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Ask 3LD, Puppy Edition: Chewing, Housetraining, Resource Guarding, and More

Answering real questions from real puppy owners.

1. Puzzled about puzzle toys (lol sorry)

“Hey, Jake!

My family and I are future dog owners. We’re doing our homework. Our questions have to do with feeding: How is a dog receiving dinner from chew toys not free feeding? Will a puppy be able to get all the necessary nutrition using this method? And won’t this make house training more difficult? And then what about hand feeding?

Peace,
the T family”

It’s not free-feeding (leaving food out all day for the dog to pick at) because you use puzzle toys the same way you use a bowl to feed meals. 2-3 times a day, and you pick up whatever is left after they get bored. Unless we’re talking about when you go to work/school and leave puzzle toys out all day to keep Sparky entertained. I guess… that’s a form of free-feeding? Ya got me there! But Sparky’s gotta stay entertained somehow.

As for your other questions, let me clarify how I feed a puppy: in the morning, ration out a day’s worth of their food. Put it in a bowl and set it aside. At three regularly scheduled meal times, put a portion of that bowlful into one or two toys. Give them to puppy. Basically, the only difference between bowl-feeding and toy-feeding is the shape of the container.


2. Dinner-time manners and waking up too early

From K:
“A couple of puppy raising questions for you.  We have an 18 week old golden retriever, Sam.

I like your ‘reward the positive behaviour’ and was wondering how to apply that to our meal time. We have a barrier that keeps Sam from going into the lounge room where we have dinner but she can see us and barks whilst we eat!  I’ve tried to treat her is she sits quietly – is that the way to go?”

Yes, that’s the way to go! Start by rewarding 1-2 seconds of quiet. Gradually work your way up to minutes, then your full dinner. It might help if you feed her her own dinner in a puzzle toy while you eat. You can set up practice situations to work on this outside of dinner time, too.

“2nd question:  Sam wakes at 5.30am, but we don’t want to start our day then. Any thoughts?  Will she grow out of it?”

“We don’t want to start our day [at 5:30].” LOL, I bet you don’t.

Waking up too early is part of your initiation into dog ownership. You wouldn’t expect to sleep in with a new human baby. Same goes for dog babies. 18 weeks is still real young. She’ll grow out of it. You can slowly push back the wake-up time by getting up ten minutes later every morning (just ignore the whining). At that age, my pup River got me up at exactly 5:50am every day. Now she graciously allows me to sleep until 8:30.


3. Finding safe chew toys

“I have a 5 month old rott/hound mix. She puts everything in her mouth. Any suggestions on what is safe to let her chew?”

Check out this tutorial, steps 4-5 in particular. Dog-safe bones and rubber puzzle toys. High-value stuff like pig ears and hooves for when she’s driving you crazy and you need five minutes of peace. You can even give her carrots if she’s into it.


4. Whining puppies

“I’ve had my new GSD puppy since [about two days ago]. She’s gorgeous and adorable but a real screamer. I know one must ignore her until the crying and whining stops, which I’m happy to do, but can you offer any additional advice for a puppy who seems to be naturally “winge-y”? Ideally I’d like to help her become calmer in her own interest as well as my nerves.
Thanks.
-A”

I know there’s a time warp during the first few days with a puppy. Time seems to drag on forever. It probably seems like an eternity since you brought her home. But look – it’s barely been two days! Two. Days. Her entire life has just been thrown upside down. She doesn’t know you. She’s probably wondering when her mom is going to come back and save her. It’s normal for her to fussy right now. To help her become calmer, you gotta do the important work of earning her trust, building a relationship, and helping her settle in.


5. A housetraining conundrum


My husband and I have a 5 month old Corgi, and we’ve been working on housebreaking since we brought her home at 3 months old. It seems like she gets it- she goes to the door, she holds it while we are at work, etc. But when people come over, it’s like all bets are off. She doesn’t give any acknowledgment that she needs to go outside, and instead just does her business in the dining room! Even when we take her outside preemptively, she won’t do anything, and instead prefers to go inside. Any suggestions on how we can stop this? Thank you so much!
-K”

This isn’t surprising. A lil’ pup’s kindergarten-level housetraining skills can be sorely tested in exciting or stressful situations. The solution: manage manage manage. This is a scenario where you can use your fancy-pants human brain to accurately predict when the unwanted behavior will occur. “Okay, company’s coming, baby Corgi is going to pee in the dining room.”

So… don’t let her pee in the dining room.

I’m (mostly) not being a smartass. That’s really what it boils down to. When you have visitors, you watch that dog like a hawk. She’s either on a leash in your hand, or in a play pen in your line of sight. If she starts to pee you interrupt and whisk her outside. If you can’t watch her, she’s in her crate. (No crate? Then you and your husband take turns holding her leash)

As long as you’re diligent about stopping this bad habit in its tracks, she’ll outgrow it.


6. For the puppy who eats everything

“Our golden retriever puppy has just turned 6 months and she is pushing me to my limits. She bites when we try to harness her, so we have left in on all the time. When she is on her back she can get the strap into her mouth, and has now chewed it in half. We have tried several types to no avail. 

She eats everything on the ground, and living in AZ, landscape rocks are a real danger. We tried several muzzles, [but it’s not practical]. No potty on grass, she eats by the mouthful.

I have read “I Got a Dog”, and “Give Your Dog a Brain,” along with the articles. Your humor gives me piece of mind, but I too suffer from depression and I can’t take much more. She is ready to start her second training program, not real helpful so far. We have worked on all the suggested commands which is a work in progress, but I am feeling overwhelmed. She is here to stay but I don’t know how much longer I can take it. Please help!!

Sincerely,
P”

I feel you on that Arizona landscape rock thing. Gravel as far as the eye can see! And what’s not covered in gravel is covered in sharp stabby plants just waiting to eff you up. Home sweet home.

Anyway. Golden retrievers were designed to put things in their mouth. Your pup is doing exactly what she’s supposed to do, basically. This knowledge doesn’t solve your problem but it can make it easier to empathize and work with her. Just like when my Belgian Malinois (breed of choice for police and military working dog programs) puppy was biting literally everything and threatening to murder people over empty cat food cans, I maintained my sanity by frequently reminding myself, “this is what you wanted, buttercup! You want the good parts of the breed, you gotta deal with the bad.”

I know a complicated training plan can be impossible when you’re depressed. So I’ll suggest just a couple things to focus on:

Leave it. Leave it leave it leave it leaveitleaveitleaveit. You have Give Your Dog a Brain, which shows you how to teach this. Practice Leave Its as much as you can stand. Do, like, one-minute training sessions five times a day. Start indoors with Leaving food. Then Leaving non-food objects. Then Leaving the harness. Also, Hand Touches. Forget everything else in the program and just get really good at these two things. Train in a different room every time. Then go outside.

The Leave It is so you can stop her from going after the forbidden object. The Hand Touch is an easy way to redirect and give her something productive to do. Because, as always, it’s not enough to make the “bad” behavior stop. You have to replace it with something. In real life, it will look like this: you’re on a walk. Pup starts to zero in on a rock/lizard carcass/whatever. You say “leave it.” Then you say “touch!” She touches your hand. You give her a treat. You continue to Hand Touch until you’ve walked past the danger.

If you’re feeling more ambitious, you can work with your dog’s instincts and teach her to carry a dog toy on walks. Hell, you could even just get her really jazzed up about playing tug, and bring a tug toy on walks.

And the grass-eating? Unless I’m missing something, it’s not a problem. Of course, I’m just some idiot from the internet, so check with your vet first, but I wouldn’t worry about it. Puppy raising requires picking your battles wisely.


7. Resource guarding


“Help – 10 month old puppy quite good really but will RESOURCE guard cloths, towels etc. Doesn’t do it with food or toys. He will growl and snap and is quite threatening!!! How do I deal with this. Thanx in advance,

-P”

Check out my old resource guarding tutorial. It needs to be updated, but the bones of it are solid.

Start by doing the food guarding exercises, particularly the refill exercise. I know you said he doesn’t guard food, but that’s exactly the point. You have to build a history of trust and understanding: humans approaching your stuff is a very good thing. And you have to do this outside of the problem situation.

Also start working on the Drop It cue as described in the object guarding section, then start playing the exchange game with toys and low-value -i.e, not guard-worthy- objects. Get real good at Drop It.

Solving resource guarding is a matter of desensitization and counter-conditioning (DSCC). During training, the dog must stay under threshold at all times. Threshold: the point at which a stimulus (which, in this case, is a human approaching his treasured object) is strong enough to provoke a reaction – growling, snapping, etc. When a dog is over threshold, it has exited learning mode and entered survival mode. DSCC doesn’t work in survival mode. Our goal with training is to gradually push his threshold so high that he never reaches it at all.

Work on this training several times a day for a week. In the meantime, manage. Do everything in your power to prevent your dog from getting access to guard-worthy objects.

If he does sneak one past you, do not engage. Either leave him alone, or try to lure him away with a high-value snack. I know every instinct will scream in protest at this (“don’t let the little **** get away with that!”) but this is how it’s gotta be.

When your dog knows Drop It and enjoys playing trading games, set up a training situation with a guard-worthy object. Give him one of those tasty towels, then ask for a Drop It. Reward the crap out of him when he does.

And please, don’t get bitten. When in doubt, hire a professional positive trainer.


8. Resource Guarding Redux

The following question is similar to the last two, so I don’t have much to add beyond a bit of running commentary. This is from T:

“I have a five-month-old miniature poodle puppy. He loves his toys, but he loves taking things that do not belong to him even more.”

Real quick point – he doesn’t know the difference. He’s not deliberately seeking out things that don’t belong to him. To a puppy, nothing is sacred, everything is for chewing. I don’t mean to pick on you, T, but a lot of terrible things have been done to dogs on the false altar of “Sparky Knows Better, He’s Being Bad On Purpose.” So I’m just making sure the audience is clear on this.

“He consistently finds something that he should not have — it is not possible to keep everything out of his reach”

I can relate. I’m dealing with a Malinois who’s going through a resource guarding phase, and I’m frequently awful at making sure she doesn’t get her teeth on forbidden objects. This is a reminder to myself as much as to you: it’s more possible than you think. Hard, yes. But not impossible. For the resource guarding plan outlined above, you need to get your management strategy locked down. Use baby gates or an exercise pen to keep him in puppy-proofed areas. For the next two weeks of training, your pup is a like a kid grounded to his room. He’s gotta earn the privilege of free-reign.

“when he is being walked, we often come across something he wants to pick up.”

Like I said in Q6, leave it leave it leave it. And hand touch hand touch hand touch. You can buy Give Your Dog a Brain, which will teach you how, but you probably don’t need that whole program. Just Google those two cues.

“Much of the time, I can distract him with a toy or treat and he will release the object.”

Yep, good! That’s how damage control will work during training.

“However, when he finds something that he really values, he can hold onto it forever.  We had a 5 minute standoff with a leather glove, but I finally had to pry his mouth open to retrieve it. He went absolutely rabid, snarling and snapping and deliberately bite me even after I got the glove away from him.”

This is an example of being so far past threshold, you can’t even see threshold in the rearview mirror. You want to avoid this At All Costs during the training phase. It will erase your progress. That’s where management comes in. But yeah, sometimes mistakes happen. Here’s one of mine: River found a giant cooked pork bone left over from dinner. Someone left it where she could find it. I approached. I was ten feet away when she growled as loud as she could. Because of the training we’ve done, River always lets me take forbidden objects from her. Not today. This was, apparently, the most high-value object she’d ever seen. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was not permitted to touch.


I hope someone gets this incredibly obscure reference.

If I tried to strong-arm it from her, everybody would lose. But I couldn’t exactly let her destroy her intestines with a cooked bone. I ended up taking chunks of meat and dropping them on her back. Which was weird enough that she stopped guarding and turned around to investigate. I kicked the bone out of reach.

This is not good training. This is not good management. This is damage control. All I could do was commit to training and managing better.

“He is a very smart, sweet pup, except for this behavior.”

I get that. Resource guarding is not a character flaw, it’s a normal dog behavior. It just clashes with the expectations of polite human society.

9. A pup who wants to party every night

“Hi there! We have a 14 month old Portuguese Water Dog. She is high energy and we do lots of walks, fetch and some nose-work or obedience to burn all that energy each day. She only gets crated or penned a few hours at a time and is fine with chewing toys or napping when confined. But in the evenings, she trolls the house looking for mischief! Just when we want to sit and watch tv or relax, kids all finally in bed, the dog is up on the counters or walking all around looking for things to get into. At times we will use kibble to keep her in her bed settled but often even that does not work. Our last resort is to pen her or tether and then she passes out for the evening, so it’s like she just can’t settle herself. Any suggestions to teach her to chill in the evening? Are we expecting too much at this age?

Thanks!
-D”

Man, evenings with a puppy (and a 14 month old PWD is very much a teenage puppy) can be brutal. Dogs are crepuscular – most active at dawn and dusk. This means puppies tend to puppy extra hard when the sun goes down, at the exact time when you just want to be done for the day.

Part of the answer is, yeah: this is par for the course at this age. It won’t last forever. All the obedience, nose work and other stuff you do with her is awesome. Definitely something a working breed like that needs. Sounds like you’re doing everything right. Keep up the good work and hang in there.

The more useful part of the answer: structure. Evenings are a good time to work on some of your training homework. She needs SOMETHING to focus that energy on, and brain work can help her settle down. Plan on adding a nightly training session to your schedule. I know, it sucks when all you want to do is watch TV and shut your brain off, but it does help. Maybe do a 20-minute Chill Out Routine before putting her in her pen with a puzzle toy.

Something to be careful of: her cruising for mischief can lead to all sorts of bad habits, so you want to nip that in the bud. Double down on management in the evenings; if you’re not training/playing/supervising, she should indeed be penned or tethered.