Q: My dog has been much more destructive lately and friends tell me that it will help to get another dog. How can I tell if my pet needs a mate?
A: I would like to believe that another dog could help my Lulu lose interest in chewing shoes. But the threat of two pooches terrorizing my footwear is unacceptable. Incidentally, friends who suggest that I get another dog never volunteer to help when Lulu needs a pet sitter. It’s best to consult an expert before adding another dog to the mix — particularly if your goal is to address behavior issues.
“I usually try to keep people from having too high of an expectation,” says Dr. Erin Ringstrom, a veterinarian with East Atlanta Animal Clinic in Georgia. “They can be disappointed, especially if they get another pet and then the original pet behaves exactly the same way.”
If the issue is not health-related, consider calling in reinforcements. After shadowing professional dog walker Craig Hughes of Atlanta, I understand the benefits of a daily power walk. About 10 minutes into his session with a client, Hughes kindly slowed the pace of our power walk so I could keep up — but the pooch was ready to go. Hughes says he has seen so-called problem dogs transform as a result of long daily walks. You can do this yourself or get help. Even in a sluggish economy, many clients call on him to visit their pets twice a day. Rates vary based on the number of visits, but a professional dog walker typically costs less than a visit to doggie daycare.
If pet sitters or a doggie daycare are not options, consider limiting your pet’s play area. A sturdy crate could help protect your shoe collection. “Dogs can’t tell the difference between your Prada shoes and a stick that fell off a tree in the yard in terms of value,” says dog trainer Chris Redenbach. “All they know is they are good to chew on.”
If your dog is not housebroken, she suggests investing in a crate that’s large enough for the pet to turn around in, but not so large that it can defecate at one end and chill out in the other. House-trained dogs will benefit from a larger crate with comfy bedding. Add a few toys, but make sure they don’t contain pieces that could present a choking hazard. Ringstrom also recommends crating dogs to help curb destructive behavior. Just watch the clock and be sure to provide plenty of free time so pets can run around and stretch. Avoid crating pets for extended periods. “It’s not humane,” she says. “They have to go out after eight to 10 hours. That’s really the max.”
If you develop crate guilt from leaving your pooch locked up, turn on the television or radio. I am partial to gospel music for Lulu, in the hope that she will change her shoe-loving ways. Unruly pooches also benefit from obedience training, particularly younger dogs. After 30 years of working with wayward pooches and their frazzled people, Redenbach can quickly spot the root cause of many behavior issues.
When the relationship does get out of step, she frequently points to the human end of the leash. The certified dog behavior consultant and director of The Park Training Academy in Tucker, Ga., says many issues stem from pets reacting to our cues.
“Pets are completely dependent on the environment we put them in, and the problems that we expect them to cope with,” she says. “We need to initiate the kind of communication they understand so they can do what pleases us.”
While it’s only natural to get frustrated when your dog turns a pair of shoes into chew toys or has accidents in the house, Redenbach says that your reaction can help curb future mishaps.
“We tend to fall into patterns where we criticize what we don’t like, but don’t praise what we do like,” she says. “Most of the dogs that I meet think their name is, ‘No!’ It’s amazing what a huge difference it makes in the dog’s behavior if the person spends one week noticing everything the dog does right and praising it.”
She also tells clients to consider situations from the dog’s perspective. Tighten the leash as people or pets approach during walks, and your dog mirrors that tense behavior. Over time, Redenbach says, that reaction gets bigger and bigger until the dog is deemed leash aggressive or “reactive.”
“They are not often truly aggressive dogs,” Redenbach notes, “but they learned a bad habit in that context.”
To address the issue, she recommends training designed for reactive dogs and their owners so that both develop strategies to cope with other dogs. Sometimes the problem can be resolved quickly. But she says that it can take longer to address reactive behavior that stems from the dog’s temperament or prior negative experiences. “I don’t consider it wise for the owner of a reactive dog to adopt another dog until and unless the reactivity is permanently resolved,” she says.
If your dog truly benefits from the company of other dogs, consider adopting a pooch with a similar temperament — and exercise caution when introducing your new addition. (In a previous column, I offered tips to ensure peaceful transitions.)
Ringstrom offers one final pearl of wisdom on expanding the fur family: Never, ever get another pet unless you want another pet.
At this point in my life, Lulu is more than enough dog for me.
— Morieka Johnson