Phil Dudman’s ponderings on a puppy among the plants started me thinking about my own dogs when they were pups. I have two, both Labradoodles. It seems so long ago….. Jasmine (Jas is what she is usually called) joined us nearly eight years ago. She was eight weeks old, black and adorable. All puppies are adorable aren’t they? I’m sure puppies get away with so much mischief just because they are adorable.
Anyhow, it was a few weeks before the reality of life with a puppy set in. For a while Jas spent her time home alone safely in the laundry but soon she was old enough to spend her alone time outside in the back yard.
Our other dog is Benson, who is now 2 ½ years old. He came to us when he was 8 weeks old as well. We dubbed him ‘Benson the Beautiful’ when he arrived as an eight week puppy. Then he became ‘Benson the Bold’ as his confidence grew. He collected a few more names along the way as his list of indiscretions grew.
Perhaps now is a good time to tell you a little bit about me and how I came to dog training. When we got Puppy Jas, we knew that she was going to be a larger dog and thought that ‘training’ would be a good idea. With our previous dog, I had managed a couple of months of training on a Sunday morning but stopped when it all became a bit inconvenient. With a larger dog, I thought some sort of control would be a good idea. So, Jas and I went along to training on a Sunday pretty regularly and made our way up the levels of achievement. We made it to the top class but it did become a bit same old, same old….and my commitment waned.
The dog club I belonged to offered a tricks training class and I thought that sounded interesting and a bit of fun so I signed us up and went along. It was such an eye opener for me to learn about reward training for dogs. I quickly learned that my dog wanted to learn to do things because it was fun (and rewarding). This all got me interested in dog training and when the opportunity to do a course in dog training came along I did it! All sooo different from my usual line of work as a musician.
My aim as a trainer through Hound Advice is to help people to learn more about their dogs and develop a better communication with them. Although I’m involved with all aspects of dog (and owner!)behaviour and training, in my blog on GardenDrum I’ll concentrate on dogs in gardens, and how you can train both your puppy/dog and yourself so you all have a happier life together as you work out how to share your garden.
When Puppy Jas arrived at Easter 2005, I had forgotten what it was like to have a puppy in the family – after all, it had been eighteen years since the last one. Puppies do things that come naturally to them – chewing, digging, pulling on things, jumping, chasing, barking etc – all of these are instinctive behaviours that they are born with to a greater or lesser degree, depending on their breed. When it comes to the garden, understanding a puppy’s needs and instincts means we’re more likely to achieve harmony in the home and garden.
Let’s start with chewing. Dogs chew because they need to – it helps their teeth stay in good condition. It is normal dog behaviour. They also use their mouths to ‘test’ things – a bit like we use our hands. You’ll often see a dog chewing on timber – maybe a stick that they find. (Best not to let them chew on treated pine as the chemical treatment for the timber can be harmful). They chew because they like it – and if they like it, they will probably do it again…and again…and again. Sometimes they chew because they like the sound of what they are chewing – this could be part of the attraction in chewing plastic plant pots.
One of the best strategies we can use in the garden (and home) is to make sure they can’t access things that we don’t want chewed or destroyed. This means looking around and identifying things that might be of interest to them. It could be anything that a pup/dog takes a shine to and that’s what is almost impossible to predict. If I were to generalise, I suppose I would say smaller items that are moveable.
Some likely targets are ornaments (if small enough) and garden gloves, but also:
plastic – pots, hoses, irrigation systems, small tools, garden edging, plastic fertiliser/herbicide containers, watering cans, clothes pegs
timber – garden edging, furniture, tool handles, larger pieces of wood chip
bamboo – cane supports, water features (like a japanese deer scarer shishi odishi
rubber – tool handles, doormats
Other people’s experience can be very helpful here – what disaster stories have you heard? My own disaster stories include plastic plant pots. My mistake here was with Benson – I let him chew a couple of pots that were going to be thrown out anyway but the consequences of that ended up being that he liked it and so now will go looking for plastic pots to chew.
If I had my time over again, I’d make sure he didn’t have access to plastic pots and if I found him with one, I would exchange it for something he was allowed to chew – eg plastic bottle (soft drink, milk etc with lids and plastic rings around the top removed), squeaky toy or some other ‘legal’ item. I keep plastic drink bottles for him to destroy, making sure that the cap and rings around the nozzle are removed and sometimes I drop a few (only a few) treats inside to really get his attention. (Benson doesn’t tend to swallow the plastic bits so I feel safe leaving the bottle with him for an afternoon but if he did show signs of swallowing, I wouldn’t leave him with a bottle. I asked my vet the other day if they had many incidences of dogs having to be operated on for removal of plastic bits and the answer was no. As owners we just need to be a bit cautious about what we give our dogs).
But if he were to find a plastic plant container anywhere in the garden, it is quite likely that it will end up in many pieces. The onus is on me to put things away. I can’t rouse on him if he picks up something that I have left lying around, knowing (but forgetting) that he likes chewing stuff. Oh dear…..I still show signs of being a slow learner……
I remember our now departed dog really liked ice cream containers – she would push them around the paving making the most awful noise.
Other chewing stories from my home include the connecting pipe from the gas bottle to the BBQ – that was Puppy Jas; the wiring on the trailer – that was Benson and when we had it rewired, my husband rigged up some poly pipe to store the lead in so it wasn’t dangling free at nose height. Benson also found the tank taps interesting… I quickly learned to make them inaccessible by putting up a trellis barrier. The downside for this strategy was that it made watering with the tanks a little more complicated but I really didn’t have any choice.
Our two dogs are very different. Jas wouldn’t think of destroying/chewing anything. She is a gentle soul who is sensitive to moods and loves people. Benson is a real boy who sees a challenge and has to overcome it…just because it is there. I know that I will need to be mindful of his inquisitive nature for some time yet. He’s taught me not to be complacent about leaving things out and available to him.
The thing about puppies and dogs is that no two of them are the same. It can be very difficult to predict what any puppy might take an interest in. If they do things in the garden that we don’t want, that is the time for us to respond and the first thing we need to think about is preventing access to the item or area that is the problem. To do this you may need to put things away in the shed for a while, or if something is not moveable, then put a temporary barrier up. If they have uncontrolled access to the object of their desire, they are more likely to develop a long term problem of chewing that item. If you can interrupt their access, then it is more likely that they will forget about it.
When possible, know where your pup is and what they are doing. That’s not always possible so in order to help them develop good sociable habits, we have to try to control the environment that they have access to. Benson, at 2 ½ is still keeping me on my toes – it was the rope that hoists the cafe blinds up and down that got his attention this time ! ….new rope required. But I love him and wouldn’t give him back or swap him for another one.