Ask the Dogfather: Lena the muncher and Tucker the jumper

A Greyhound who gnaws and a jumping Golden.

Lena likes wooden tables for lunches, defiantly starting her owner in the eye while she munches. — photo Courtesy of Mary-Jean Mine

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather?Write him at

Dear Dogfather,

I have been adopting rescued greyhounds since 1992 and find they have a whole passel of idiosyncrasies. Vitesse, my first and longest lived so far, was typical of retired racers, as she was docile and sweet and never barked. She was The Only Dog until I was asked to foster Rhody, who arrived with a whole box of problems. And she barked. So Tesse learned to bark, too.

Of course, the foster part was short-lived, and full adoption came within the week.

Rhody had a bit more difficulty adjusting to life without a cage. When I had to be away for stretches of time, she amused herself by eating the corners of furniture and edges of windowsills. I attributed that to separation anxiety and was glad I owned very few wood items of any value.

She finally calmed down a bit and we regarded the damage as patina, or maybe just signs of a time gone by. When Rhody was joined by Annie, the dynamics changed again. Annie was super shy and Rhody was nuts. I will not go into details about adjusting to indoor living, as both dogs have now crossed the rainbow bridge and the floors no longer get washed daily.

Now we have Number Four, Lena. She is pretty nearly perfect, even though she had never seen the inside of a house or a basket of dog toys in all the five years she spent on the track.  She decided home was a good thing, and has never had an accident. She does have one flaw, though, sort of a variation on Rhody.  Rho pursued her wood fetish in private, leaving me to discover her latest project.

Lena looks right at me and begins to chew the corner of the coffee table. Or the end of the piano. Also, she managed to bite off a small strip of rushing on the only genuine antique in the house. She has a varied doggy diet, with lots of munchies and the occasional pretend toothbrushing gimmick from Milkbone, so I can’t think she lacks fiber. She bites wood whether we are alone or have company, so it doesn’t seem a bid for attention. Your thoughts?

Greyhound Friend,

Mary-Jean Miner

Dear Greyhound friend,

The greyhound world is lucky to have you in it. Lena’s not chewing wood because of a nutritional deficiency: she’s a wood chewer. Many destructive chewer dogs are quite specific in what they chew. Some only do plastic (beware TV clickers); some are strictly into cloth, (beware couches), and Lena’s into wood. From her perspective, rushing is an acceptable variation of wood. Lena needs two things: a “leave it” command, and redirection. Even if she learns not to touch wood in your presence, it’s not good enough. Lena needs to be introduced to the “Dog God,” the God of dogs who sees all, all the time. And she (dog God) doesn’t like it when Lena chews wood whether Greyhound friend is around to see or not. A vibration collar may be a fine dog God. Whenever her mouth touches wood you touch the remote button and Lena gets startled by the vibration, and associates her mild surprise to chewing wood, not you. You say nothing. If need be, set up a mirror so she can’t see you observing her.

In your absence apply bitter apple or some similar product to wood she favors. Also, when you leave, redirect her attention to “special” toys that she only gets when nobody’s home. Try three hollow marrow bones, one with a piece of meat wedged in it so she can’t get it, but will be very interested. The other two with cheese and peanut butter. Very important: remove them when you’re home or they will lose their “specialness.” As for the leave it command, it would be best taught by a pro.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

We have a two-year-old golden retriever, Tucker, who is the love of my life and such a good boy – 99 percent of the time. The other 1 percent is a big problem. When people come to visit he jumps up on them. He’s a very big boy, 65 pounds, to jump up on people. We’ve tried keeping the leash on him, but he still jumps up. So my question is “How can we teach Tucker not to jump when guests arrive at our door?”

Thank you.


Dear Rebecca,

Most of the “good boy- bad boy” percentages I hear are 90-0, not 99-1. So it sounds like Tucker is a real sweetheart, but has become habituated to jumping on people entering your home. Most of the time I need to ask a few questions before I answer one, and my question here is, does he jump on you, especially when you come home? As they say, “It starts at home.” Rebecca, you, and anybody who may live with you need to have a zero tolerance for Tucker’s jumping.

The “all rewards” trainers (does not include me) might tell you to have the visitors ignore the dog and turn away from him when he jumps, and you give him treats when he’s not jumping. However, Grandma may not be thrilled with Tucker’s paws raking her side as she tries to ignore him, not to mention the 45-pound five-year-old trying to stay upright as he’s being accosted by a 65-pound two-year-old with four legs.

By using the leash to hold Tucker back he’s not learning anything, he’s just being physically restricted. There needs to be a negative consequence the second his front feet leave the floor, with accompanying “contrast” the moment all four feet are back on the floor. By contrast I mean praise. Training a dog is very much based on timing — letting the dog know you like his behavior or you don’t, as the behavior is happening. So if the dog hears “Off” and something unpleasant happens the moment he’s jumping, then a quick “good boy” the moment all four feet are back on the floor, he’ll pick up quicker on the contrast between your happiness when he’s not jumping, and your unhappiness when he is.

So what to do? Well, there are a myriad of things to do depending on your capabilities and Tucker’s sensitivity. Let’s start with Tucker dragging a leash and assume that he may jump on you. Were you to step on the leash in just the right spot so that when Tucker jumps he runs out of leash on the way up as you say “Off”, and smile with a quick “good boy” when he’s down, he’d learn to stop jumping quickly. Easier said than done.

Instead, recruit a friend or family member. Then hold the leash in your hands (LOOSELY)  and let Tucker commit to the jump as your recruit enters the house. Snap and release the leash sharply to the side as Tucker is on his way up as you say “off.” There is a world of difference between a snap and release and a pull on the leash. A snap will not move his body, a pull will. It’s also best to do this with a collar that has a couple of metal tags on it so that it makes a chinking sound when you snap the leash. It may take several repetitions of the recruit entering until Tucker “gets it.”

Ideally, Tucker should be taught what I call the “Door Turmoil Routine,” the routine at the door to eliminate the turmoil. When someone comes to the door, Tucker gets praised for letting you know someone’s there. Then he’s told to go to his spot (in sight of the door but out of the way) and lie down and stay. Then the guest is let in and greeted, and then Tucker is told “okay” and allowed to come forward and greet the guest politely. This would probably need to be taught to Tucker by a pro.

Good luck and keep your questions coming!

The Dogfather