“Here I am, over 60 and raising my first puppy.”
This quote is from my good friend and retired educator, Elaine. She decided to get a puppy with which to share her life. She researched many breeds of dogs and settled on a male yellow Labrador retriever. At 10 weeks old, Riggins came into her life with all the Lab enthusiasm, a full set of puppy teeth and the need to chew that was beyond anything Elaine had imagined.
“You want this dog that you can love and be your companion, and then the reality of what that takes hits you,” Elaine said to me.
Riggins was home for three days when he raced past her in the kitchen, grabbed the bottom of her bathrobe and started to tug.
“He didn’t even seem to be interested in playing with me or happy to see me. He just wanted to destroy stuff with his mouth,” she said.
What follows is Elaine’s story about teaching Riggins what not to chew and what to chew:
The first two years of Riggins’ life were spent overseeing his behavior moment to moment. I put trash containers away and picked up shoes and socks. I closed all of the doors in the house. I didn’t have any flowers in my yard. Riggins would eat them. During his first summer, I couldn’t be on my deck without preparing chew toys in advance so that he wouldn’t grab furniture or run off the deck and grab the young trees in the yard.
I lost some trees that summer.
I braided long strips of fleece for him to pull at and shred. I stuffed hollow beef bones and Kongs with wet dog food to keep him occupied. I prepared them in advance and put them in the freezer so I could just grab one as soon as he showed interest in chewing anything, which was most of the time.
He had zero impulse control. I enrolled him in training classes. Throughout his chewing years, I had to teach him how to behave. Through it all, I could see he had potential. I had to learn how to create that special bond with him that I dreamed of. Ongoing education for me and consistent training for him was the answer. Without intervention and professional help, we would not have survived.
Riggins chewed until his second birthday. It’s like somebody turned off a switch. I still have to manage him, but he now self-directs his more modified chewing to his chew toys on his own.
I think that you have to give your dog your best. If you don’t have the time, energy or money to help your new dog, don’t do it. Don’t get a dog.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training LLC with more than 25 years of experience.