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Not the high fiber diet I wanted my dog to have!

November 7, 2008

Last Saturday morning found me and my little family off to Santa Barbara for an early morning race. It was kinda rainy, and a little windy. For those of you who know my beloved little pooch Poncho, he is not a fan of the wind! (HA! no pun intended) I’m not a big fan of the wind either, but for a different reason. Anyway, we didn’t want to leave him here, so off we went on a family adventure. 

For as long as I can recall, my darling husband gives extra “rewards” to Poncho by allowing him to lick the leftover crumbs from his napkins and wrappers. And, for as long as I can remember I’ve asked him not to. Hmm, I guess this trainer doesn’t know her animal,  since we’ve been having the same conversation over and over. Trust me, I’ve used every approach of Skinners Operant Conditioning Quadrant, mostly sticking with positive reinforcement, (“Good job honey, thanks for listening to me, thanks for giving Poncho the crumbs out of your hand instead of the napkin!) And negative punishment, (I take Poncho away from him if I see a napkin about to be presented)… Well, I guess my “animal” still hadn’t learned! 
So, I’m
 out on my 1/2 marathon course…in the meantime, my hubby has run and finished his 5K, gone to the car to get Poncho, walked him around, then proceeded to get snacks (human treats) at the post-race finish area. They greet me excitedly when I finish. I’m thrilled beyond belief to be done with it… Then, my darling hubby decides to drop the bomb…nice way to end a perfectly good race… 
  • Hubby: “Uh, honey? I gotta tell you about Poncho.”   
  • Wifey: “Oh really? What did he do? Was he a good boy with all the people and dogs?”
  • H: “Has nothing to do with his behavior. Poncho is doing great with everyone.”
Okay, so this is where the look on my face completely changed, you know, into the: this look I have on my face predicts nothing good for you
  • W: “Oh dear gawd what happened!?”
  • H: “Poncho ate a muffin wrapper.” 
  • W: “HE WHAT??!!!” “How the……!!!!!” “WHAT THE….!” (insert multiple expletives here)
Needless to say, I finally made my point about dogs and paper products with crumbs on them! 
Yes, Poncho was being rewarded with the opportunity to lick the muffin wrapper that was so generously given by my husband – When my hubby tried to take it away, Poncho decided it was quite delicious and didn’t want to give it up – “guarding it” if you will, which hubby and I know is not only “normal” in dogs, but very strong in our dog – at least with food. 
Was I concerned? Yes, you bet. Did hubby at least call the vets office? Yes, you bet. They confirmed that Poncho should be okay, and to watch his behavior: breathing normal? Check! still eating? Check-check-check! Still energetic? Check! Peeing? Check! He even pooped too! Normal all around…so we decided not to rush him off to the vet emergency. We would observe for any changes, and take him in if things got bad or we got worried. 
So, after I calmed down (now my heart rate was up because of the wrapper incident), I actually said “thank you” to my hubby for being truthful (want to reinforce those behaviors we like and never want to punish him telling the truth, right?), and for taking action by calling the vets office. Then we went about our day, while keeping a close eye on Poncho…the happy ending? Five hours later it passed :-) Phew… 
Which brings me to the topic of dogs and consuming anything that isn’t nailed down! Check out the photo op of Sir Poncho the Graduate chewing up his latest Manner Class certificate… Fortunately, it was for the pleasure of chewing and not consuming. 
Let’s revisit what dogs are: scavengers, predators, and omnivores! >>> they’ll eat anything at any time, and it’s more fun
 if it’s moving! They are also chewers! And they chew for a variety of reasons…. Put it all together, they’ll eat anything! Sometimes they just chew it, sometimes they eat it, and sometimes they’ll even “guard” it so you won’t take it from them! Hello? This is normal 
behavior, and it’s hard-wired into their doggy DNA – it’s one characteristic that makes dogs dogs!
I recall during my training up at the San Francisco SPCA there was one particular dog (Freddy, see pic of the handsome shepherd mix) that was very clever at grabbing the trainers treat bags

 off their waistband, removing the ziploc baggy of treats from inside of it, and ingesting the entire thing! I wasn’t there either time, but the first time he was rushed to the vets, the second time the trainers rolled their eyeand remembered not to use a treat bag when working with him. Live and learn, right? You would think dogs would learn too, but alas, it seems the ingesting of something, even some innate object, is usually more motivating than the punishment of aftermath. 

One other comforting thought was when my dear friend Emilia emailed me on Monday saying she was swamped the entire weekend because her dog Nellie had eaten a highlighter! Emilia 
and her hubby realized this after seeing all the ink on Nellie’s rear end. They spent their weekend observing Nellie for “odd” behavior…(odder than usual I guess?) :-) Check out Nellie’s pic on the left… I guess she was considering interior decorating as a new career. Fortunately mom and dad have provided many new legal outlets for her, and the pillows are no longer an appealing choice. 
Well, I guess if Nellie can tolerate a highlighter, then Poncho and his extr
a fiber would be okay…although, I would never ever ever add something like that into his diet intentionally, nor would I risk leaving something like that around – As we have come to learn, dogs sometimes don’t have the best judgement when it comes to meal planning. 
Another few things I’d like to add about dogs and chewing/ingesting anything is:
  1. If your dog does, or you think your dog did ingest something that could harm them TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE VET! (or at least call your vets office) It’s not our job to evaluate our dogs health if we’re not a professional veterinarian. 
  2. Determine WHY your dog is chewing, destroying, or eating things they should be chewing, destroying or eating! Is it boredom? Is it because of isolation distress or separation anxiety? Is it because they’re teething? There are many reasons why dogs do any of those things. First determine “the why”, then you can make plans on what to do about it, if in fact you need to change your dogs behavior. 
  3. Supply your dog with “legal” items, then reward them when they’re making the better choice. Check out the picture of Poncho and his “legal” items. 

For more intriguing anecdotes on items that dogs eat, check out this great Web site that Matt Goodman and his dog Watson have developed called: Things My Dog Ate! After looking at his site, I can honestly say Poncho ain’t that bad when it comes to ingesting the non-food items… we’ll just keep the wrappers away, and count our blessings.

If you have questions about chewing, ingesting, or guarding, or want to teach your dog some training exercises that would help with any of these issues, please contact me. My classes and workshops at the inquisitive canine studio and Ventura College Community Education, and of course privates can help you and your dog. 

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