Dogcharmer: Potcake is great

But she thinks furniture is yummy.

A dog can break the habit of chewing furniture if it's associated with something unpleasant. —Sophie Elvis

Dear Dogcharmer,

We adopted a Lab mix named Potcake six months ago. She’s now 9 months old, and fine in every way, except for her constant chewing on furniture — wood and cloth. Her favorites are chairs and couches, and we are at our wits’ end! She’s fine in the crate, but when out, she’s relentless. We’ve tried bitter apple and similar products, to no avail. Please help.

Joan A.

Dear Joan,

I can appreciate your frustration. Most budget planning doesn’t include destroyed furniture replacement. Dogs, like people, are creatures of habit, and she’s clearly “habituated.” Basically, training a dog is letting the dog know you like — or don’t like — the behavior, AS IT’S HAPPENING.

Let’s start with toys that should be more enticing than chair legs and couch pillows. All kinds of treat-dispensing toys are now available at pet stores and online — not to mention the old, basic hollow marrow bone with a piece of chicken or peanut butter wedged in the middle. However, being habituated, Potcake is still likely to go back to the chair or couch when she gets momentarily bored with a particular toy. That’s when she needs to understand your displeasure with her behavior. When Potcake’s out of the crate, she gets to drag a four- or six-foot cheap leash with the handle cut off (less likely to get caught on anything). The moment you see her starting to chew anything inappropriate, calmly pick up the end of the leash and give it a slight jerk, telling her, “Uh-uh.” Then give her one of her toys.

If you need to be out of the room when she’s out of the crate, if feasible, set up a mirror so you can see her. This is also a good time for what I refer to as the “Dog God,” the God of Dogs that sees all, all the time, and corrects unwanted behaviors. Joan, using the mirror, imagine Potcake’s response if you were to bang two pots together just as she put her mouth on a chair leg. She would probably screw herself through the ceiling in startlement. And what’s she going to relate that scary noise to? Answer — chewing the chair leg. The Dog God is always watching! Everytime Potcake gets to chew on a piece of furniture, her “habit” strengthens. So for now, because her destructive chewing is habitual, if she can’t be observed, she needs to be in the crate. Stay vigilant, and she’ll come around.

Good luck,
Dogcharmer Tom

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