A Grieving Dog Starts a Chewing Habit

Dear WOOF:

About 3 months ago my husband passed away, roughly a month later my dog(18 mo.) began chewing the area rugs. I tried spraying them with "bitter apple", but she just licked it off and chewed away. I'm at my wits end!!! I work everyday and to come home after putting in 8 hours and finding the mess I get very upset. She didn't do this before he left us, so I know she is missing him and I don't know what I can do to help her through this grief. Can you help??? I sure hope so!!!


Hi:

Please accept my deepest sympathy for your loss. I can only imagine how difficult a time this must be for you. Certainly, adding problem canine behavior to what you're already dealing with makes everything more stressful and difficult for you. I will help you both however I can.

The first question that comes to mind is whether or not your husband was the one who provided exercise (walks, fetch, etc.) for her. If so, there's a good bet that this behavior is manifesting as a result of the decrease in activity. When dogs are bored and have lots of energy (like all young dogs like her do!), they'll almost always find outlets for it in the form of inappropriate chewing along with a host of other undesirable behaviors!

There are some key things that you must understand in order to rectify the problem quickly:

  • Dogs will always repeat behavior that is rewarding - the act of chewing on the rug is rewarding to her or she wouldn't keep choosing it. I understand the attempt at spraying bitter apple on the rug to try to deter her, but in your case (as in many others) it backfired! Lots of dogs actually like the taste of it - which only strengthens the behavior of chewing on the object.
     

  • Rewards are not always provided by us - they are often times innate, as is the case with chewing. With a clear understanding of this, it is obvious that not actively preventing the undesired behavior is really the same a training it!
     

  • You only have 1/2 - 2 seconds to impact behavior with a consequence. When she chooses a behavior (like chewing on the rug) it is immediately rewarding to her, and she will repeat it. So, an after the fact punishment (such as when you come home) DOES NOT impact the behavior of chewing on the rug. It will however create a stressful state in her when you arrive home. This is what many people mistake as "looking guilty". If you do not prevent her from being able to do the things you don't want her to do, you can't make her responsible for it.

The simplest solution to your problem is to crate her, or otherwise deny her access to your rug. If she can't chew on the rug, your problem is solved. If she is not crate trained, contact us, or see the archived articles at woofology.com for help on the topic.

This is a time of transition for you both. The abrupt changes in the household have undoubtedly had a profound impact on her too. You are both starting over now, and establishing your bond now is a very important part of the rest of your lives together. A clicker training class would be a perfect place to start. Contact us or visit www.woofology.com for more on class schedules.

Begin your new life with her today, and include daily walks, trips to the park, car rides to fun places each day. Getting her some exercise before you leave for the day would help a lot if you can manage it. If this is not possible, some daycare (contact us at Trainers Academy, LLC for more information) or perhaps consider a dog walker for her.

I wish you both a bright future, and hope that this has been helpful. If you continue to have trouble, please don't hesitate to
write back.

Take Care,
Lisa Patrona, Dip. CBST, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, AABP-CDT