Sunday, March 2, 2014

Behaviour Bytes - Some questions answered - Part One

All of us who have human children know that when they do things that we aren't happy with, we can at least sit down with them, and enter into a discussion to try to sort it out.   When you have a four legged family member, communicating your dislike of their behaviour, and discussing with them an alternate one is a lot harder.

As March is Polite Pets Month, I asked some of my fellow Facebookers on the Lost and Found page I am part off, if they have any behavioural questions. The response was a surprise, and the questions are  not easy ones to answer.  Thank you to those who have asked questions.

But first, some ground rules
1. I can't give every single solution to the problem, as I don't know every single detail of the problem to start with i.e there are many variables and many different solutions.
2. Do not hesitate to ask further questions and "what if's"
3. What may be a solution for some may not be the solution for others - behaviour and interactions are fluid, not fixed.  (see rule 1).

The advice given is general in nature, and there may be more options available to you with more specific information.

And as every March is Polite Pets Month, why not have a conversation with your own vet in your own neck of the woods, or ask them for advice on who does have an interest in behaviour in your area.

Julie asks

" My pup will not stop chewing the carpet. I offer other toys and things to play with, but eventually goes back to the carpet. Very frustrating."

Think of the problem as a behaviour that needs to be re-trained or re-focused onto something else. Your puppy is not trying to annoy you - this is an important point!   It is just being a normal puppy that hasn't learnt the house rules yet.

Lure your puppy away from the carpet, ensuring that there is not too much fuss about the chewing on the carpet in the first place.  As a lure,  smear some tinned dog food onto a dog chew (it adds to the flavour), put it under your pet's nose, and lead them off the carpet. You can use a word such as "off" if you like (to mean "off the carpet" or "off the lounge" etc).

Take them to an area which is your preferred  "chew area",  and constantly reward for using that area, using nice long calm pats along the side of their body, and/or saying "Good boy/girl".

Change the chew toys each 20 to 30 min or whatever your "eventually " time frame is, as their concentration spans are short - they will get bored easily with the chew you have given them, and go back to doing something else, and it sounds like it is back to the carpet. 

When your pup is on the carpet and not chewing, reward with nice long pats, and saying "Good girl/boy).  (What we do in our house, is that our puppy is trained to sit on her own mat in the lounge room, and when she is on that, she is encouraged to chew her own toys (we started with carrot sticks as she really wanted to chew).

Now what happens when you are not there, but your pup and carpet are?  The easiest solution is to block off access totally. You can do this either through a play pen, crating or a child gate/block off. The only other solution is to make it unpleasant for them to chew it whilst you are away - either cover the carpet with thick plastic,

One scenario that was pointed out to me by my family  is what if the puppy is chewing the carpet because some yummy juice was spilt there?  You will need to cover the area with a thick plastic mat, even putting something over it like a lounge chair, aswell as rewarding for chewing elsewhere. Then do the steps above.

Marie Louise asks
"I have a dog that eats so fast I'm worried she will choke. What can I do to slow her down."

You are right to be worried as pets have died from chewing and eating so quickly. We get our dog Piper to work for her food, as that slows down her eating habits, and also forms part of her environmental enrichment too.

Here is our dog, Piper, who loves her Kong Wobbler.  We have also scattered her food around parts of the yard, and used it for training.

In a "gobbler"  situation, we need to stop using the food bowl in the traditional way - with food all piled up.  As a short term solution, turn it upside (if possible), and put the food in the rim in a thin layer. (if you have a bowl that can do that).

You can try putting the food as a thin layer on a baking tray, only putting a small amount of food down, and only waiting till your dog sits before they get more.

Feeding using treat balls instead - the dog has to work for the food.  We use a Kong Wobbler, but you can also use Buster Cube or other similar treat balls.

There are special bowls you can buy that have blunt spikes on them, with the food sitting around them.  It stops them being able to gulp and take big mouthfuls of food.  If you google "slow feeding bowls" you will see many variations on this theme.

What we do with our neighbour's dog (he is  Labrador) whenever we babysit it, is to feed him a quarter of his food (in a thin layer), then make him work for the rest - we throw some in his treat ball, scatter some around small sections of the yard, hide some behind some toys, and generally stretch the meals out a little bit.

Take it slow, be patient, ask for good manners, and treat him for sitting and waiting.


More questions will be discussed in Part Two.

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Russell Vale Animal Clinic.  Thanks for reading.