Wouldn't it be great if you could just sit a dog down and say, "Welcome to the house. Let's have an arrangement. I will walk you, play with you, feed you good food and give you medical care. The only requirements are that you don't destroy my house or urinate on my rug, ok?"
Well, you can't have that conversation, but you can teach your dog those rules. You do that by managing his behavior in a crate or other dog-proofed area until he is able to be out in your home and not destroy anything or urinate or defecate in the wrong location.
How do you know when you can give your dog more freedom and avoid destruction?
I recommend that you follow general guidelines and customize the timing based on how well your dog is doing. If there are any regressions (meaning destruction or housetraining issues) you should return to full management for at least two weeks. You can then give a bit more freedom for shorter amounts of time at first until you have a history of success.
My General Guidelines
I always recommend increasing the physical exercise, appropriate chew outlets, and training when you are working on giving your dog more freedom. The root of destruction is often boredom. A tired dog is more mellow and often sleeping. It is also important to keep in mind that training provides mental stimulation, which is an important component of preventing boredom. These are guidelines. Each dog has different tendencies and needs. Your dog might need to be managed until he is much older, until you find the correct balance of exercise, training and chewing outlets.
Always puppy-proof the location that you are providing freedom. Puppy proofing consists of removing anything that might be enticing or dangerous to your dog. You can also set up exercise pens or baby gates to remove access to certain locations of your house.
- At approximately 8 months of age is when you can start leaving the crate door open in your bedroom with your bedroom door closed
- If you notice destruction or housetraining accidents when you wake up, go back to at least 2 more weeks of full management using the crate
During the period between 8 months and 12 months, you should pay close attention to your dog's daily habits. If there is ANY destruction, I do not recommend moving to the next stage of increased freedom. I also recommend working on Counter Surfing prevention and pay close attention to items in your house that you want your dog to ignore. Work on perimeter training, and provide appropriate chew outlets such as rawhides, ostrich tendons and other approved chew toys. I never recommend leaving chews with a dog when the guardian is not there to prevent choking.
- Assuming there has been 30 days of destruction-free days and zero housetraining accidents, at approximately 12 months of age you can start leaving your dog for short periods in puppy-proofed area
- Short periods means running to the mailbox, going into the kitchen to grab a glass of water, taking a short shower, etc.
- If you ever come back to any destruction, work on Leave It with the off-limits items and watch your dog more closely for a couple of weeks
Eventually you will find the balance of puppy-proofing, proper exercise and time that you can leave your dog alone. Don't rush the process. The main strategy is to prevent your dog from learning bad habits of destruction. It is usually easier to manage for a longer period of time than teach a dog not to destroy something once he finds enjoyment in doing so.
It is important to keep in mind that dogs can have a regression period that starts between 6 and 8 months of age. This is often referred to as the "teenage years" and can show up as obedience lapses or destruction. You need to avoid falling into the trap of thinking your 5.5 month old puppy is perfect and give him the run of the house and then come home to an eaten couch when he is 7 months old.
Boredom is a Four Letter Word
A bored dog is often a destructive dog. Pay special attention to tiring out your dog before giving him any freedom. I run all my dogs in the park when they are puppies before I leave them out at night, for instance. You need to make sure your dog doesn't get in the "habit" of being destructive.
Note: The ages mentioned in this article refer to a dog that you have had since a puppy and know his or her energy requirements and tendencies. If you adopt an older dog, I recommend that you use management techniques for a month, minimum. Even an older dog can have regressions or have destructive tendencies after adoption from boredom or the stress of the new situation.
And. . . all of the the above ages are approximate. Every dog is different. I have had clients that leave their dogs out while they are at work at 6 months of age (to my horror) and others that have destruction problems with dogs that are 4 years old.Good luck and happy training!