Ask the Trainer - My senior dogs crime spree!

Ask the Trainer...... I have an older dog who has always been fairly well behaved... However lately she has become 'naughty'.....including getting into the bin, stealing food, stealing shoes and destroying's almost like she is going through a puppy stage again and we have to toddler proof again.

Oh no! That sounds frustrating! We certainly tend to think once we get to 'senior' age with our dogs that we are well past the stage where they are raiding our bins, stealing shoes and getting into mischief. Funnily enough it isn't all that uncommon. I regularly hear from client and friends who have a senior dog going through a 'crime spree', in fact I experienced the same thing with my senior dog when she hit around 7/8 years of age. So what should you do.... 1) First things first, especially with senior dogs, when you notice sudden behaviour change a thorough check up with your veterinarian is the first port of call. Like us, when dogs don't feel too crash hot their behaviour is likely to change. Ensuring that they have no new medical problems or that niggling issues like pain/arthritis are treated/managed is important. Dogs can also suffer from Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (see article here) and loss of sight, hearing etc as they age and so regular veterinary checks are recommended. If a behaviour is medically driven, no amount of training will change it completely. 2) Next you should take a look at their diet, especially if they seem to be looking for food (raiding bins, stealing off benches etc), as our dogs bodies age they may have different nutritional needs and foraging for food could be an indication that they are missing something in their diet. Even if they are on a high quality diet you may need to make changes. This is another area you should address with your dogs veterinarian.

3) Good management practices. If your dog continues to practice the behaviour they are more likely to engage in it again! Especially if they are successful (finding some food scraps in the bin, scoring a dinner roll off the bench, the joy of chewing a smelly shoe). Additionally these behaviours can be dangerous for your dog, bin raiding especially can lead to ingestion of dangerous items such as chicken bones, onion, avocado seeds (or any number of other problematic human foods) or dogs suffocating in chip packets and similar items (sadly more common than many people realise).

You should implement similar management practices to that of new puppy owners including:

  • Putting bins in cupboards, up high or in rooms with the door closed.

  • Ensuring you do not leave your dog unsupervised around food (kitchen, dining room, coffee table).

  • Picking up shoes and other objects they may find fun to chew.

  • Placing your dog in a safe area when you are not supervising them (at night, when you go to work etc).

  • Utilising doors or baby gates to keep your dog away from known problem areas (kitty litter anyone?)

A great quote from Ken Ramirez: “Like all of us, if we have a choice between doing something the easy way and doing it the hard way, most of us will take the easy way. So that’s what you do to help animals make the correct choice. Make the choice that you want them to pick, easy. Make the choice you want them to quit doing, harder.”

4) Ensure they are getting adequate physical and mental enrichment. In some cases our senior dogs are just bored! We may have reduced their physical exercise due to ongoing medical issues or because we can see they no longer cope with longer walks, hard running, ball play etc. But their minds are still active and less physical exercise may mean they need more mental exercise. Mental enrichment has the added bonus of keeping your dogs mind sharp and helping to slow down or prevent age related dysfunction. Our favourite place to find a plethora of enrichment ideas for dogs of all ages, sizes, breeds and activity levels is the Canine Enrichment group on Facebook HERE

5) Training! You may wonder why as a trainer I have left training until last. Training is always most effective when we address the environment first including our dogs health, diet, housing and outlets for mental and physical energy. Behaviour is not IN the dog, it is IN the environment (if your dog does not have access to the bin, bin raiding just doesn't happen). Not only do we make ourselves and our dogs more successful by addressing problems in this manner but we ensure our dogs have everything they need to be physically and behaviourally healthy.

A few behaviours you may work on with your dog to assist in reducing unwanted behaviour and keep your dog safe include:

  • Settle on a mat / bed (stationing training)

  • Leave It / Doggy Zen (teaching your dog to ignore tempting items)

  • Out / Give (dog will release items from their mouth)

Clients can access handouts in our Client Library for details on how to teach these behaviours OR check out KikoPup on Youtube for handy videos on how to teach these and many other behaviours. If you work through the following and find you are still struggling with these issues then a consult with a good low stress/fear free behaviour consultant is recommended.

Have a question you would like to ask a professional trainer? Email your question to:

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