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Dogs Gone Wild

Dear John,

We own a 1 yr. old black Labrador Retriever, he’s has been crate trained since he was 3 months old and just recently we have started giving him full roam of the first floor of our house and he had been pretty good for awhile, but just recently he has started destroying things, like newspapers and or shoes, even our mail. We would really like to be able to start leaving him out during the day while were gone to work, but we just can’t trust him anymore. Could please let us know how to stop him from his destructor behavior?

Jessica A.

Hi Jessica,

In human terms he’s about 10 years old. At a year and a half, he’s about 16. At 2 he’s about 21. For the most part that’s about physical development but it’s not far off for life skill potential but for many dogs, Labs for sure, I’d put 2 years at 18 years of age at best, more likely 2.5 years of age.

It’s way too early to be giving him free roam of the house. While there are exceptions to the rule I’d say you’ve pretty much left a 10 year old kid home alone and now you’re wondering why there’s oatmeal on the cat, why he’s hacked his hair into a reverse Mohawk and what ever possessed him to crazy glue your dress shoes to the floor. His answer, “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Put him back in the crate when you’re not around to supervise him. That goes for when you’re home as well. For the first couple of years I keep crates handy around the house so when I’m going to be tied up I pop the dog into the crate, finish up, take the dog out, stick his leash on and go about our day together.

If you’re worried about leaving him in the crate for the time you’re gone, don’t. Put a video camera on him when you’re out and you’ll see he’s not exactly using the freedom to do aerobics. He’s either laying about or trashing your house. That said, I make it easier on the dog by giving it a good bit of aerobic exercise before I leave for the day. I’m not talking about a walk either. That’s some sort of bizarre North American myth. A walk at best stimulates a dog’s mind, not its body. Not too many people come back from a walk with their dog and say, “Whew, what a work out!” Imagine how little exercise it is for a dog. I’m talking off lead running around for half an hour. Give him that before you leave, he’ll get in the front door and tell you, “Get out of my way, I’ve got to go lay down.”

The other part of getting him to the point of being crate free when he’s more mature is setting him up to make mistakes when you’re together. When you’re watching television leave newspapers, shoes, mail strewn about the floor and when he so much as looks at it go after him like Brittney Spears on a bad day, then relax and repeat as needed. The moment he’s tip toeing around these items like they’re land mines give him a good chew toy. (It’s a good idea to leave the sort of chew toy he can’t choke on in the crate with him when you’re gone.)

Before you find your dog featured on “Cops” get back to nature’s template and structure his environment once again.

Pawsitvely Yours,

John Wade

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