‘He’s started trashing stuff!!’ I hear you cry!! And he didn’t used to!!!!



There are many many people who get, when their Labrador puppy is small, dire warnings about Labradors being ‘destruction monsters!’. Indeed they can be! Its absolutely true. They are mouth orientated and that can lead them into ALL SORTS of trouble.

A little puppy destruction from a little puppy is almost *cute*. We rarely remember it and so that tissue box sent to its final resting place in seconds… or the one stray sock that didn’t make the washing machine having a hole in it, is small fry and who cares really!

Owners who give their dog the run of the house, or sometimes even one ROOM when not at home, can only be said to be incrediably LUCKY if they never get any chewing/destruction problems. There is no other way to put it. No one sex chews less. No one colour of our breed. Working lines don’t destroy more stuff than show lines….. its ALL about patterns of behaviour and, more importantly, opportunity.

Now, I get a lot of people contact me with Labradors that usually are between about 9 and 16 months old. They are shocked that suddenly the dog is destroying things. Has ‘started chewing’ when they ‘never used to’…

This is very common and nothing to either be ashamed of OR particularly worried about. You are just doing the thing that many owners do. You are unfairly ‘trusting the dog’ when dogs don’t ASK to be trusted, and genuinely, can ONLY ‘let you down’ by falling in the hole you are presenting them with.

Chewing/Destruction is habit forming. These days many many people crate their puppies and young dogs. So therefore negative chewing patterns when the owner is out are impossible. They are confined. Even the owner who doesn’t *crate* but does have a room the dog is confined in, tends, over the weeks to gradually shift stuff higher and higher, or elsewhere as the dog grows, again, preventing destruction, OR learning from one thing being ‘got at’ and removing all others in the vacinity.

A dog that has never trashed stuff, doesn’t have the idea that he WANTS to. Doesn’t seek stuff out TO trash. He doesn’t know the entertainment of fighting a cushion…. picking the eye hooks off a boot….. the crack of a CD box breaking into pieces….. digging at a corner of the lino because he spotted a loose raised corner then TUGGGGGGGING!!!! ……..because he has been confined and this has been prevented the pattern is not there….

….but, sadly, this can change in a heartbeat. And the dog could be almost ANY age. And its that old adage again… trust. And usually trust comes with uncrating a dog that was crated. Giving it the run of just one or two more rooms than previously when it was just in the kitchen/utility room/hall with a stairgate etc. And you can uncrate a dog, or give it those extra rooms and all can go BRILLIANTLY for weeks!! Even months!! But then……. one day…… he spots something. Something unusual… or something usually not in his range. Maybe something that strongly smells of you and shoes do, and gloves and scarves and socks and cushions we sit on and all that good stuff, do….and you are out….’trusting him’…. and he decides to ‘explore it in his own sweet, Labrador, mouth orientated way…’ and opppppps….. suddenly its ‘fallen apart…’ but in falling apart his adrenaline was kicked up, it gave him something to DO and it was SO NICE OF YOU TO LEAVE IT THERE FOR HIM TO DO THIS TO!!

But you come home… and ‘uh ohhhh!’ he greets you happily, but however much you hide it, you are pissed off, angry, disappointed, fustrated. But, and I make no bones of it, You have set this up to happen to the poor soul…….. NOW… thing BEING, there are two things you can do about it….. 1) write it off as a bad one off, be more careful what you have laying about and LEARN from the fact that your angel has now discovered the joys, in a small way, of chewing…. it doesn’t MATTER that the dog HADN’T PREVIOUSLY (how many times in a week does a trainer hear…. ‘ohhhhh! he’s never done THAT before….’ when teaching… grin grin)….. he bloomin’ well has NOW…. and 2) You can take the opportunity to IMMEDIATELY break the habit and return him when you are out, to his little safe place again, be that a crate, kitchen, or whatever.

IF you just crack on hoping it will get better, it *may*, but on the way you WILL get stuff trashed, there are no two ways about it. So why cause yourself that stress…? and the dog….! for the sake of liking seeing him lay on the sofa rather than in a crate when you go to work…. and confine him to somewhere he can’t (and this is important) let you down!

Now I hate to say it but many the ‘behaviourist’ would overthink this. They would touch on food, exercise, seperation anxiety, lifestages and all that good stuff. But its nothing to DO with that…. the dog used t not be able to trash stuff…. and now he can…. and even if he WAS in a situation that he could previously…. by fate and good luck he DIDN’T. But the minute he HAS its addictive and it won’t just go away In most cases it will get worse.

When you are out and a dog trashes something, at the moment he is trashing it, none is telling him it is wrong. That is the moment a dog learns. That moment he is actually doing the action. Not five seconds later, definately not 5 minutes and if its five hours, its as ancient history as dinosaurs to a dog… So dogs believe its right. And they creep and grovel when we get in, and we point to the trashed Sky remote shouting and being angry, directly *because* we are shouting and being angry and they have no clue why (something to do with a pointy finger and that nice crunchy thing we left out for them to play with earlier…) ! They even work that forward…. we keep leaving them where they can *fail us*… and they DO *fail us* because they are never told its wrong…. and then they hear us arrive and creep and grovel about not from GUILT but because they are so in the habit these days of getting a bollocking for which they have no clue why when you come home they premept it with body language meant to try and appease you….. make you not hurt them…. make you know whatever they have done they are no threat and won’t do again…

So whereever you are with this really common cycle of events Forget the past. the fact they didn’t chew and now they do is utterly as irrelevent as you thought you hated pizza, but then someone made you try and it and you now bloody love it!!

Either, play with removing as much stuff as possible when you leave, and know that small loose items, and items that smell strongly of us will be the first things trashed…. flappy soft stuff will be the second….. and expect to improve this only by hit and miss so you WILL have more stuff *mullered* (grin).

OR drop back and confine the dog again. Break the habit. Try and put the habit, very early on in it forming, into the past…. not strongly form… The quicker you do it the quicker you will return to your little angel dog…..

Then retry freedom (if you must, dogs work better confined when we aren’t there all their lives really, but if you must feel freedom is necessary) in a few weeks time with the knowledge that a lot of stuff needs shifting before you can even think about it.

Leaving a million toys and games for the dog, personally speaking doesn’t teach it a tugga rag knotted rope is GOOD and your best scarf over the back of a chair is BAD… it basically gives free range to everything being fair game, but I get the idea of why people might think its offering the dog a positive solution. the best thing you can do is leave it with a toy that makes getting a treat out nearly impossible so by the time they HAVE they are KNACKERED and just want to crash out.

There is only one other positive thing I can say and it involves training… a swear word sometimes for people because it takes time and effort and consistancy but this is how you would tackle this. Personally I’d leave nothing for the dog toy wise in the new room hes been given freedom to. I’d make a huge fuss about getting ready to leave and go out…. but leave someone at home that is literally there to spy on the dog, be that upstairs listening for sounds of ripping, chewing etc or whatever but the ONLY WAY you can teach a dog what its doing is wrong is set it up… catch it.. and IMMEDIATELY tell it that what its doing is wrong. Immediately…. in the actual act. And the thing being if the dog believed you were *gone*, and settled for a good trash…. then you are *Harry Potter* because you suddenly appeared from nowhere…. AND made the rules of the game crystal clear to the dog…. a double win/win. But you know so few people do this…. they tend to either drop back the chewing oportunities, or they just continue to have stuff trashed till the dog is of an age it can’t be arsed anymore….

Once an item is fair game, either set the dog up multiple times and teach it its wrong… OR remove them from the dogs vacinity for a LONG time.

IF damage has started somewhere, say a door, or a bit of skirting board…. maybe a few lino squares…. prevent the dog getting access, even if you push something infront of it when you go out…. even if you move it away when you get back. STARTED damage is hugely enticing to a dog…. more so than an undamaged bit of skirting/cushion/carpet etc etc.

Diana Stevens – February 2015

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