I have been getting a rash of desperate calls lately.
I recently fielded a call from a potential client with two neutered male dogs aged 2 and 4.
She had previously lost a middle-aged dog to an emergency bowel resection that turned septic and had already experienced a few late-night emergency vet visits with both of her current dogs after they had ingested foreign objects that they were having difficulty passing.
She shared tales of their exploits with ‘stealing’ and the chaos that usually followed; involving pursuing the dogs and wresting the objects from them, or watching in dismay as they sucked socks like spaghetti noodles. One dog had consumed a half-pound of rich fudge brownies like a vacuum cleaner consumes a dust bunny and the other routinely gobbled garbage as if he hadn’t eaten in ages.
The family was finally feeling threatened by the growling from under the dining room table as the humans routinely herded them in some sort of reenactment of a prehistoric fight for the last piece of edible mammoth meat for miles, and decided that it was time for an intervention.
There are a bazillion hazards associated with a dogs’ ability to acquire and consume articles not meant for digestion and of their owners trying desperately to get these articles back before they are destroyed or consumed.
I cannot count the calls I get from owners who have lost objects as small as diamond earrings to objects as big as cell phones, television remote controls, articles of clothing, whole baseballs, golf balls, pocket knives both open and closed, lighters, hats, you-name-it; gobbled whole by their pets in the blink of an eye with the appetites of garbage disposals.
I cannot recount the number of owners who have vigilantly observed their dogs bowel movements for signs of the article’s return to them and I cannot imagine the number who have waited hopelessly, vainly for the obstruction to pass unassisted.
Unfortunately I DO know the numbers of dogs who have died. I also know the number of dogs who have had the life saving intervention from conscientious veterinarians who open them up and fish out the contents of their stomachs or intestines, patch them up and send them back to their homes and the ‘special diets’ that await them as they recover from their surgeries… to turn around and have to do it again. And again. And again. I can count those dogs too.
Social media is rife with images of dogs in cones that still manage to acquire articles unfit for canine consumption.
Which leads me to the point of this topic…
There are a lot of places I can start with this; but I’m going to start at the beginning.
- Put your stuff away, as in where the dog can’t get it. That includes making your kids be responsible for their own stuff and put it away too.
- Supervise the dog appropriately (on a leash, with you, IN THE SAME ROOM AS YOU) so you can prevent him from getting your stuff, or your kids’ stuff.
- If you cannot supervise your dog, confine him in a crate so he cannot get anything but his own stuff.
- If you are lax in your supervision and forget to confine your dog so he does manage to get your stuff, DON’T RUN AFTER HIM AND WRESTLE HIM TO GET IT BACK! To do so sets you up for any portion of the first part of this article, including the creation of resource guarding and the associated growling and biting and even faster consumption of stuff you would rather not have to fish through poo for in order to get back, or pay exorbitant fees for surgery you probably could have prevented if you paid attention to the first point and/or the second point.
- Provide appropriate toys! My rule is: man-made toys (you know, the ones you pay top dollar for made of stuff that your house and it’s contents are made of) are considered interactive toys and are to be played with under the supervision and with the cooperation of the owner. This way the dog learns appropriate self control as far as acquisition, possession and relinquishment of toys in a controlled and fun way; gets interaction with his owner and equally important, exercise which will mitigate both attention seeking behavior and the boredom that leads to attention seeking behavior.
- Toys of a more organic nature can be used as pacifier toys and can be enjoyed by the dog either in his crate or during ‘quiet times’ (under supervision, of course). Pacifier toys are pretty limited to bones. Big bones. RAW are best, the entire shank if possible, WITHOUT the knuckles. They do not splinter like cooked bones, are digestible and offer HOURS of fascination for most dogs. They can be used effectively for crate training and to help avert resource guarding behaviors if the dog is allowed controlled access either in his crate or while at large (under supervision, of course). Bleached shank bones are good too. You can stuff them with stuff. Stuff that you approve of, like peanut butter (out of a jar from a manufacturer that doesn’t use artificial sweeteners) or pate’ de foie gras if you want. It’s up to you. Not the dog.
- Did I mention adequate exercise? They need to exercise their bodies, they need to exercise their minds. They need this routinely, as in every day, to some degree. For any dogs, young and old alike or any derivatives thereof; a walk around the block once a day or the expectation that he will ‘self exercise’ if his owners turn him out, unattended, in the back yard is just not going to satisfy the dogs’ desire to chase, frolic, run, jump, wrestle, dig or otherwise act like a dog. Leave him to his own devices and he’ll find things to do on his own, like strip the siding off your house, or break teeth chewing the cinder-blocks or bricks that comprise your foundation.
- Not lastly, more like firstly, or anytime you forget any of the other important stuff here, never EVER run your dog down to get something back. You invite disaster. Maybe not that time, or even the next time, but I assure you; you are teaching your dog several important things:
- To defend articles with avoidance, escape or aggression
- To run from you, because you look like a giant monster trying to take your dogs’ prize
- To hide in the cubby under the bed, chair, couch, corner, closet, crate or anywhere the dog feels he can defend himself, and consume his prize
- To chew harder and swallow faster so the bigger predator (YOU) can’t get it.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to wrestle away that sock, or cramming your hand forcibly down a dogs throat after the other half of your sandwich or your kid’s iPod.
You invite disaster by thinking you will be successful. You may be once or twice, but try calling that dog to you after a few sessions like this and see what happens, or better yet, when you REALLY NEED him to drop something, and you move toward him, watch what happens. It ain’t purdy, the things people inadvertently teach their dogs….
They say it is far easier to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission. In the case of dogs who ingest foreign objects, it is far easier to mitigate access and teach them to respond to some basic commands than it is to have to suffer the consequences and often heartbreak of having allowed them unadulterated access to your stuff.
Be smart. An ounce of prevention and all that. Hiring a good trainer to help you is still way cheaper than obstruction surgery and far less heartbreaking than losing your dog because you accidentally taught him to run away instead of willingly give up the thing you don’t want him to eat.