By Dr Sophia Yin
Q: I have a 17-month-old Labrador Retriever who has a very bad habit. When I let her out in the backyard, she bites off the watering jets of our irrigation system. Worse, if I leave her out for a long time (over five minutes), she gets at the main irrigation hoses and she has chewed right through them. This is a nightmare in terms of repairs, costs and loss of function. Can you offer any advice?
A: Like furniture scratching problems in cats, one strategy for curbing the destruction here is to direct the behavior at a more appropriate object, in this case, a doggie chew toy.
The problem is that for dogs, a drip irrigation system is the ultimate chew toy. Once a pooch discovers the wonders of this playful, water- squirting piece of plastic, she's hooked. Then, whether it's water-filled or bone dry, it often remains a permanent chew favorite.
Theoretically, you could teach her that the drip system is off bounds. All you'd need is a crack team of engineers to rig up booby traps that would go off every time she touches the drip system. But that's about as realistic as adventure movies about crack teams of engineers who rig up booby traps.
Better to take the easy, inexpensive path and supervise all backyard outings. Maybe even start by keeping her attached to a long leash that drags behind her. That way, when she heads for the hoses, rather than shouting and hollering, you can gracefully step on the lead to prevent her from reaching her target.
Then you can simultaneously catch her attention using a toy she can't resist, one reserved for special backyard use. Wave the toy to catch her view and then toss the toy a short distance so she chases after it. Or, if your dog's a chow hound as well as a chew hound, you can toss a treat instead. If you consistently divert her attention to an appropriate toy, she may ultimately learn to avoid the drip system altogether. But until you're 100 percent sure that day has come, better to supervise and be safe rather than several hundred dollars sorry.