Remember that old Saturday Night Live skit with the land shark? Well, if you’re of that age-group — it was in the 70s version of SNL. The shark would knock at the door, murmuring things like "candygram" and "plumber," and then eat the unsuspecting person when they opened the door. Comedy gold, I tell you.
(Here’s a clip for you young whipper-snappers.)
It’s not so funny when your sweet little puppy is the land shark. I have a vague memory (it was only two years ago, but still, a lot has happened since then) of our precious black Lab, Mia, causing terror and mayhem on numerous occasions in our household when she was little. My kids were not fans of the new puppy; they could only play with her if they were wearing oven mitts. When she was in "crazy mode," the kids would run, shrieking, while I yelled at them to NOT run because that just made things worse. It was pure pandemonium.
I knew I wasn’t alone, because the same thing happened at my friend Deb’s house when her Lab, Remy, was a puppy. The dogs think it’s great fun, the family is miserable.
We had a lot of torn clothing during this phase of puppyhood.
A client told me the other day that she had to wear rain boots to protect her legs from her puppy’s teeth (she had just had Achilles tendon surgery). I thought this was a brilliant idea.
Amidst all this chaos, we worked relentlessly to teach Mia appropriate mouthing behavior. We did a little of the grab-her-by-the-muzzle-and-yell-NO technique. That worked okay. We did some time-outs in her crate when we couldn’t stand it. Usually we would do the grab/NO bit, and then if she ignored it and got mouthy again, she went into time-out.
We also did a LOT of "redirection." We hammered this into the kids: When Mia is trying to "eat" you, REDIRECT the behavior. Shove something in her mouth that she’s ALLOWED to chew on (toy = good; kid = bad).
It got to the point where when Mia was chewing on one kid, the other one was jumping on the couch yelling "REDIRECT! REDIRECT!" (My household tends to maintain a sort of constant level of pandemonium.)
"REDIRECT" became our personal puppy mantra.
Things Mia was allowed to chew on included:
- Rawhides (Made in America, under supervision, and large enough to take days for her to consume.)
- Kong toys
- Stuffed animals (Unless your dog tends to shred/swallow them.)
- Carrots, celery, etc.
No rope toys because those can unravel and cause a GI obstruction. And no chintzy junk for my baby, she got the best. I spent hundreds of dollars on dog toys for her (chew toys are surprisingly expensive!). Granted, she pretty much ignored those and stuck to rawhide, my kids’ stuffed animals, tub toys, and plastic water bottles. (She has a new toy called a "bottle buddy" that is a stuffed toy with a water bottle inside. She loves it.) But whatever … it was better than the flesh of my children.
We had to be consistent with all this stuff, and she didn’t stop trying to eat us all at once. I remember waiting eagerly for all her baby teeth to fall out, only to come to the crushing realization that the adult teeth come out really sharp too. But through our concerted efforts the mouthing became manageable and eventually stopped.
Just keep telling yourself, "This too shall pass."
And keep on "redirecting."
Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll