Dogs misbehave, but only when we're out
January 6, 2014 1:35 AM   Subscribe

After an incident involving a trip to the emergency vet, I need MeFi's advice on how to keep our dogs well-behaved when we're not around. They are delightful when we're home. Minor chewing of shoes and bringing snails into the house, typical puppy stuff but nothing we can't handle. When we're not home... jumping onto tables and countertops, and using dining chairs as a way to reach things on high shelves which are then destroyed and eaten. How do we teach them not to jump onto tables? Obligatory photo inside, as well as more details.

2 whippets, Rory (aged 19mths) and Biscuit (10mths). Biscuit is the instigator of their adventures, we believe, since we didn't have this problem before he arrived. Pic from when we first got Biscuit, April last year. He is now bigger than Rory, and more muscular, and not fully grown yet!

They've destroyed or eaten items left on the kitchen counter, my desk, our entryway shelves, our bookshelves, and our very tall bar shelves. The shelves are all 4 foot high or more. They can easily jump to counter/table height, and have discovered they can get higher from there using shelves and chairs as launching pads. The vet visit was after Biscuit jumped on the dining table, then tipped over a chair using it to reach the top shelf (approx 6ft?) which had an unopened packet of fruit mince pies, which had raisins and currants in them. They had an emetic and suffered no long-term damage to their kidneys. But we couldn't believe they could even reach the pies in the first place.

They are indoor dogs (with access to the backyard) since whippets don't cope well with the weather we get here. We leave treats in Kongs and homemade toys, provide heaps of new toys and rotate them to keep them interesting, and make sure they're well-fed and watered and exercised (a nice long run) before we leave for longer than half an hour.

I don't mind putting stuff away so they don't chew it, since it's made me a neater person. But apparently no place is safe unless it's behind a locked door. And as soon as we're both gone they start looking for trouble, as we discovered one time when we left but then had to turn back and found they'd grabbed our hats off our entryway shelf and chewed the brims off in the whole 5 minutes we'd been gone. I'm scared I'm going to come home to find them with broken bones or in a pile of glass, or to have something actually important destroyed instead of fruit mince pies no-one wanted anyway.

How have we managed to teach them that this is okay as long as we're not looking, and how do we teach them not to jump on tables and counters?
posted by harriet vane to Pets & Animals (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A scat mat can be a deterrent to keep a dog (or cat) off furniture or counters. You might need to train them to stay off of one surface at a time, moving the mat around.
posted by HuronBob at 3:13 AM on January 6, 2014

Kinetic Jr, studying to be a vet, said, "BAAAHAAHAA whippets are SASSY!" and suggested the following:

* Crate them when you're not home. This will alleviate the, "OMG what terrors will await me upon my return," feeling of dread.

* Start heavy duty clicker training, focusing on sit, down and stay and giving them lots of yummy dog treats when they do. Ultimately, you will put an inappropriate human nom in front of them and make them sit there and that's when you CALL THEM AWAY and don't let them eat the nom and then they get the treat.

* When you're home and they're sassy, water spray their faces with a sharp, "NO." Then redirect them into a sit/stay and they get clicks and noms.

But yeah, she said. One whippet is sassy. Two, you got some hardcore training to do.
posted by kinetic at 3:27 AM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is exactly why dog crates were invented!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:41 AM on January 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

Controlling behavior when you're not there is a management issue, not a training issue. In other words, why do you keep providing ways for them to misbehave? Crates, gates, and closed doors are the solution here. By leaving them with things they want to tear up, you're setting them up for failure.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:45 AM on January 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Training: They are relatively well-trained, for whippets, so far. They do sit, stay and down and are very good about leaving things when we say 'leave it'. They even do recall, unless they are in the middle of a zoomie (which is entirely fair for a whippet IMO). They don't even attempt shelf-climbing when we're home. I think they would respond well to training, but how do we teach them that what's out of bounds when we're home is also out of bounds when we're not?

Scat mat: looks good for the "we're not home but you're still not allowed up here" aspect. Have you used one before, HuronBob?

Barriers: Closed doors are not an option in our house - the living area is open-plan, so only the bathroom and bedrooms can be and are closed off. The only gates we've seen are about the same height as the tables they can easily jump onto, and the fence around our vegie patch which they clear without even thinking about it.

Crates: I don't know much about crate training, and floor space is limited. The only dogs I know who are crate trained have really intense owners who do a lot of agility and other training as well. I assume it can be done in a more relaxed way too?

Kinetic, sassy is definitely the right word :) As with most relationships, the qualities you fall in love with are the ones that drive you nuts later on! I wouldn't change them for the world though :)

Happy to answer more questions if more info is needed...
posted by harriet vane at 5:18 AM on January 6, 2014

I kept reading your question, waiting for you to explain why crate training wouldn't work. You should really look into it. I can't imagine anything else that is going to work reliably in your situation.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:44 AM on January 6, 2014 [12 favorites]

We were definitely not intense dog owners and crate training worked very well for us. The basic idea is that you teach them to think of their crate as their cozy safe spot, not a punishment. At night we would say "kennel!" and our dogs would bound off to their crates happily. Once they grew out of their chewing phase we left the crates open the majority of the time, but they still chose to sleep in them.
posted by brilliantine at 5:50 AM on January 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

As an fellow Aussie I know crate training is not something most of us do with our dogs, it was a huge shock to me to even discover it was a thing when I moved to the USA. I am not usually a fan of crating a dog, but in this case it actually seems like the best thing to do. There is a lot of good info online about making creating a positive experience.. It is an easier situation to manage than to train a dog out of. I am on my tablet but if you want some links me mail me,I have some on my computer at home from when I was helping my MIL create train her puppy.

If it makes you feel better some of this behavior may well be grown out of to some extent as your new dog hits maturity. I have a Rat Terrier and he had a lot of poor impulse control and would get up to all sorts of crazy antics. I found obedience and agility classes a huge help with him as they taught him some self control.

On reading your response. Crates only need to be large enough for the dog to lay down comfortably and to stand up and turn around in, you would however need two as I can't see crating just the one dog going well.
posted by wwax at 6:30 AM on January 6, 2014

I want to completely echo what brilliantine said above. We crate-trained our (crazy) rescue dog when we first got her just so we had it as a tool if we needed it. We aren't crazy intense dog owners by any stretch of the imagination. Our dog outgrew he puppy craziness but we still kept her crate around so she'd have her safe place. And we were glad we did when she went through her mid-life crisis a few years later--trying to jump out of windows, unlocking and opening sliding glass doors, destroying woodwork in the house whenever we weren't home, etc. She was totally unpredictable, and without a crate I don't know what would have happened to her. So yes: crate training can save both your dogs and your sanity.
posted by Empidonax at 6:32 AM on January 6, 2014

Nthing crate training.

It's safer and more secure for them, and brings more peace of mind for yourself.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:44 AM on January 6, 2014

Crate crate crate! Once the dog gets used to it, the crate is like its own little den and they'll go in there to relax and hide out. It can make them feel calmer when you're away, since they only have to guard the crate and not the whole house. Start with the crate open and just throwing treats in there, or other fun things. Don't use the crate as a time out/punishment zone.

When we had one small dog, he had a crate, which was kept in the bedroom in place of a nightstand, with a dark sheet over most of it (so he couldn't see that the rest of the house was still there). With two dogs in our small apartment, we now use the bathroom (puppy proofed) as the "crate" since it's about the same floor space as two dog crates. A kong when they go in there, plus a comfy mat and the radio to drown out other apartments' noises, and they fall asleep quickly (I've set up a webcam so I can watch them from work).
posted by melissasaurus at 6:46 AM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Crate training was new to me when I got my second dog, and I can only wish I had know about it for my first, counter-jumping, gate-crashing terrier mix dog. In terms of space, most models fold up flat so you can slide them out of the way when you're home - example. Folding up flat is also useful for packing them into the car for trips.
posted by mikepop at 6:46 AM on January 6, 2014


If you're short on space, you can incorporate them as furniture and put lamps on them.

Your dogs are beautiful and they just need to have their energies re-directed in a positive way, and contained when you can't be there to supervise.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:51 AM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Our dogs have horrible owners who haven't trained them at all, but they still go in a crate when we are out. Well, the basset and basset/dachshund go into the crates because they cannot be trusted. They happily follow a treat through the door and are fine. So you can be extremely relaxed to the point of sitting on the couch with dogs on your head trying to eat food out of your mouth and still use a crate.
posted by bluespark25 at 6:58 AM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not a dog owner but I just wanted to say that they look like very... uh... energetic dogs. Are you sure they're getting properly exhausted each day? Doggy day care a few days a week to tire them out?

I like the video idea, at least you will get a sense of what they're doing and how it gets started, which one starts it, how soon after you leave that it starts up and this may give clues as to environmental or behavioural changes you can make. Maybe they only need afternoon crating for example.

Also how about just lying the chairs down so they can't push them over? Or flip them upside down on top of the table.

If they're getting food, are there other places for food? Put the canned goods where they can reach and the real food even higher? They do it because they're getting rewarded (with food). You could also add those child safety locks on cabinet doors so they can't fully pull them open.

Maybe these dogs are really smart and need a challenge? Agility training or try training even more challenging tricks than sit/stay?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:47 AM on January 6, 2014

I am the world's most relaxed dog owner and I have crated dogs who were more trustrworthy than yours when they were left home alone.

Crates are totally great.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:47 AM on January 6, 2014

Instead of crates, we baby-gate ours into areas where they can't get at much. I've never allowed dogs in the kitchen, blocking the entrance with a rolling cart and/or using a gate. They may not have outdoor access while you're gone, but honestly that's maybe for the best.

They're acting like wild heathens in part just because they can, but it also kind of sounds like overstimulation/panic. If I don't leave my dogs any trouble to get into (in their younger days, they did eat a sofa, but they grew up), they just sleep the whole time we're gone - like packs should.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:00 AM on January 6, 2014

My dogs can't be trusted when alone in the house--one of them gets into everything and steals food, and the other one's housebreaking is a bit iffy. I crate-trained them in a really low-key way by feeding them in their crates when we first got them (they were adults). Their crates are cozy comfy little dens, and, as others have said, they will go in there when they need a break or just to relax even if we haven't crated them.

My dogs are little lap-dog spaniels who love to sleep, so that's what they do in theirs. If you have a dog that needs more stimulation, leaving them with a bone, kong toy with treats or something similar to help them keep busy and happy in there is a good idea, too.
posted by not that girl at 8:06 AM on January 6, 2014

Yeah you need crate training. The fun way we taught our giant puppy to love his crate was to feed him his dinner in there. We would put him in a sit-stay and then dump his kibble into the crate floor. And he would prance and drool and whine until finally I said, "Ok, free" and he would throw himself in there so hard he'd hit the back wall.

Our monster LOVES his crate now and it's where he goes when he wants to be left alone (we won't let our other dogs go in there). Crate training him was easy and it means I know he's safe when we aren't home. It also, as another person said, let's him know he doesn't need to be on patrol. Our very small terrier is the same way she totally flips anytime I try to leave the house while she's not in her kennel, I think because she's like, "WHOA THIS IS TOO MUCH RESPONSIBILITY!!1!)
posted by Saminal at 8:16 AM on January 6, 2014

Nth crating. It doesn't have to be "intense," I don't know exactly where you got this impression. You're simply giving the dog a safe place to hang out when you're not there to supervise. You may in fact find that your dogs like the crates quite a bit! I recommend feeding them in the crates and also giving them a treat any time you put them in there - that helps with the positive association. My Corgi hangs out in her crate on a regular basis even when we're home. My Terrier mix is not quite as crate-obsessed but when I say "kennel" he is just as happy as his sister to run into his crate and wait for his treat.
posted by radioamy at 8:31 AM on January 6, 2014

One more to add to crate training. Growing up we never crated our dogs and it was something that I felt bad about at first when I got my own crazy GSD pup. I very soon came around to it's wonders. It made house training easier and it became as others have said my dogs special den. Even after he outgrew the need for it and became well behaved I kept it up as it was his special spot that he would go to on his own.
posted by Jalliah at 8:33 AM on January 6, 2014

Crates are basically a model proxy for a den. It's a small, cozy, covered place for them to feel safe and secure and calm. The training aspect of crate training is basically just getting them to associate the crate with a den that they would find/build for themselves. Once you've done that, they won't hesitate to go into their crates. When they do go in there, they'll just chill out, maybe take a nap, chew on a chew toy, and generally relax.

We have a hallway that we put a baby gate in front of that gives our dog (the one on the right) access to a couple of bedrooms (one of which has her water and food dish) and the hallway where we're very confident she won't get into any trouble. She can still see what we're doing and is pretty close to the living room and she has the freedom to move around if she wants to. We've put the gate up when we have my nephew over because he's four, the dog is bigger than he is, is VERY interested in him and will follow him around to the exclusion of everything else (though she is very gentle and careful about it) but he isn't really comfortable with her.

When she is behind the gate, she can see him and he can come over and pet her if she wants but she still whines and occasionally barks and generally complains. Her crate is in the living room proper and if we put her in there instead, she stops complaining and chills out. She just lays down and watches whatever is going on with no complaints. Even though I know why she prefers the crate over being behind the gate, it still kind of weirds me out but there it is.

Once going into the crates when you leave is routine thing, you can start working on leaving the crates open when you're gone. Do it for just a minute at first and very slowly expanding the time. You could also hook a webcam someplace where you can see them and setting Skype on auto-answer so you can rush back in if they start getting into trouble.

You might get to the point where you don't need to lock the crates when you leave but the dogs will still want to have the crates around even if you take the doors off. They will want to have access to a den.
posted by VTX at 8:38 AM on January 6, 2014

I am a huge advocate of crate training as well, but just wanted to pop in to say that crate training may not be appropriate for dogs that are misbehaving due to separation anxiety and can actually make it worse. It sounds like this may not be the issue for your dogs (and only you can determine that), but I wanted to mention it anyway just in case.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:37 AM on January 6, 2014

Re "more relaxed crate training", this can absolutely be done. I would rate my dog as only so-so on training, and he was miraculously already crate trained when I adopted him!

Basically you make the crate a nice little nest they'll actually want to hang out in, and then you reward them like crazy every time they willingly hang out in there. Also feed them in there. Get them to where they can hang in their crate for an hour or so while you're home. Then try it when you're not home and see how it goes.

If they have trouble getting the point initially, putting things that smell like them (toys and blankets are great for this) will probably help. Putting in things that smell like you (I used a day-old worn shirt or last week's pillowcase) can also help.

My dog treats his crate as his personal space and tends to use it for naps and quiet hangouts when there isn't a ray of sunshine to lie around in. I only shut him up in there at night (because otherwise he'll climb into bed with me) and for short periods of time as needed, but he's capable of being in there for hours without any problem.
posted by Sara C. at 9:39 AM on January 6, 2014

Nthing crate training. Our guy (almost 9 months) loves it in there. He's huge -- big crate -- and it's been worth the space-taking in our tiny place.
posted by mamabear at 10:04 AM on January 6, 2014


Now that I work from home our dog is in the crate more often because he puts himself there than he is because we want to close him in. When he sees us getting ready to leave he runs and sits in it even if we don't shut the door. Mind, it's because that's when we give him a breath-freshening biscuit but still - we created a positive association for him above and beyond the dog's natural inclination to like an enclosed den.

As others say above, you can get attractive ones. I found a nice wooden one on craigslist that is really too big for crate training per se (if we were trying to deal with potty issues this would be big enough he could theoretically pee in the car corner) but as a nice side table by the couch it's great. And was $50 rather than hundreds. But there's nothing stopping you from putting a drape and a plank on a wire crate.
posted by phearlez at 11:11 AM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

It seems like the consensus is crate! Thanks everyone! As wwax says it's not common in Australia so I wasn't really aware of how it's done. It's very encouraging to hear how much your dogs like their crates.

Our guys do like to be snug when they're not running around, so I can see how they might enjoy having their own little den. I'll do some research and come back with questions if I need to.

St. Peepsburg, they are similar to greyhounds in that they need a short burst of intense exercise but then are happy to sleep for hours and hours on a comfy spot. We give them two walks a day and a run 3 or 4 times a week, and always an extra long run at the dog park when we know we're going out later. I like the idea of putting the chairs down/up until we figure out this crate thing, at least they won't be able to hurt themselves in the meanwhile.

triggerfinger, thanks for the heads up. The older boy had some quite severe separation anxiety until we got the pup and did a lot of work on the issue. He's fine as long as he's not completely alone, but I'll definitely keep it in mind when we try the crates. If he's unhappy I wouldn't force it on him.
posted by harriet vane at 8:15 PM on January 6, 2014

Something I found that made my dog really enjoy his crate was to cover it with a blanket. When I first started I would actually cover all four sides so that it was dark in there while he slept.
posted by OuttaHere at 6:59 AM on January 7, 2014

Yes, crate.

The end.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:26 AM on January 7, 2014

Alternately you could opt for a video camera and internet fame.
posted by phearlez at 10:44 AM on January 10, 2014

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