Whether you pick up a puppy or a full-grown dog from the shelter, many tragedies can occur if you aren’t careful in the home. Chewed wires can result in accidental electrocutions, stolen chocolates can result in a quick trip to the vets. And yes, we’ve had dogs returned because they’ve chewed a pair of slippers. While we can joke about some of the things pets have chewed, for some dogs this can result in an emergency operation or even their death. Dog-proofing your home is essential until you know your pet well enough and your pet knows your home.
The change in environment can lead to some distress and dogs may take a little while to learn what to chew and what not to chew. Boredom, lack of supervision and not knowing the rules are the main reasons that an adult dog will chew, and the majority of accidents occur when dogs aren’t supervised. Like it or not, it can be very hard to supervise a dog twenty-four hours a day. Crate training can – and should – take time to introduce, so what can you do to minimise the risks around your home?
- Baby-proof your home. Cupboards, wires, cables and things in reach all need attention. Put safety locks on any cupboards containing food or chemicals to make sure your dog doesn’t decide to help himself. Ralf once broke into the dog food cupboard and I found him asleep with his head in a bag of dog food. While no harm was done, he could have suffocated easily. With teeth like his, he could easily open tinned food, so all tinned food had to be locked away too. A bit of metal catching in his mouth could have caused problems – and heaven only knows what would have happened if he had swallowed it! Fitting locks, bolts or catches to doors in order to dog-proof them may seem a little extreme, but it’s a good way to stop midnight feasts. Smaller dogs and puppies may be easily trained using baby gates or baby pens. Make sure all medications are put away and locked away.
- Put an end to bin-dipping. Tilly loves nothing more than a rummage in the garbage. She once ate a bag of 3-week-old putrid lambs’ kidneys. How she didn’t give herself e-coli or something worse, I don’t know. I don’t keep bins in the house and the bins outside are behind a 2m-high metal fence. No more bin-dipping picnics for Tilly! A bin in a locked room or in a secure cupboard is one way to do this. Be vigilant in the bathroom too. Used tampons, toilet paper and even nappies are delightful treats to some dogs.
- Make sure your new dog is kept away from other animals’ excrement. If you have a cat litter tray, make sure it is in a place your cat can go but your dog cannot. Not only do some dogs think of cat turds as a help-yourself buffet, but it can also put your cat off toiletting in its usual spots if there is an impatient dog waiting to get to its poo before its even left the body. Disgusting, I know. There are also dogs that will do this to other dogs, so pick up any dog poo around your garden and make sure your new dog is supervised until you are sure they aren’t as tempted by doggie doing as I am by Belgian chocolates.
- Close doors and keep dogs out of unsupervised rooms. You might wonder what Fido is up to with five minutes to spare, but he may have taken a little trip to your bedroom to leave a puddle on your floor. When house-training dogs, they learn very quickly not to go where there is food or where they sleep. Familiar spaces become the first spaces they don’t toilet in out of choice. But an unfamiliar dining room might just as well be a space outside if the dog is not used to going in that space. Whenever Tilly has an ‘accident’ (she hates going outside in the rain) it’s always in the room I use least.
- Pick up and put away. Heston as a young pup loved to eat books. He sampled the back cover of every single one of a set of 12 classics lent to me by a friend. Text books, borrowed books and books with hard covers were his favourites. It took me a surprisingly long time to put them all out of his reach. Just like toddlers, it’ll be the two minutes that you take your eyes off them that they will use as an opportunity to help themselves to your designer sunglasses or your shoes. Dogs love chewing leather, so shoes and boots are often a target.
- Keep the toilet lid closed. Dogs like drinking. They’ll drink dirty water, puddles and from stagnant ponds. A toilet will no doubt have chemical treatments in it which could harm your dog, and if not, it will have germs that your dog can easily ingest.
- Check out your garden and green things. Many plants can be toxic to dogs or cats, but that doesn’t stop them eating them. Come grape time, Tilly will happily take grapes off the vines just as happily as she’ll scoff all my strawberries. You can find a great list here of plants that are toxic to dogs (and cats)
- Make sure that your dog is not suffering from separation anxiety. This can be very common for shelter dogs, who may fear that they are being abandoned all over again. It is not unknown for dogs who seem otherwise fine to get very distressed when left alone. Even if you have a crate, this can become an item of great distress for a dog who has separation anxiety. A friend’s dog chewed its way through washing machine pipework on Bonfire Night, leaving them with not only a very distressed dog but also an expensive clean-up and repair bill. Even if the room has nothing else in it at all, it does not mean that your dog won’t damage himself or herself on the walls or doors. If this is the case, please contact a professional to help you. There are many, many successful treatments for separation anxiety. Tobby, my Malinois, was so distressed when left alone that he moved the couch with his teeth and pulled all the cushions from the chairs. Leaving him with another dog is the only solution. Tobby always has a friend and now he’s calm when left alone.
- Make sure that your dog can travel safely in your car either with a harness attachment or a crate. Animals moving about in the back of a car can cause drivers to have accidents. Not only this, if you have a crash, your dog may escape if not attached or may suffer fatal injuries during the collision, simply because they were not secure.
- Open doors and windows. You may think that a dog left downstairs with a window open in your bedroom on the next floor will not be tempted to jump out of it. Do not be too sure! Though some dogs will be put off by a five metre drop, this is not true for all. When on a photoshoot recently with five little lovelies, the owner put three of her dogs inside so that we had fewer distractions. One of the three would happily have jumped out of a window five metres up to get to us. Only luck stopped her from doing so. Her other two sat and stared at her doing it as if she were completely nuts!
The good news is that most of these situations don’t last very long. Even puppies grow out of chewing inappropriate things eventually (and with good training). It’s been a long time since Heston ate a book. Tilly still pees on the floor when it’s raining, but I am better at forcing her outside. She will happily eat the contents of a child’s nappy though if I don’t supervise her, and she thinks a cat litter tray is a hot buffet lunch. Tobby still gets distressed if he’s home alone – and he hasn’t been home alone since the second day he arrived. Ralf never gave up scoffing any food that he could reach and once ate a year’s supply of doggie vitamins, as well as a kilo of sugar. Though it may be cute to take ‘dog-shaming’ photos and your great dane sitting on an ‘exploded’ sofa may go viral, there simply is no good reason not to take precautions as the consequences can be upsetting (if they eat a treasured memento) inconvenient (if they eat your passport and credit cards) costly (if they need surgery) or even fatal. You definitely live and learn where your dog is concerned, but these ten tips should help you eliminate the most common issues over dog safety in the home.
If you are interested in crate training your dog, this video will help.