One of my favorite holiday toys for dogs is the Planet Dog Orbee Tuff Coal ball, an adorable take on the proverbial lump of coal in the stockings of naughty children. When I saw it I had to order some for my customers to gift to their dogs; after all, how many people can say their dogs were perfectly behaved all year? Even the best dogs can be a little naughty, like Tinkerbell who tried to steal a cucumber slice from the counter this afternoon. The toy lump of coal even has the cutest tagline: I’ll be better next year, I promise.
When I started to think about this dog toy a bit more, though, I started to wonder how many people really truly understand why their dog is acting “naughty” and if they have spent the time setting their dogs up for success. Does the “naughty” dog have an understanding of the rules of the house? Do they know which of their toys are theirs versus household items? Have they had it explained to them that the chair leg is a “no” and the venison antler is a “yes” for chewing? How many naughty dogs are naughty because they have no clue about how to behave, and end up on the bad list year after year? Or worse, find themselves left alone in a shelter because their owners were frustrated and unsure of what to do.
Imagine a world in which you lived with a group of animals from another species. You have a language barrier and zero understanding of their culture. At every turn as you explore your world you are in trouble for anything you touch or investigate, scolded for doing something wrong without ever being told what is right. You would no doubt find a lump of coal in your stocking, too, because you had no way of being successful or having an inkling about what was right and what was wrong behavior.
Naughty dogs are often naughty because they live in the same world I described above. They have no idea that they should not chew on your boots or the chair of the coffee table. They don’t understand that their squeaky toy is different from their human sister’s beloved stuffed bear. Naughty dogs are a result of not enough of the Woof in Love, Laugh, Woof, with Woof meaning that you put yourself in your dog’s position and understand that they don’t intuitively know how to live in this human world and that they need to learn through repetition about what is acceptable and what is naughty.
Having raised two puppies in a row I can proudly say that our only tangible losses were the leg of one desk chair (Jackson) and a circle of carpet fibers in our living room carpet (Tinkerbell). This was not by luck; this was from constant attention and training in “chew this, not that.”
From the moment each puppy walked into the house we let them explore their surroundings, encouraging them to sniff and check things out. Whenever sniffing transitioned to putting something in their mouth we either praised them for making the right choice or gave a firm “no” in a deep voice, removed the item from their mouth and immediately gave them a happy and fun loving, “yes, good dog” as we handed them an appropriate item like a dog toy or antler and then played with them a little with that toy to make sure they knew the item was completely theirs for fun. The “no” was always firm and in a deep voice, the “yes, good dog” was always very happy-go-lucky and fun. We sounded like crazy people, but it worked. We learned the “yes” concept from taking dog training classes at our locally owned obedience school and it was one of the best things we ever learned as puppy owners.
Sometimes it took 10 times to get them to stop chewing on a particularly alluring item, which is how we lost the leg of a desk chair. It was a huge commitment, a lot of work and sometimes exhausting and quite frustrating. But we kept on with the job because we knew it came with the role of dog owner. Our reward now is that I can leave the dogs alone in a room to do laundry or take a shower and I don’t have to worry that they are eating a contraband item that will harm them or that I really like.
Of course, some dogs know all the rules, have been through plenty of training, have gone through the “chew this, not that” training and just want to have some fun, like my normally beautifully behaved boy Jackson who loves to look at me with a glimmer in his eye and his tail cocked in what I call the “naughty position” as he snatches things off of our end table just to get my attention. He will stand with his paw on the arm of the sofa, his mouth perched over something like the remote control or the little thing of drink coasters, ready to snatch something as he looks at me as if he’s saying, “you gonna come get me??” Today he snatched an ornament off the Christmas tree just to bring me into his play session with Tinkerbell. The other 23 hours and 55 minutes a day he will leave the tree alone, but he just wanted to be naughty on purpose to get my attention.
Whether your dog qualifies for the naughty dog lump of coal or not this year, you should definitely get the Planet Dog toy. It is a great toy, utterly adorable and is a fun way to laugh at your pup’s “naughty” behavior, plus it is made in the US without toxic chemicals, and it smells like mint! But it also serves as an important reminder that we owners are responsible for making sure our dogs know the rules of the house and the things that they can and cannot do, to get them fully onto the “nice” list for the next year, so that not only is your dog “better next year” but that we as owners are also better at teaching them how to be nice.