In this section we'll be talking about one of the most destructive of habits, Chewing.
All dogs go through a period of learning and exploration. This normally occurs during puppyhood when the collie's mind is at its most absorbent. It's just a little sponge ready to take in all the information it can gather about its environment and the world around it. Since dogs don't have opposable thumbs its a little hard for them to pick an object up to check it out. So, other then their sight and general body touch how can they examine something that holds their fancy? With their mouths of course! The mouth is a very integral part of their life. Not just for eating but it is also a communication device for alerting others as to their feelings. Its sensitivity is such that it also makes an ideal tool for testing new things out. It tells them if something fits in their mouth, if it rolls around to the teeth easily or is uncomfortable to maneuver with their tongue, if it is hard or soft, good to eat or just good to chew on for boredom or stress relief. It is during this stage of learning that your collie is most likely to learn that chewing feels goods and because it does he will be very happy to reinforce the behavior by repeating it. Why does it feel good? The main reason is teething. During the first year your collie as a puppy will go through the two stages of teething. The first stage is where the puppy teeth (or milk teeth as they are sometimes called) are working their way up and out to make room for the erupting adult teeth. Generally, this stage begins at about 3 months and lasts until 5 months of age. The second stage begins usually after the adult molars have broken through and they really begin to push to get to their full size. This stage can begin almost immediately after the first stage and last up until a the dog is a year old. At the same all of this is happening the dog's head and jaw is growing and changing as well. The jaw is growing longer and wider and the set of the mouth is changing rapidly. All this can cause a great deal of pain and many pups find that when they chew their food the pain seems to feel a little better and their stress begins to relieve itself. Once the food is gone however the puppy will soon often be in need of something for pain relief will seek out an object that helps him feel better. Wooden chair or table legs are very often favorites because it is just hard enough to give some initial resistance for the pain relief but soft enough to give with the pups continued chewing. As the wood begins to give in to the pressure the pup soon finds that he can accomplish more than just pain relief. He can make the object break apart and that in itself becomes fun for many pups. Some pups learn in addition to this general feel good experience they can make their humans pay attention to them and make all kinds of neat reactions. If the pup is chewing during something that may make him a little scared or nervous but not enough to make him stop chewing he may make the association that chewing also helps him feel less stressed. In actuality the chewer is also exercising his jaw muscles and even that kind of exercise if done to a high degree can encourage the brain to produce the "I feel good" chemical serintonin. The same thing happens to humans that exercise their body muscles. Even if they began their workout in a bad mood, the serintonin will often having them feeling great by the time the workout is done. This is why aerobic walks are so helpful in managing so many behavioral issues in dogs. (Please consult your dog's vet before implementing any exercise programs or regimens.) Chewing can become such a crutch for many pups that are bored, lonely, nervous, scared, stressed or just plain addicted to it that many will continue the behavior into adulthood. When these issues come into play you may soon find that anything within reach can be fair game to a chewer on a mission. Shoes and under garments are popular chew items for dogs that are suffering from the fear or stress of seperation anxiety usually only whenever they are left alone. Dogs experiencing barrier frustration will primarily chew on doors, windows, wall molding, the walls ... in short anything they perceive as a barrier preventing them from escape or release. They may do this whether the human family is home or not depending on where they are being crated or kept and where the family is. Many dogs with seperation anxiety will also have barrier frustration due to their desire to get out to their person. Generally stressed out, or nervous dogs will chew just about anything they can get into their mouth whether its easy to chew on or not. Along with the above issues these dogs can and very often do end up breaking their teeth on these items. The bored dog with nothing better to do will chew on things that are usually easy to get through thus giving them the satisfaction that they are doing something or getting through something. Wood, cushions, books, paper, toilet paper, rugs ... nothing soft or easy to get through is safe from these chewers.
Correcting and Preventing
Correcting for chewing behavior starts first with understanding why your collie does it. Is he the nervous type or easily stressed by little things or does he not have enough chew toys to satisfy himself during those lonely hours while you are at work? Is he a young puppy with more energy then 5 five year old kids or is he an adult dog who has been bounced through three different homes in less then a year? These things all come into play. When considering dogs with issues such as seperation anxiety or barrier frustration you may want to strongly consider consulting with your vet or a veterinary behaviorist. While a simple taste deterrent may prove useful for a collie with a VERY mild case of seperation anxiety or barrier frustration in most other cases it will not. It may only serve to make the dog find a new spot to chew or create even more panic. Not a good thing as dogs in serious panic mode have been know to throw themselves violently around a room, in a crate, into doors and even out of windows. If you have a collie with a serious behavioral issue you may need to consider medication or some alternative form of inducing calm before you can even consider anything else. If your dog is only the occasional chewer or chews because he likes it or is bored you need to consider his environment. Is he in a crate or room with nothing to do? (Dogs in crates against a wall or door have been known to chew on these things even if only with their very little front teeth.) Maybe a room with a view would help or some safe chew and play toys to occupy the bored collie. (Please see the Your Collie's Living Arrangement's
page for help on chew toys and play toys.) If he didn't get enough exercise last time before he chewed on the carpet then you may need to consider making a little more time to play. Did you turn your back on that puppy or leave him alone in the living room for a short phone call? Then you may not want to do that again! Remember that many dogs have a very short ability to remember what they just did. If you walk in after the fact there isn't much you can do except clean up the mess and make sure to better set your collie up for success the next time. However, if you should catch your collie in the act of chewing then there are some things you can do about. To begin, anytime you catch him chewing something inappropriate break it up with a firm sounding "Ah ah ah ah ah!". Use the back of your throat so it sounds a bit grated. As soon as your collie looks up at you can say "Better! Good boy!" and then immediately lure him away from the object with something of his to chew on. Praise him lavishly as you put the his toy or "chewy" in his mouth and then keep an eye to be sure he doesn't get back into the inappropriate object. In addition to that you can lace the object he shouldn't have with a scent or taste deterrent to make him say "Yuck! I don't want that in my mouth!" thus teaching him that the inappropriate object will correct him itself with the nasty taste whether you are there or not. Dog's tastes can vary. There are several taste and scent deterrents on the market today that work well and some are made specifically with wood or plants in mind but you can also use concentrate lemon, lime or vinegar. Remember that what ever you use will have to be reapplied daily or at least every other day so that the correction will always be as strong the last time he tries as it was the first time. When you have a dog that just seems to grab everything that's around even when you're standing right there you might find it helpful to teach three new commands called the "Leave it", the "Take it" and the "Give."
So what do these three commands do ? Well, simply put it increases your collie's safety and health by giving you the ability to tell your collie when something is off limits, when it isn't and how to give up something you want to throw again for him or just take away if it is unsafe. Why do we need these? Well, unfortunately most dogs do not have the ability to know when something they are chewing or have in their mouth is not safe for them. Some dogs will also become possessive over the objects they have acquired and not want to give them up. They may growl, bark, run away with, hide or even bite to keep it. And some will even simply just swallow the object to keep you from getting it. Yes swallow it. Pica, the term applied to the ingestion of nonfood items, can be an all to a common problem for many dogs and puppies. What usually starts as investigation play can become an earnest quest to keep their siblings and other dogs from getting their object. Similarly, wolves in the wild would often swallow large pieces of meat to prevent other wolves from stealing it from them. In our modern packs dogs and puppies will often swallow their prize if they know their owners are going to run and grab everything out of their mouths the second its there. Pen caps, bottle caps, food items even golf balls, rocks and mulch, too name but a few, have found their way to the stomach of many a dog and unfortunately many of these dogs have found themselves at the vet's office under the knife because of it.
Teaching commands that clearly tell your collie when something is okay and not okay to have is more than just good manners. Its life saving.
The positive motivation way to teach this command is to begin by putting a piece of treat under your shoe. As usual your collie's should be on leash for control. Let him sniff and scratch as much as he wants until he stops trying to get it. As soon as he stops, verbally praise him and then offer a treat from your hand. As you are giving the treat with one hand, the other hand removes the treat from under your foot. This is so you don't have to fight to see who is faster! Repeat the process until every time you place the treat under your foot he doesn't make a move for it. At this point start saying "Leave it" as you put the treat under your foot. He doesn't move for it anyway so you don't have anything to correct. Say "Good Leave it" and reward him with a treat from your hand. Repeat several times. At this point you can start lifting your foot an inch or so after telling the pup to leave the treat you placed under it. If he moves for it quickly cover the treat up with your foot. Repeat until he does not move for the treat. Praise and reward immediately. Build until you are putting the treat on the floor without covering it and he doesn't move. Now you need to start making it look like an accident. Carefully drop a treat (a non rolling treat would be best!) as close to your foot as you can and command "leave it". Cover with your foot if he moves for it, if not praise and reward him. If he can handle this you can begin to tell him to "leave it" for other objects as well. If he does, reward him immediately. If not, you can use his leash to give a light tug to enforce "leave it". When he backs off and leaves the object, reward him. Remember that no matter what when you say "Leave it" he cannot be allowed to get the object of his desire. It is also a good idea to encourage your collie to actually look at you when you say leave it. This is because it is much easier to move a dog away from a distraction if he is looking at you instead of staying focused on the item. All that is required to teach that response is to simply wait to reward until the dog not only stops trying to actively get the hidden treat but looks up at you as if to say "What gives? A little help here please?" If he leaves the treat but doesn't look up at you (most common with dominant dogs that stubbornly have to "have things my own way" or absolutely must do it themselves like many northern breeds) then try making the barest amount of noise possible to get him to look at you almost "accidentally". You don't want to actually use his name because we want the response of looking up to you to become automatic. Calling his name takes that "discovery" process away.
The take it command is a good graduation from the leave it command as it now introduces the possibility of being allowed to have something when he is told he can. It is also great for teaching nice manners when taking a treat or object from your hand. To begin, you'll want to casually hold a treat in your fist and hold it right in front of your collie's nose. Let him sniff, lick at it, nose for it but he cannot have it. If he should attempt to bite or nip with his teeth you can use a high pitched yelp of "Ouch!" and withdraw your hand for a moment before again putting it before the dog's nose. As soon as the dog stops all attempts to get the treat for a brief moment you will want to immediately praise your collie verbally "Good boy!" as you open your hand up and quickly put it too his mouth. Tell him "Take it!" as he opens his mouth for the treat and verbally praise him as he does. You can continue this until your collie just waits patiently when you put your fist out to him. Now you begin step two. Put your fist out as you did before but now you will open it up just a bit. If he goes for the treat quickly close your fist and wait for him to settle back down. Gently praise him for better behavior and try to open your fist just a little bit again. You will need to reward him just as before when he waits patiently otherwise he will get bored and may either give up completely or return to trying to get the treat himself. As he gets better you can begin to open your hand more and more until eventually you can place your completely open hand before him and he will wait for you to offer it. Here's where you need to make a slight change. Up until this point you will quickly offer your collie the treat by putting it right up to his mouth when he just waits and then you say "take it". Now you want him to realize that he can move for the treat when you say "take it". Hold your hand open with the treat sitting in the palm and tell him to "take it" if he does not move for it. Do not move your hand this time. Let him come for it. If he moves for it praise him verbally. If he doesn't quite get it move the treat just a bit closer to his mouth and encourage him to "take it" again. No go? Then move the treat closer still. Continue the encouragement until he finally does take it on cue and be sure to make a big deal when he does. Try again. If he seems to be getting the idea you can move the treat further away from him so he has to actually reach out his head to take the treat. You can also use the cue word when you throw toys for your collie to go get and verbally reward him when he does indeed go and get the thrown object. This does not need to be used when rewarding for other commands. The scenario is different for that as you are immediately putting the reward right to his mouth when he does what was asked for first.
Give is now the safety command that tells your dog; when he does have an object he shouldn't have or one that you just happen to want he should allow you to remove it from his mouth without argument. Easy enough to teach it involves just the simple exchange of the object for a treat. When your collie has a toy in his mouth hold a special treat up to his nose. As he opens his mouth to let go of the toy and take the treat you can say "Give" as your other hand takes hold of the toy gently. As soon as the toy is fully in your hand and out of his mouth you praise like crazy and let him have the treat. Initially you will hold the treat out to his nose first then take hold of the toy, but you will soon make a graduation to just showing him the treat first, taking the toy and then bringing in the treat to his mouth as you say "Give". Soon after that comes the transition to taking hold of the toy first, bringing out the treat to show and saying give. As soon as he willingly lets go of the object you praise him verbally as you are bring the treat in to give to him. Eventually the final stage is to take hold of the toy, tell your collie to give, he lets go of it and THEN you verbally praise as you get the treat out to give to him. Now your collie does not need to see the treat in order to give up the object. He just assumes it will be there as strictly a reward. Yes, for a time he may still need a reward every time but you be able to eventually move him to not needing it every single time.
Quick note: Practicing with toys first means that you can return it to your collie on occasion (and only if he waits nicely for the "Take it" signal!) so that he doesn't get into the habit of running off with something he shouldn't have because he thinks once you take it, it is gone for good.
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In combination with all of the above you can also have the chewing collie on a long line when you are inside or outside with him so that if he should go near something or get something he shouldn't have you do not have to chase him all over the yard and teach him to avoid you with the "chase me!" game. It isn't cruel and in the end if its done long enough you actually have a better chance to teach him some reliability on recalls and other commands in the backyard.
If you have large areas of object in question (rocks, mulch etc.) in the yard you can lace them with a scent or taste deterrent as well. Remember that what ever you use will have to be reapplied daily or at least every other day if its good weather so that the correction from the stones will always be as strong the last time he tries as it was the first time.
Also anytime you see him go near the object and then walk away without touching it or avoid it altogether without your aid, reward him verbally and regularly offer a treat.
Besides keeping a long line on him, play more interactive games with him. Keep him occupied with you and his safe play and chew toys rather than let him develop his own bad habits.
And get started on that obedience training if you haven't already or get back into the habit or you slacked off on it just a tad.
When you can't keep an eye on him consider crating or containing him in a "puppy proofed" area. It will be safer for him and easier on you in the long run. Make sure he has safe chew and play toys to occupy him with.
Remember that it only takes a second for his life (and yours) to change forever.