Want a puppy that doesn’t destroy everything?

30 Oct

Of course you do, we all do. There are two things that nobody likes about puppies: lack of bodily function control and lack of self-restraint when it comes to chewing. I don’t claim to be some kind of dog magician, but I’m proud to say that Wally was, overall, a very non-destructive puppy.

Wally at 16 weeks, so innocent looking (yet secretly devilish)

Here’s my advice to new puppy owners (or folks bringing home an adult dog) who would like to keep their Jimmy Choos unchewed.

Understand why dogs chew
My friend Emma made an excellent point that I didn’t address in the initial publication of this article: dogs love to chew! It’s a natural source of pleasure for the majority of dogs, so all dog owners should consider chewing to be a natural behavior that requires simple management to prevent it from becoming a problem behavior. Also know that chewing is good for canine dental health; it’s how a dog “brushes” his teeth.

There are three other reasons why a puppy will chew: boredom, teething discomfort, and stress. Knowing this will help you create an environment that addresses or prevents those things, thereby setting you and your puppy up for success.

Puppy-proof your house
Everybody tells you to do this before puppy comes home and for good reason. Puppies will chew on everything that fits in their mouth, including (but not limited to) electrical cords, furniture legs, DVD cases, books, toothpicks, coins, clothing, and dental retainers (Wally’s major sin). They will get into everything they can reach and most likely destroy it.

Start out with one or two rooms in the house (no puppy should get full run of the house); your puppy shouldn’t be anywhere unsupervised anyway so pick the rooms where you spend the most time. Pick up everything, cover cords, and get down on all fours to make sure you didn’t miss anything. You may want to tape down rug corners or completely block off sections of the room, such as the entertainment center. Set up a puppy safe-zone, such as an x-pen or crate with a cozy bed and goodies to chew on.

Be watchful!
If the puppy does chew on something that’s your fault, so be the responsible adult and keep an eye on the baby of the house. Dogs aren’t born knowing house rules so you must (gently) train them in the ways of human order. The best way to do this is to prevent mistakes in the first place! Get into the habit of visually checking the puppy every 5min or so and always keep him in the same room as you. You can try the umbilical leash method, which many people use with success (I’ve never tried it). If you can’t keep a visual or have him in the room then he should be in a crate or x-pen with some chewies. This watchfulness is also a key to housebreaking.

There are lots of behaviors that can make your life easier when you have a puppy, but these were my own favorites: leave it/Doggie Zen (why Wally is the only BT on Earth who doesn’t steal food), watch, down, wait, go to your mat/place. All of these teach focus and self-control. Another crucial lesson is bite inhibition, which is not only essential for human interaction but will also make your puppy more self-aware regarding his mouth.

If your puppy does chew on something inappropriate you should gently remove the object and replace it with something tasty like a bully stick. Remember that even past one year of age dogs are still puppies mentally and are still learning an entirely foreign cultural standard. You would expect some kindness and instruction on cultural expectations if you moved to China; it’s the same with your puppy learning how to live in People Land. Imagine how anxious you would get if Chinese people never told you the rules and just smacked you every time you unknowingly did something wrong! You might even forget a few times, even after you know the rules, lapsing into the habits of your original culture.

Provide chew toys
This is a no brainer! There should be so many wonderful or delicious things for your puppy to play with and chew on that a real leather Italian loafer is ho-hum. From day one Wally had endless hooves to chew on (literally, I bought them in bulk) and I attribute this to the low number of destruction incidents. He also loves the Buster Cube because it’s both mentally stimulating and has a tangible reward of food. Try lots of different toys to see which ones your puppy likes and which ones are safe for him; a dog that loves to chew will need tough toys and greater supervision to prevent swallowing of parts. Also avoid toys that resemble or smell like things you do NOT want your dog to chew on, such as items that smell strongly of you, are made of leather, or stuffed toys that look like your kids’ favorite fluffy.

Chew toys: hooves, bully sticks, jerky
Food toys: Buster Cube, Go Cat Go Play’N’Treat (great for small dogs), various puzzle toys (require supervision as they’re very chewable), Kong
Play toys: rubber rings, ropes (with fuzzy ends cut off), stuffed animals, etc

Wear out the mind and body
They say a tired puppy makes a happy household, which is dead-on true. A tired puppy sleeps instead of playing chase with your new compression socks or eating a box of crayons. Puppies under the age of one require careful exercise, however, since their growing bodies can be easily damaged or injured, so never force your puppy to exercise. Play instructional games like “puppy chase me,” which will one day turn into “come.” You can also work on balance by having him walk a 2×6 board raised about 1” off the ground or even using Happy Legs (which would also teach stacking). Short walks are fine, just keep an eye out for signs of fatigue, and puppy play dates are always a good idea.

Mental workouts are just as exhausting for a puppy as a physical one, another reason to begin training on day one! With a clicker you can easily teach a puppy a huge number of behaviors, just remember to keep sessions to 5min or less and always very positive.  While group obedience classes should wait until 12-16 weeks of age, you can always start private lessons right away.

Have patience!
One day this too shall pass. One day you’ll be able to leave your dog loose in the house when you run to the grocery store. One day you’ll be free to leave your dirty underwear on the floor without worrying about the dog chewing out the crotch. The process could take months, even years! Some dogs may never be truly trustworthy, and that’s OK. Just practice good management and everybody will be happy.


Posted by on October 30, 2012 in Training


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9 responses to “Want a puppy that doesn’t destroy everything?

  1. milesandemma

    November 15, 2012 at 12:24 am

    Sounds to me like Wally & Miles are just exceptional at their natural terrier jobs. It would be like if you and I always held some kind of law book in our hands to refer to! Well that sounds sort of annoying, but I mean, they are really on-task. Wally is TOTALLY redirecting. What a natural! Too bad we dont live closer, he could explain things to Miles. Sounds like he is a natural at terrier tasks, and at understanding human wants/needs. What a little champ.

    Wow, I am so interested to hear what you’ve heard about small dog potty training. Miles was absolute hell to potty train — something I never encountered with the pups (male or female) that I grew up with. It took him a YEAR to be dependable. Even now, at 3 years of age, I watch him closely in unfamiliar homes when other dogs are present. And I am well-versed in that area of training, and extremely diligent! Nothing will open your eyes up like a Welsh terrier! But I agree, even if a particular kind of dog is tough to train, one should never give up, grow frustrated, or despair. Some terrier traits should be left to nature, but things like potty-training? Patience and diligence — those pay off. Don’t loose patience of give up. Just keep at it if you choose a difficult breed, and do your research before you even dive in to such a task! :)

    • Cassafrass

      November 19, 2012 at 4:21 pm

      Wally was definitely more of a challenge than my previous dog (a Cane Corso) and did take longer to really “get” the concept. I know lots of people with small dogs who don’t even really try to potty train them, tho. That’s what bugs me so much! It’s totally possible, it just takes longer (Wally also was 9-12mo before he was reliable). But then I think anyone who picks a Terrier must have a vast well of patience combined with humor. ;)

  2. Emma

    November 9, 2012 at 10:56 am

    A canopy bed? That must have been quite a sight!!

    I think I really was able to feel accomplished in my training efforts with Miles when he started rushing to get his bully stick when he was over-stimulated. Like when a guest was over and attempted to rough house with him, instead of letting it set him off (which it easily could) Miles ran and brought the guest the bullystick to hold.

    I agree with midwestheaven, and I think a lot of that comes from ignorance or macho-ness on the part of (often) inexperienced owners… I think breeders should always tell people to section off an area. From my experiences with Welsh terriers, this is pretty much mandatory for success. Given full run of the house, most Welsh puppies will never become house trained! Especially the males. Very different than other kinds of dogs that seem to figure out what people want pretty fast — and care what people want too ;)

    I always love reading your articles, and the comments that come from them.

    • Cassafrass

      November 9, 2012 at 11:46 am

      So glad you guys enjoyed the article!

      That’s so funny because Wally does the same thing; it’s like he doesn’t know how to play with you unless he has a toy in his mouth. If someone comes over he’ll do a quick search to find a toy, or if none are available he’ll make half-hearted grabs at socks or blankets because that just MIGHT be a toy, right? :) Our obedience trainer suggested that this is Wally’s way of redirecting an urge to mouth, to which I say “look at me training bite inhibition like a baller, booyah!”

      I’m always frustrated by people who say that small dogs can’t be potty trained (obviously a physical issue is valid, but I’m talking about people who truly believe it’s impossible). When they find out that Wally is 100% potty trained and can hold it for 10+ hours they’re shocked. Wally is proof that it comes down to diligence and good management!

      LOL, the canopy. Imagine walking into your bedroom and seeing half the bed torn down! I made the mistake of underestimating our Labs desire for chocolate and hung my bag of Easter candy from the post. Seems reasonable to think she wouldn’t go for something nearly 10ft off the ground, right? Wrong!

  3. midwestheaven

    November 7, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Very nice article! I’ve never understood people who give puppies unrestrained or supervised run of the house…and then believe they won’t have accidents or chew on things they shouldn’t…

    • Cassafrass

      November 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      Thank you so much, I’m glad you liked it! I’ve never understood it either, they’re just asking for trouble!

  4. milesandemma

    October 31, 2012 at 12:27 am

    Excellent article Cassie!!! Good reading. I especially enjoyed the bit about foreign countries. Thankfully, my travels East have resulted in me being overly spoiled, rather than slapped for my misunderstandings. But, we all experience culture shock now and then, and it can go either way!

    The only thing I’d add to is in the “understanding” category. I think there are 4 reasons. Until I got Miles, I had NO idea that some dogs could naturally enjoy chewing as much as he does. I mean, my last dog refused to chew hard, and the poor guy had to have his teeth removed in his last year because of it. (I cooked soft food for him after the surgery). This isn’t a huge suggestion, obviously, since it applies to a very small fraction of dogs. But, I am just sayin’. A few types out there… They just CRAVE chewing. Non-stop. Welsh terriers are one of those breeds! For pure pleasure alone. I can’t explain it! So pleasure is a category onto itself. And despite my distain for the cost of bullysticks, I need to remind myself… It is less than dental surgery, and weird special soft meals! Miles had perfect teeth, thank goodness!

    Hugs to you & handsome Mr. Wally.

    • Cassafrass

      October 31, 2012 at 9:51 am

      You’re absolutely right, I’ll add that in there! I’ve been pretty fortunate to have had two dogs that were mostly non-destructive, but growing up we had a Lab who ate EVERYTHING. In her quest for food she often destroyed a lot of other things along the way, including a canopy bed!

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