OK, OK, OK- I know this is a bizarre title, but I’ve noticed an uptick in frequency of overly- monitored puppies lately, and taken to calling them “Bubble Wrap Dogs.” These puppies’ owners have made the fragility of the puppy their main concern and have become overly protective.
Now, I completely understand your desire to make absolutely sure your puppy doesn’t eat anything he shouldn’t in the yard, but where should we draw the line? Puppies absolutely need to put things in their mouths to learn about the world around them.
Sadly, I get called into cases where puppies are very unhappy, and snapping often at various family members. This behavior goes well beyond normal puppy biting. These puppies feel angry and irritated because any time they find something they would like to explore with their mouth it is quickly yanked away. The human has undoubtedly said, “No” or “Drop it” and maybe some other things that aren’t nice and don’t sound nice to the puppy.
Here’s where the problem lies: if we continually prove to the puppy that we won’t let her chew a stick or a piece of bark, she stops trusting us, and begins resenting us. If, instead, we take the time to ask ourselves whether the stick will actually kill him if he chews and ingests a bit of it. (Here’s a tip: dogs have been eating sticks for centuries.) If the answer is no, then your best strategy is to notice she has it, take the time to enjoy her discovery of it by saying something like “oh wow, did you find a nice stick?”. After a few minutes of this, pick up another stick or leaf and animate it by pretending to play with it yourself. When the puppy gets interested in your stick, he will likely drop the stick he had and come get your stick. At this point, you have successfully gotten the puppy to disengage from a stick— which is half the battle.
What’s next you ask? Grab the original stick and animate it, and let the puppy disengage from stick #2 and reengage with stick #1. Look what you’ve done now! You have successfully shown your puppy that it’s more fun to share the stick than have the stick! Well done! At this point you can either decide to continue the game of swap the stick or go get a more appropriate toy to fold into the game, while slowly and carefully taking away the sticks for a later game.
In following this simple protocol, you have shown your puppy some very important things about you. First, you are trustworthy which allows your puppy to hold you in very high esteem. Second, you have taken the time to share in the puppy’s enjoyment of the stick making it a joint experience which only increases your “cool” factor. Lastly, you have given your puppy a valuable lesson in sharing rather than having.
If you don’t follow this protocol or one similar with your puppy, you run the risk of teaching her that a game of chase is very fun any time she has anything you think she shouldn’t (definitely the opposite message you want to send). Another unfortunate lesson can be that you might take anything the puppy feels is very important which will create a dog who is a resource guarder.
Like most things in the dog training/ shaping world, it is always better to avoid a problem than have to fix it later. So next time your puppy grabs a paper towel, ask yourself if it will kill him to eat a small portion of it. Since your answer will be no, you have taken your first step away from creating a bubble wrap dog.