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Monday, June 30, 2008

Obsessed!!


Dear Jan,
You've sometimes talked about obsessive behavior, and my dog Kessa has become quite obsessive about chewing her Kong (big red, rubber chew toy). It's ALWAYS in her mouth. Do you recommend my putting it up for part of the day?
Sincerely,
Yvonne


Dear Yvonne,
I'd put it up for several days, just to see what happens. Will she find another obsession, or replace it with a negative behavior? Possibly. But as long as she has access to the Kong, the obsession she currently has will continue to be fed.

Have you ever gone several days without your computer? Even if you're hooked on the internet, pretty soon you realize how "just fine" life is without it. In fact, your stress is probably reduced as you detach from it. This will probably happen with Kessa too, as she detaches from her Kong.

Of course, you have to replace the Kong with another behavior or activity in the meantime. With the Kong put away, her head should be clearer for working on obedience commands or teaching her some new moves or tricks. Doggy Dancing, Rally Obedience, and Agility all offer great alternative movements that will keep her mentally stimulated. Even playing the Leadership Game will be easier.

After a few days of "alternative, Kong-free activity," reintroduce the Kong by simply putting it on the floor in plain sight, but only when you have the leash in your hands are are compelling her to do some other activity (for instance, Leadership Game). Your goal is to become more important than the Kong.

Imagine your dog's brain as segmented into two chambers for holding input. What percentage of one chamber would you like the Kong to fill up? For the obsessive dog, nearly 100% of both chambers would be filled with the Kong (or tennis ball, laser light, shadows, or whatever). Not a healthy mindset!! You, as leader, should fill up at least 51% of your dog's brain at all times. 60% would probably be a more healthy "normal," with higher percentages when you are working together in an activity. That's what we'd call a "balanced" dog. That's also a new way of looking at the phrase, "Get inside your dog's head!"
Will she ever be able to play normally with her Kong again? Maybe...but only if you reach a point in training/management where you can flip the Kong "off-switch" and start another activity without her being upset. If not, I'd give the Kong to a friend's dog. (They are still the world's best dog toy!)

--Jan

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