Dog training strategies for chewing, counter-surfing, and piano-raiding?
February 11, 2014 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Our dog, a two-year-old rescued black lab mix has two bad habits which we'd like to train her out of: she chews on things that aren't hers, and she counter-surfs with a vengeance. In both cases the worst behavior happens in rooms we're not in, and it can happen quickly. Too often the damage is done before we have chance to startle her away from the scene of the crime. I'd love to know what training techniques have worked for others in similar situations.

The chewing problem has been discussed here before by other people. Our dog too has randomly retrieved books off of shelves, which is particularly vexing because they're not something we can easily just put out of her reach. But putting other things out of her reach isn't easy easy, because her reach is absurd. She's grabbed an entire pizza box off the kitchen counter and chewed through it to get the pizza before the babysitter noticed. She's eaten cereal out of a child's bowl in the moments before the child reached the breakfast nook. She's pulled a dinner plate to the floor from the kitchen counter, but even the startling results of that adventure didn't scare her straight. She's pulled a laptop bag from its presumed-safe place on the top of an upright piano, and removed and chewed items within it.

We know more exercise can help but it's tough at present when it's really cold out and it hasn't stemmed the problem in the past. We know we're supposed to always be with her and always watching but it's not always possible. And if we can't always be there to redirect her when she's tempted to misbehave how can we tackle this with training?
posted by Songdog to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When she's home, if she's not in her crate you can keep her with you (on a leash). All the time.
posted by janell at 8:15 AM on February 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm told that dogs have 13-second time spans. If you don't correct the behavior, consistently, with 13 seconds, any actions after that will simply make the dog confused. So if you can't always be there, you're not going to be able to teach her.

I have a good dog, but I've started taking basic good citizen training with her and we have come miles and miles in just a month. She's learning basic dog commands, but more importantly, she's started looking to me to make sure certain actions are OK. My dog is also two years old, and she seems to be the perfect age to learn.

Is it possible for you to fit in some formal training?
posted by mochapickle at 8:17 AM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

We use baby gates and other obstacles (I used to have a kitchen that was easily blocked off with the rolling kitchen cart I had in there anyway, for example).

I would also have thought that the top of a piano would be a safe zone. Now you know it's not, or you need to put a box or something up there to put things in (obviously, test this with a dummy bag first), or a stash spot that is inaccessible.

My old training motto is "if your dog gets into trouble, hit yourself with a newspaper." But I would also start on clicker training for good behavior, which has the bonus upside of exercising their tiny little walnut brains and wearing them out a little. You can work on "leave it" once they understand the basics of clickering.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:36 AM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

she chews on things that aren't hers

Does she have enough chew toys of her own? Our dog has her own toy box, a basket in the living room full of stuffed animals with and without squeakers, and she goes right to it whenever she needs something to work on.

As far as the counter surfing goes, friends of ours had a large greyhound that could nab food from counters and tables without even lifting his front paws off the ground. They also had an invisible fence to keep the dogs in the yard, so one day they put a transmitter on a countertop full of food, so the dog would get zapped if he got too close. That worked.
posted by jon1270 at 8:38 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Our dog has done some training, both formal (in a class, with a clicker, with my wife and son) and informal (with me, with pats and treats). She sits, shakes, lies down, gets up, comes, stays, and goes to lie down on command (though it takes a fairly assertive command if she's excited or distracted).

On preview: she is regularly resupplied with multiple chew toys, as she destroys them rapidly. She loves (and shreds) those snakes with water-bottle squeakers in them. She reduces red and black Kong toys to rubbery gravel, and she chewed the end of a giant "Galileo" from Nylabone into such razor-sharp shards that she cut her own belly to bleeding by rolling over it.
posted by Songdog at 8:46 AM on February 11, 2014

She's full of beans. And she is bored. She needs lots more exercise, some scheduled training time each day, and you need to thoughtfully dog proof the house.

What is going on right now is that this behavior is instantly rewarded with the food she finds. You need to take away that reward by sealing off her access, and get her zeroed in on positive behaviors like learning more tricks and enjoying her (vigorous) walks. And try to find toys that engage her like Kongs stuffed with frozen baby food and some dog treats.
posted by bearwife at 9:02 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Two things that helped me with similar problems:

First, we had a garbage thief. We got a trash can with a lid and set some mouse traps on it. We bend the bar part back so it wouldn't actually hurt, just make a sharp noise and jump in the air. It was a pain, but we only had to do it for about a week. Maybe you can set some traps on your counters? (This was our German Shepherd and she learns fast, YMMV.)

Second: We have a Lab that is a voracious chewer too. The only thing we've found that he can't shred to bits is antlers. We were hesitant to try them because they are expensive, but PetSmart will let you return them if the dog doesn't like it. Our dog LOVES it. He's had it for months now and it looks exactly the same. We also got him a toy that you put the water bottle in. He shreds those too, but it takes him a while. The trainer told us to keep different toys on hand, but only give him one every day. Changing things up keeps him from getting bored. We also get him rope balls from a local drug store for $1. We consider these practically disposable since he goes through them so fast. Since they're so inexpensive they work well, and we get the bonus that they clean his teeth!

Speaking of rope, we go to Home Depot and buy lengths of marine rope that we tie in knots for him to play with. He chews through these, but he loves them and it's pretty inexpensive. Home Depot even lets us bring him in and he gets so excited when he sees the lengths of rope. It's pretty cute! (We get the really soft stuff, not the plastic-y rope.)
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:03 AM on February 11, 2014

You need to make the kitchen a no go zone to start with. I'll assume your dog has basic training in things like sit and stay and leave it, if you have those down pat teaching the dog to go not go in the kitchen when you are in there or to sit and stay while your child walking around with food is easy, the main thing is to be consistent. When you aren't in the kitchen you keep the door shut, or use dog gates to keep the dog out.

I'd investigate chew toys designed for heavy chewers, giving the dog their own collection of chew toys is the best way to keep them from chewing things they are not supposed to, even the black kongs aren't that tough and there are a lot of brands really recommended for super chewers I really like these as an example and they will exchange it for a new one if your dog gets down to the red layer inside. Having toys you can direct your dog to when it tries to chew the wrong thing is the easiest way to fix the problem.

If you can't exercise her more because of the weather )I understand that I have 2 terriers and one refuses to move if I take him outside in the snow he hates it so much he will run out to pee and run straight back in that's it) so try and exercise her mind and tire her out that way at least. Learning new things and using their brain power tires dogs out too I'd be looking at doing lots of training, maybe work on some tricks as you say she's used to clicker training (there are a huge number of videos on youtube with great ideas and methods). If I didn't do this my Rat Terrier would be going crazy from lack of exercise and stealing anything edible he could find, trying to climb onto the Guinea Pig cage and he's latest favourite habit humping the throw rugs around the room, a bunch of short training sessions on any trick I can think of throughout the day keeps him a lot happier as he is a lot less bored.

A lot of her behaviours sound more like boredom and a labs basic tendency to want ALL THE FOOD and while training your dog to resist all temptations would be great, it is really really hard thing to do and as much of a pain as it is sometimes the easiest way is to combine training with some dog proofing.
posted by wwax at 9:10 AM on February 11, 2014

Our little dog was a chewer when we first got him, and we had to watch him like a hawk. He wasn't big enough to get up on counters, but he would steal anything off our nightstands (apparently not a big fan of Salinger, he only ate half the cover of Franny and Zooey).

Honestly the things that really helped were formal training and watching him like a hawk. I was reluctant to go to actual classes because I thought I knew how to train a dog, but six weeks in a program at Petco was well worth the $100. Also baby gates and crates kept him either in our sight or in a safe space.

I'd also say that Lab probably needs more exercise.
posted by radioamy at 9:39 AM on February 11, 2014

Also, how long have you had the dog? And no pics? :)
posted by radioamy at 10:40 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

My dog is annoying in the kitchen, so she isn't allowed in it. At the very minimum, it would buy you more time before she could counter surf.
posted by zug at 5:41 PM on February 11, 2014

Here are some Pictures of Lily. We adopted her a year ago when she was about one year old. Thank you all for your thoughts and suggestions! I'll report back on our progress.
posted by Songdog at 8:27 AM on February 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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