A trainer friend of mine joined me for a cup of coffee earlier this week, and we got to chat about all kinds of doggy things.
During our conversation, we started talking about challenging dog behaviors. She shared a story that I’m sure many of you could relate to, I know I did.
In a nutshell, her two dogs were enjoying some backyard time when they came across a possum playing dead in the backyard. As my friend tried to shoo her dogs away, she had to figure out a way to rid of the possum. Her older dog ventured back into the house, and her younger pooch, being little more hesitant, eventually complied. My friend then grabbed a shovel and removed the possum from her yard, safely removing the little animal and keeping her dogs from attacking it. All seemed well, and my friend felt content she had solved the situation. That is, until she walked back into the house. The younger dog was standing over her down jacket, the stuffing spread all over the living room. The dog had shred the jacket, and stood over it proudly, stuffing still stuck to his lips. My friend had every reason to be upset, but as a trainer, she realized that the torn jacket was mostly her fault.
How can that possibly be, you ask. Well, she realized that her dog had built up an urge to tear apart the possum in the backyard. When he was taken away and ushered back into the house, the possum was gone, but not the urge. He had to scratch that itch, so he took it out on my friend’s jacket. My friend hadn’t helped her dog to meet that urge, and he found a way to do it himself. What’s the take away here? Dogs have urges, and even if we don’t like those urges, they will find a way to satisfy them. Whether we like it or not, dogs will chew, dig, chase, tear things apart, and hump. These urges are biological and a dog’s brain is hard-wired to meet those needs. I wonder now how many dogs are deemed as troubled or are labeled as having behavior issues because us humans are not doing our part to help them meet their natural urges. You know what sucks? Having your slippers or nice pair of leather boots chewed up by your puppy. Know what doesn’t suck? Giving your dog a chew stick (bully sticks, approved toys). Seems simple, right? Yet when we see a dog humping a person’s leg we get angry. I know if Pickle starts humping another dog, I get pretty embarrassed, even though I know it’s just an urge. How else is she supposed to get it out?
I also know Pickle loves to tear things apart, especially boxes and papers. She doesn’t eat the pieces, so when we get a package in the mail we give her the empty box. It wears her out mentally and physically, and she is satisfying a need in a safe way that keeps us happy. And digging, let’s not get started on digging. If Pickle had it her way she’d be doing it any time she set foot on a soft surface. But that was bound to lead to her tearing up the carpet (which wouldn’t be so great with our landlords). How do I solve that? Well, don’t tell, but anytime we see a pile of mulch or dirt in someones yard, I sick Pickle on it. She digs until she’s tired, tries to sprint off, and we walk away. Addressing a need.
So think of it from your dog’s point of view. Imagine something that is so wonderful, so enticing, so hard-wired into your brain that you just had to do it no matter what anyone told you. You would find an outlet, right? Then why do we hold our dogs to a different standard?
It is up to us as owners to understand our dogs needs and to address them in a way that’s suitable to both man and beast. If you are concerned your dog is having too many issues getting these urges out, contact a trainer or consider getting some extra socialization help. A little bit of work can go a long way to making your pup a happy pup!