skdt blog

What's in it for Me?

Puppies and dogs explore the worlds with their mouths; it's just what they do. Puppies, especially, seem like they need to give something a good chomp before they decide it's a yay or nay.

While it's totally natural and normal, this behavior can cause some problems. There are a lot of things our opportunistic dogs can't or shouldn't have in their mouths and - by extension - should not be ingesting. So, it comes as no surprise that tug-of-war matches, games of chase leading under the bed, or "catch me if you can" laps around the yard result from a dog finding something they shouldn't have.

SideKick Dog Training | Private Dog Training Milwaukee WI

As unsurprising as these "games" are, they're only serving to break down the trust we build with our dogs, potentially create a habit of guarding resources or perceived prizes, and cause a lot of frustration (and, perhaps, medical expenses) for both you and your dog.

There are better ways to get something you want (or need to get) from your dog - ways that don't involve the games I listed above (or other variations). Before even diving into your options, though, first consider this: how you respond to your dog when they have something can have a big impact on what your dog does next.

For instance, a puppy sniffing around, doing puppy things, comes across a sock; maybe it fell out of the laundry basket on the way to the laundry room in the basement; maybe one of the kids left it lying around; maybe someone missed the hamper altogether. Whatever the circumstances, it smells and the puppy loves it. If someone enters the room and sees the puppy with the sock, they've got a couple options: dive in at the puppy to try getting the sock back, making a big deal about it and, arguably, initiating one or all of the games I mentioned above; OR not make a big deal (with some of the suggestions later in this post).

Though it feels like the right thing to do in the moment, making a big fuss about your dog having something teaches your dog a couple things:

  1. Running away or hiding or gobbling something up really fast allow me to keep something my human wants.

  2. Certain items can be used to get my human to play with me; OR

  3. My human is unpredictable and will sometimes try prying something I found from my mouth and I should find a better hiding spot or protect my prize a little better than last time.

I'm not a risk-taker, so betting isn't my thing; BUT, I would be willing to bet that these are not lessons we're interested in teaching any of our SideKicks! That said, we're not looking to trample our dogs' natural instincts - I regularly encourage my clients, my social media followers, anyone willing to listen to me shouting it from the rooftops to let our dogs sniff, explore, chew, dissect, destroy, and, in general, do dog things!

We aren't looking to prevent this natural and normal behavior; we're looking to set our SideKicks up for success and for safe engagement in these activities. We do that with the two things I talk about all the time: management and training.

SideKick Dog Training | Private Dog Training Milwaukee WI

First and foremost, manage your dog's surroundings and environment.

  • Keep the floors and counters and reach-able surfaces clear of things your dog should not and cannot have. I usually tell people, depending on the size of their dog or puppy, to clear and clean everywhere from the hips down (inside and outside the house).

  • Supervise your dog. If your dog already has a habit of theft or, if your puppy is young and working diligently to help you find the things you forgot or missed, this is important.

  • Use management tools to keep your dog contained in an area that is safe or dog-proofed; you can read the blog post I wrote about it, but, in short, use doors, play pens, baby gates, leashes or tethers, and such to limit your dog's stomping grounds and access to "off limit" items.

  • Provide a rotating assortment of things your dog can have (chews, food toys, stuffed toys, balls, etc.). Include items that give your dog the opportunity to do those dog things I mentioned before: sniffing and exploring, destroying and dissecting, etc. I love keeping an assortment, but only a percentage of my dog's toys available at one time, so that I can rotate them out from the closet and the toys are novel and exciting each time they are brought out.

Your dog cannot chew or ingest things they cannot actually get to or if you're keeping a close eye on them; and, if your dog is only able to chew on or find things that they are allowed to have, they're learning those are the things we chew on when in the mood!

Second, practice makes perfect.

You're human; you're not perfect; you'll forget something, leave something out, or drop something at some point that your dog might want, but cannot have. I know this because I drop things so often - particularly in the kitchen - that, "Whoops," is literally another Recall cue in our house...