Save a sock-eating Labradoodle from himself
September 15, 2012 3:09 PM   Subscribe

How do you stop a year-and-a-half old Labradoodle from eating every sock in the house? He's just back from the vet yet again, and his determination to find at eat socks at any costs is racking up untenable bills and stress. Any ideas to save him from getting muzzled or crated?

A month or so ago, my girlfriend gets a pound dog. Big white Labradoodle, a full-grown puppy. As far as I can tell, he is made out of rubber. He is an extremely sweet dog. Not really a reader of Proust, exactly, but enthusiastic. Mostly he wants to play with toys, sit on you, and put the world in his mouth. Unfortunately, this has turned my girlfriend's life into a running Marmaduke strip, but without the timeless humour.

The biggest single problem is socks. The dog likes socks. He will get a sock into his mouth and scarf it down, sometimes after waiting just long enough to show his terrified minders what he's up to before finishing the job. "Try giving him something better to eat to distract him," said one vet. The next go-around, when my girlfriend showed him a treat, his eyes widened and he inhaled the sock extra-fast to get the it. Since socks can jam up a dog's GI tract, they have to be brought up before it's too late. A 1am trip to the emergency vet followed, as did the customary hundreds of dollars in vet bills. His fourth or fifth trip was today.

You might be thinking, "why not just exercise strict sock discipline?" Alas, this is in a four-person house, old enough that not all the doors latch shut. The dog has dug into bags, burst through closed doors, pawed into storage spaces. My girlfriend trucked off to Ikea and bought a shelving unit to keep all the socks and shoes in buckets, off the floor. The dog had figured out how to get into them within a day.

This dog is already quite beloved, and quite dedicated to his new owner. But he needs to be supervised every moment, and as soon as vigilance slips, he's into something. He's in obedience training now. But his owner's nerves are freyed, and can't keep paying hundreds a week in dog-vomiting bills. She's worried about her dog and doesn't want to resort to anything as miserable as a muzzle in the house. But what can we do? Do you have any suggestions?
posted by bicyclefish to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Muzzling a dog is not miserable or cruel. Properly-used, a crate is also a great training tool.

Basically, you use the muzzle/crate temporarily to limit the dog's access to items that can cause him significant harm. Meanwhile, under supervision, you train the dog not to eat socks. I don't know the exact steps for this, but I highly recommend positive-reinforcement training for all dogs and a trainer will have some great ideas you can try.
posted by muddgirl at 3:14 PM on September 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

Get a non-miserable muzzle. The Jafco one is lightweight, the dog can drink water, and it doesn't look like Hannibal Lecter's facemask.

It's not punishment, and your dog can be trained to be a-ok with it (lots of treats in connection with muzzle, combined with a slow introduction).

The muzzle isn't a punishment, it's for your dog's safety. If you introduce it right, your dog won't feel punished, because it's not.
posted by zippy at 3:16 PM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

A dog behaviorist or trainer? I guess it's more money, but midnight doggy ER visits are expensive and tiring (my sympathies), and also maybe Sockmuncher has some baggage from his previous existence.

I'm assuming that it may be a general oral fixation thing, it's just that the socks go down extra easy.
posted by carter at 3:18 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would say get a private trainer to come to your home and work on this. They're much cheaper than you think (shitloads cheaper than sock-puking bills, for sure), and they're going to teach YOU what to do more than teach the dog anything.

A cage muzzle is not inhumane (far less so than gastric torsion even if it was), and might be necessary to the process of letting the dog see a sock without instantly slurping it up for the purposes of training. But get the trainer asap and let them make suggestions.

And then also maybe get a couple of baby gates. If you could at least designate ONE room as sock-free (see also napkins, pillowcases, and any other potential Option B items) and restrain the dog to that room, you'll at least have the ability to turn your back safely.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:19 PM on September 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

I'm in agreement with the idea of the soft muzzle. I had a lab and I am pretty convinced that the only thing that gets them to stop eating everything in sight is letting them get older. (it gets better!)

My lab also had a habit of trying to pull me into the street and other such unsafe things when other dogs and people were around, and eventually I got one of those medieval looking metal collars with the inside spikes on it. It didn't seem to bother her one bit, it just stopped her from lunging at things she shouldn't (most of the time). This, along with the fact that she ingested everything from knives to aluminum cans to light bulbs, reinforced my belief that Labs are made of steel, inside and out.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:25 PM on September 15, 2012

Here's what I did when the Husky decided to eat and, fortunately, either barf or poop every little cloth cat toy, sock, or small enough piece of cloth (eye glasses cleaning clothes, etc) it could find. The vet warned me that there was a danger of surgery if, at some point, they didn't pass one way or the other.

I couldn't catch the Husky, the husky was 1 year old, I was 60.

I finally realized that I was doing it backward. The next cat toy it got, I went to the kitchen, got a piece of hot dog, and didn't chase her. I said the magic word "treat" (reserved for only the very best stuff!), she brought me the cat toy, dropped it, and took the hot dog with lots of praise.

It took about two weeks for her to learn that the ONLY thing to do with a misplaced item is to pick it up and bring it to me.

Four years later it still works like a charm, with intermittent reinforcement (she still gets a treat some of the time). When I do laundry, if I drop a sock, she picks it up and hands it to me. She'll even pull them out of the drier for me. If I leave my cell phone someplace it doesn't belong she just picks it up and brings it to me. If I drop my shoes in the living room, she brings them to me. My wife can no longer leave her newspaper where it doesn't belong.
posted by HuronBob at 3:59 PM on September 15, 2012 [44 favorites]

Reading the question again, there are a number of training and obedience issues you're dealing with, glad you're taking classes. My perception with a high energy dog is that they need pretty constant supervision for a couple of years if you want to end up with a dog that isn't destroying your house.
posted by HuronBob at 4:02 PM on September 15, 2012

But he needs to be supervised every moment, and as soon as vigilance slips, he's into something.

Well yeah, your girlfriend got a Labradoodle, which is like brains + energy = disaster. And it's a teenaged Labradoodle, so I'm sorry to tell you he isn't going to settle into nicely behaved middle-aged complacency for 3 - 4 years. He will need constant supervision and when he can't be supervised, you will need to crate him or muzzle him or kennel run him or doggie daycare him. It isn't cruel. The dog dying is cruel.

Sock obsession is likely exacerbated by boredom. Double the amount of exercise the dog is getting. Get a kong and a puzzle ball and whatever else the cool kids are entertaining their canine geniuses with these days.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:20 PM on September 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

You may want to try going to fragrance free laundry detergent and fabric softener.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 4:48 PM on September 15, 2012

These are very thoughtful answers and I appreciate them very much!
posted by bicyclefish at 5:01 PM on September 15, 2012

Crating isn't cruel. Put a big soft dog bed in there (take away other dog beds and furniture privileges if you want to make this even more appealing to him), cover it with a blanket, and give him a really delicious treat that he can chew on for a bit (my dog likes pig ears) whenever he hangs out in there, and he'll learn to associate it with positive things. He may cry the first few times you close him in, but DO NOT LET HIM OUT as long as he is whining- that will reinforce that he gets to come out if he complains. My dog was pretty nutty, knuckleheaded, and high-energy in her first ~4 years of life, but it was pretty easy to crate train her. She now goes in there quietly when I ask her to and goes to sleep when I shut the door, since she knows that means that she'll be in there for a bit. I no longer close the crate when I leave, but she's always in there when I return home. In fact, she's asleep in her crate with the door open as I write this. If you're really not comfortable with a crate, put up a baby gate to block his access to areas of the house. Dogs don't need to have the run of the house at all hours of the day. However, if you're letting him have the run of the house because you feel like he's left alone for too long, that's a separate problem, and I'd suggest hiring a dog walker or putting him in day care.

I also second the exercise suggestion (but only exercise that requires focus and obedience, like walking without pulling, not just running amok in a park or the backyard). This will sap some of his energy to make him more trainable.
posted by quiet coyote at 5:17 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

We have a basset hound who eats things. Tampons, Christmas ornaments, a battery at one point and we have found that a syringe (without the needle part, so an oral one) full of hydrogen peroxide can be a life saver.

If you see it happen squirting just a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide into a dog's mouth can induce vomiting and save the offending item from getting into their intestines. It's not fun or nice but it has probably saved our dog a world of trouble.

Short of that, stop leaving socks around and use a crate. All three of our dogs actually like their crates. I also recommend the liberal application of baby gates to control dog movement. I think at least of two our pups can jump it but they understand it as a gentleman's agreement and refrain from doing so.
posted by Saminal at 5:23 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might try BitterBite puppy trainer, simply spray it on and it will impart a very unpleasant taste to your socks or whatever pup chews on. I've used it on leather shoes, it's safe, easy & effective. BitterBite is the brand my Vet sells, there are other brands.
posted by misspat at 5:32 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

When our sock-obsessed dog was younger, she didn't eat things, but she destroyed them. (Both dogs went for shoes, but only the younger one goes for socks).

Lots of baby gates and sock-and-shoe-free-zones kept things from getting out of control. (Well, somewhat out of control. The two still managed to destroy several hundred dollars worth of shoes, but mostly until the humans all got trained on the shoe-free zones).

The best baby gates were either (1) loud and scary (big wooden things that make a lot of noise if the dog accidentally knocks it over, and which our pups are afraid to walk over) or (2) semi-permanent ones that had to get screwed into the wall to work properly.

At the worst of all this, the dogs only had the kitchen to hang out in when we were out of the house, or not directly supervising them. Lots of Kong balls and other weird toys kept them entertained, and they learned eventually that by walking past shoes (instead of picking them up and chewing) they were allowed to hang out in the house more.

The younger dog still steals socks, but now she just moves them around, and doesn't destroy them.
posted by Cracky at 5:53 PM on September 15, 2012

Oh! Sorry, I forgot to say:

Baby gates, restricted areas, supervision. Those got us through the footwear-destruction.

Good luck with your dog- she sounds like a sweetheart, and hopefully you'll be able to find a solution to this problem.
posted by Cracky at 5:55 PM on September 15, 2012

Just in case you're totally new to dog ownership, there is a saying: a tired dog is a good dog. (The corollary to that is that a bored dog is a bad dog.)
posted by DarlingBri at 5:56 PM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

You don't have to muzzle him. A simple solution for when anyone is home is to put the dog on a leash and tie the leash to you to prevent him from sneaking off and getting into trouble. Make sure he is always with someone. He shouldn't have the run of the house yet if he is just going to eat socks. If you keep him tied to you he will start to care more about what you and your girlfriend and the rest of the people in the house are doing and want to be a part of it instead of trying to entertain himself by finding and eating socks. You haven't had him very long and it sounds like he needs more structure in his life. Keeping him with you at all times will help with this. It will teach him what is good and what is bad. He will learn your schedule.

Not sure what you should do when you are not home, but the kennel is a good idea. I'd be worried that he might start eating the bedding though. I'd also look into fixing the doors, because I'm sure it would cost less to figure out how to make the doors latch than to continue paying expensive vet bills.
posted by wherever, whatever at 6:15 PM on September 15, 2012

I'm going to suggest a combination of things:

Prevention of bad behavior via:

crate training - which if done right makes the crate a totally awesome place for the dog to hang out (or at least a not bad relaxing place).

Prevention of cause of bad behavior via:

lots more exercise - as said above, tired doggy equals good doggy. Non-tired doggy equals "HOW CAN I ENTERTAIN MYSELF AND DEAL WITH MY EXCITEMENT!!!"

More exercise here may mean an hour walk in the morning and an hour walk in the evening, at the same time of day each day to establish a routine. And maybe even a mid-day dog-walker outing if that doesn't tire your pooch out.
posted by zippy at 6:15 PM on September 15, 2012

You might be thinking, "why not just exercise strict sock discipline?" Alas, this is in a four-person house, old enough that not all the doors latch shut. The dog has dug into bags, burst through closed doors, pawed into storage spaces. My girlfriend trucked off to Ikea and bought a shelving unit to keep all the socks and shoes in buckets, off the floor. The dog had figured out how to get into them within a day.

Maybe this is a stupid question, but do you have a dresser? Would you be willing to buy one? Can this dog open dresser drawers? Maybe a tall dresser and keep the socks in the top drawer? Or get child safety locks for the drawer? What about a latching plastic bin?
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:24 PM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

My parents' dog is a golden retriever who liked to retrieve and eat things as a puppy. You can't really train a dog to NOT do something--you have to train them to do the thing you want. To keep Bailey from eating shoes, socks, clickers, etc., we made it his job to do the thing he loved to do (get things) and then bring those things, not eat them, for a treat. He'd get a shoe, we'd treat him when he handed it to us, then we'd say "Go get the other one!" and he'd seek it out and return for the second half of his cookie.

So now Bailey happily brings us flip flops, clickers, whole magazines, and so on, and he knows he will get a treat for doing it. It brings my parents peace of mind because they know that if the bedroom door is open and there's a clicker on the bed, they won't come home to a dog that's swallowed batteries.

In your case, I would start by putting a tennis ball in one of your socks (worn) and train the dog to get it and bring it to you. Once he's good at that, I'd take the ball out of the sock and train the dog to do the same thing with just a sock. When you're not around, the dog needs to be crated until he can be trusted. I'm not so sure about muzzling when you're not around--if the dog has to vomit or something I'd be concerned about the muzzle getting in the way.
posted by xyzzy at 9:11 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Done right, dogs consider their crate "a den" someplace safe they would hang out in if they were in the wild.

Crates are not inherently cruel. In fact, some breeds require this "safe space" to retreat to more than others.

I'm no expert in labradoodles, IMNAV. But there ya go, anyway!
posted by jbenben at 9:34 PM on September 15, 2012

I second a lot of the great answers above: 1) Labradoodles are breed from working dogs that need to have a ton of stimulation to keep them from being nuts. 2) The environment the dog is in needs to be controlled entirely until good habits are formed by crate training etc. and removing socks from the area and 3) training to make the dog do the right thing with socks as per xyzzy's suggestions
posted by JayNolan at 9:38 PM on September 15, 2012

Bitter Apple (though some dogs love it and I hate having it in the air), tiring out, redirection, limiting his access to the house, yes yes yes and yes.

I highly recommend hands-free step through gates--because you want all the humans to use it. And getting human compliance means reducing inconvenience. There are pressure mounted ones that work fairly well. I have two of these. One of them is in a wide opening and has two extensions, even.
posted by nita at 9:40 PM on September 15, 2012

I am an animal trainer but have never had to deal with this issue.

It might be beneficial to train a "drop it" and "leave it" behavior with this guy. If you google it along with positive reinforcement you are sure to find some good ones.

Dr. Sophia Yin is my favorite online dog trainer right now, but there are many ways to go about it. Also has some great articles in her archives. These two are specifically dog trainers and would be my goto for dog training ideas.

If you can train those behaviors and get it good and solid then add in the socks. Under close supervision hand him a sock and see if he will drop it and leave it. Work on that until it is hardwired.
Then you can at least know that if you SEE him with a sock you can get him to drop it.
One that is firmly etched into his repertoire then you can train him to avoid socks using incompatible behaviors...

This type of training would take commitment and effort in the beginning but in the long run teaches something versus "shooting the dog" as we say and avoiding the issue all together.
Which is what a muzzle or crate or baby gate would be doing.

Those things could, of course, be very useful in the beginning while he is still learning.

I don't have a lot of time to go into all the details and steps of how I'd go about training this but if it sounds like something you might like to try PM me and I would be happy to go into more detail.
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet at 10:25 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am not a vet. This is not veterinary advice.

In dogs, you can induce vomiting at home with a small dose of hydrogen peroxide. In our experience, it will bring up all the contents of their stomach in about 15 minutes. We have also given another smaller dose after about 15-20 min if the first dose wasn't effective. (But I wouldn't do more than that. I think we've only needed a second dose once.)

This is not risk free - I believe there is some very small danger of them aspirating the vomit. However, my understanding is the offending item can pass into the intestines as soon as 15-30 minutes after ingestion, so my own personal risk calculation has always been that it is better to induce immediately than try to get to the vet and risk the item passing to the intestines, especially at 1 am.

We did this the first time on our standard poodle, who is now 45 lbs, on the advice of our vet, and have used it multiple times.

Obviously, this does not solve the root of the problem, and you've gotten some great advice upthread on how to address the problem with training. BUT, this may save a few hundred dollars in vet bills while you are training him.

We had the exact same experience with trying to distract him with a treat, his attitude was, "Oh, hold on, let me swallow this sock as quickly as possible and then I'll come get the treat!" But we did find that for our dog, the joy in this particular game was more about the chase and keep away than the actual sock. Now, when he gets a sock, if we ignore him, he will toss it around and chew for a minute and then lose interest - and not swallow it! Definitely may not be true for this dog, but just an additional data point.

(Any chance of you posting a pic? He sounds like a cutie.)
posted by pallas14 at 5:57 AM on September 16, 2012

My dog is a labradoodle too and unfortunately, she has a huge obsession with socks too.

When Starr, my dog, gets a sock, we will take it from her, express our displeasure and ignore her for a bit.

Now, when I catch her with a sock, all I have to do is look at her disapprovingly and she will drop it and sulk away.

However, I still get missing socks all the time, so I think this only works if I catch her in the act. It helps because then I don't have to chase her down, but I'm pretty certain that somewhere in the house, she is still hoarding and eating socks.
posted by cyml at 1:50 PM on September 17, 2012

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