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April 29, 2008

At 5 months old, Tait is testing boundaries, chewing on everything

My, what a difference a month makes!

My cuddly, compliant and sleepy little Belgian Tervuren has morphed into a rowdy, leggy, active preteen with a chewing addiction.

Before he turned 4 months old, Tait was easily managed off leash in familiar locations. This had little to do with training, but more to do with his developmental stage. Younger puppies tend to stick close to the pack -- their human and dog housemates -- for security. Now, as a confident 5-month-old, Tait is eager to explore his expanding environment, and I am under no delusions as to how little off-leash control I have.

Now is the time for the leash to be attached, any time we are out, so that my efforts at establishing a good recall are not wasted. I expect him to broaden his horizons and explore. When directed to come to me, if Tait does not comply willingly and immediately, I will pick up the long line that is attached, give it a light pop in my direction, and heap praise upon him when he returns.

In spite of his earlier foundation, this is normal, and as long as he never succeeds in ignoring my cues to come, this stage should pass without any harmful long-term consequences.

Tait's recent obsession with pulverizing anything he can get his mouth on is matched only by the pace at which his baby teeth are falling out; chewing is simply nature's way of speeding along the process of acquiring the adult set of teeth.

I am reminded of many a client's mournful wail, "He's never chewed like this before. Why is he being so bad now?" My reply has always been and -- after dealing with it firsthand -- will continue to be, "Because your puppy's never been this age before." This isn't "bad" behavior; it's natural, and I must prevent him from chewing on inappropriate items to ensure I end up with an adult dog that is not prone to destructive chewing. Clients always are inquiring as to the best way to correct a young dog when caught chewing on something taboo. It's actually easier and far more beneficial to be proactive. I have a growing and ever-changing collection of chew toys, most of which can be "stuffed" with something attractive to keep Tait's attention. These tough toys have different textures and shapes, which I offer him on a continuous but rotating basis; added interest comes in the form of the peanut butter, blue cheese, cubed chicken breast, anchovy paste or baked beef heart that I stuff in each toy. By offering Tait acceptable things to use his teeth on, it all but eliminates the need to monitor and address his attempts to chew on forbidden items.

In spite of deliberate and continuous people socialization, Tait has begun to growl at strangers. As disappointing as this is, I know it is common at this stage, and I must be diligent at continuing to work on it. A week ago, while touring a nursery, Tait spied a Buddha statue and proceeded to growl and bark at this "stranger." I pulled out my treats, sat down in front of the statue, and we spent five embarrassing minutes talking to it and rubbing the statue's belly. Finally, Tait gave up on growling and ate treats out of Buddha's lap. A return trip a few days later to see Buddha resulted in no growling. In fact, no interest was paid to any statue, as Tait was too busy growling at two children running in the distance.

Sigh ... the work continues.

Lisa Moore's pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Weekly Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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