About two years ago, we put Cash on Prednisone to solve some massive allergy attacks that made him so itchy he itched himself bloody. We were later able to take him off it, but the damage had been done.
I don’t mean liver or kidney damage, although that’s something to watch for. Nope, I mean behavioral damage. Prednisone makes dogs thirsty and hungry, and he’d discovered nirvana: counter surfing.
Now, he surfs like I surf: not standing on the object so much as flopping around it and eventually falling over. In his case, though, he didn’t have to stand on the counters to get the food, and falling over resulted in four feet on the ground… and whatever he’d gone up for. Perfect!
I mostly solved the problem over the next few months, and it helped that he was no longer starving all the time. I kept food off the counters or I put him in an x-pen while I was gone so he couldn’t get to the counters, and then I corrected him when he so much as looked at the counters while I was home — hissing and chasing him away.
Once in a while it would still happen, but only once a month or 6 weeks, and I got lazy. While it was frustrating to come home and discover he’d eaten all my bagels, I didn’t care enough to do anything about it.
Last winter, he started gaining weight. He wasn’t stealing food off the table (although he and Lily have started pulling the dirty bird papers out of the bird cage and eating everything from parrot poop to dropped fruits and veggies. I still don’t know how they’re getting the papers out!), so to the vet we went. His thyroid was a little off; we put him on meds. He gained more weight. I started taking him walking. He gained more weight. Then one day I came home to see his face in the dog food bin. Not only had he learned how to open it, but when it was more than half full he could help himself quite tidily! No WONDER he was gaining weight!
Yesterday, I came home to see that he’d pulled the dog treat bin off the counter and helped himself, gotten into the food bin, AND pulled out the bird papers to eat everything there. Enough is enough. Time to fix this!
There are two ways to fix this, and as with everything, it is to either spend more time or more money.
The more-time-more-training way would be to start limiting his access to things when I’m gone, probably by x-penning him, and then giving him consequences (hissing and chasing him off) when I see him looking at the counters or the bird cage, and if I hear him nosing/moving the dog food bin. This will work: I’ve done it before, though I quit a little early. The thing is I don’t want an x-pen in my living room right now.
The more-money-less-training way is this: buy a zap mat and put it in front of things, or a disk and e-collar system that will zap him if he gets too close to the disk (then I can put the disk — or several disks — wherever I don’t want him), or find a way to keep him away from the three things he wants: tie the birdcage tray closed, velcro the dog bin, put aluminum foil on the counter (this last won’t work with him, but it often works with other dogs).
In both cases, keeping the counters (and bird cage) clean is of utmost importance.
Now, in addition to myself (my desire not to have an x-pen up), I need to take into account Cash. A disk with an automatic e-collar to keep the dog away from the disks uses a zap (“static charge” or a shock). I think getting zapped would scare him too much, and I don’t want him to stay that far from the birdcage. (In fact, it’s kind of handy that he cleans up around it.) Since the dog food bin is right next to the bowls, I don’t want him wary getting water or eating, either. So an e-collar and disk system is out, and I don’t want the x-pen. That leaves me with a zap mat. It’s visible, which is good and bad: he can see it, so he knows how to avoid it. But I’ll have to use it for so long that he no longer thinks about it, so that when I pick it up he doesn’t think, “Ah! Now it’s gone! Now’s my chance!” This means leaving it down for 6 months. But I’m willing!
So my current plan is money over training, in a way that won’t distress either of us too much: three zap mats, one in front of the bird cage, one in front of the dog food bin, and one on the counter. (Or maybe two zap mats, and I’ll just velcro the bin closed.) You can get strips instead of full mats, and that’s what I’ll do. He won’t hit it every time, but that’s fine. It’ll make him cautious, and I won’t have to store a giant mat!
Phew. Home training done!