primer on how to achieve success so your dog develops behaviors that are rewarded and avoids those that are not.

Was she spayed before her first estrus cycle?  This is a huge problem that might benefit from a short course of progesterone treatment.  If a bitch is spayed prematurely (or when her estrogen is high), certain immature behaviors can "set" and even be "set off".

It appears she is beginning to suffer from separation anxiety.  The only reason you see she "has been good or not by the look on her face" is because of your reaction if she has not been "good".  In order to prove this, I have many times pointed to a neutral object in a room and said in the direction of the dog, "What is THIS" and received, in reply, body language that suggested "guilt" but was really a learned behavior to my human response (had that benign object been damaged, which it never actually was).  So the dog is not responding to the "fact" that she has "done" something "bad" but to your subtle body language (or perhaps overt distress).  Stop.

The dog is not able to psychologically take responsibility for the entire living space right now.  That does NOT mean I recommend crating.  The crate should be used sparingly, never for punishment, and never for hours of confinement.  It is supposed to be a place of comfort and self sought by the dog.  Confinement to a crate while people are in the house doing work (carpenters, etc.) is okay so long as the dog is not stranger aggressive and the crate is clearly a place she freely CHOOSES to go in order to "den" (with the door open).

I suggest you attempt to change your leave taking behaviors and confine the dog to a space where shoes (and other personal objects) are not available: the kitchen with baby gate (even one on top of the other if necessary).  See the following treatment I devised for separation anxiety and try it, slowly, for a few weeks and then report back using followup feature.

Treating Separation Anxiety

1.  You can create an emotional independence in the dog by conditioning a "time out" article.
Simply place the chosen article (something you don’t use for any other purpose, like an odd garden statue) in full view of the dog every day for thirty minutes to one hour and call a "time out", during which you actively ignore the dog.  When you remove the article, reward the dog with praise, but don’t overdo it.  Over the course of two weeks, your dog will begin to recognize the article and begin to acknowledge your unavailability (many dogs go to a corner to lie down, or their favorite couch spot, etc.)  Once you observe your dog’s recognition of the article, put it in plain sight about ten minutes before leaving the house (but NOT in the room the dog is confined to, the dog will lose its conditioned response.)  In other words, use the article as a CUE to the dog that you are not available.

2.  Make your dog earn everything for about one month, including pats, entering/leaving the home, etc.  (This is called “Nothing in life is free”.)  You will be promoting yourself psychologically, which will help the dog to feel calmer.

3.  Purchase Turid Rugaas' book, “On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming signals” or go to her web site http://www.canis.no/rugaas/index.php.  Observe the dog’s behaviors before you depart to determine if your departure rituals are creating anxiety.  Use calming signals just before leaving the house WITHOUT saying “goodbye” to the dog (which can set the dog up for emotional distress.)  Dogs instantly respond to these signals and you’ll begin to see that response immediately.

4.  Change your departure rituals so you do not inadvertently "cue" your dog.  This means doing things differently EVERY day during treatment (which should last about two to four weeks.)  If you put your coat on last, put your coat on five minutes before you actually leave the house; if you pick up your keys last, put them in your pocket ten minutes before leaving the house, etc.  Again, given two weeks (at least) of this treatment, along with the others, your dog’s extreme sensitivity to your departure rituals should diminish and/or extinguish.  When you RETURN home, ignore the dog for a few seconds, and then ask the dog to “sit” and acknowledge him/her; keep your homecoming attention short and sweet.  If there is any destruction around (torn objects, etc.) IGNORE IT.  What you don’t want is the dog to fear your RETURN as much as s/he fears your leave taking.  

5.  Do not allow the dog free “run” of the house when you are gone; this places a heavy emotional burden to “protect” on the dog, and might increase stress (which accounts for excessive barking!) Put the dog in a protected space (kitchen, well ventilated and spacious laundry area,  etc., NOT the basement or the garage), or use a crate large enough for him/her to get up and turn around, and only use it for short periods of time.  Keep “special” toys there the dog doesn’t have at any other time, like a “kong” with a ½ teaspoon of peanut butter, a Buster Cube which holds a portion of the dog's daily food and which the dog will roll around to obtain it, a squeaky toy, etc. The dog will begin to anticipate this treat and associate it with your leaving the house.  Try using sound technology especially designed for dogs, as seen on Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Through-Dogs-Ear-Behavior-Companion/dp/1591798116

6.  If your dog was spayed before attaining her first estrus cycle, discuss with your veterinarian the possibility of short term progesterone treatment.  This introduces to the dog the hormone that calms the bitch who is in the grip of strong estrogen impulse.  Never spay a bitch without doing an estrogen assay.  It is far better to allow a bitch a full first estrus cycle than to spay prior to that, providing you are always vigilant and there is never any threat of her impregnation (and it can take a "free" male - one at large - only seconds to lock on.)  

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.

Expertise

I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.

Experience

30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for ThePetChannel.com for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, K9Shrinks@egroups.com. Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Organizations
Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Publications
Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Education/Credentials
Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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