Adoption Means Adaption

Living & Learning About Your New Pet

Over the next few months, we’ll follow the journey of Jack–a much-loved adoptee, a 2-year-old Beagle/Lab mix who was transported to PA from an out-of-state kill shelter. His adopter characterizes him as lovable and friendly but sporting behavioral issues she hopes to ameliorate. Understanding the basis of unwanted behavior helps guide their modification.

If Jack’s heritage is primarily Labrador and Beagle, there may be hard-wired genetic bases for some of his less desirable behavior. Jack’s owner reports that he steals food if your back is turned for an instant. Studies have shown that many Labradors have defects in a gene called POMC that regulates appetite…they truly are hungry all the time because their brains don’t register satiety. Furthermore, he chews non-food objects, like towels or socks, basically anything except doggy toys. The common thread could be a genetically-based ungovernable appetite. The up side is a highly food-motivated dog who may be easily trained with food treats. Downsides are many, including a predisposition to obesity and the likelihood that he’ll eat something harmful.

Compounding Lab appetite, Beagles are another active hunting breed that tend to become destructive and subject to separation anxiety when their urge to run isn’t satisfied. Labs are retrievers, bred to carry things in their mouths. Hunting dogs fetch birds. A pet needs alternative outlets for that energy and instinct. Jack’s chewing may be partially driven by this retrieve instinct, though I suspect boredom is a significant factor. The saying goes, “people who don’t own Labs blame the dryer,” referencing the regularity of sock (and towel and underwear, and…) eating by Labs. That can become a medical emergency, so Jack’s owner needs to manage the environment, crating him when not under direct supervision and policing the household for chewables, meanwhile redirecting his urges.

When teaching a dog to release an object it’s mouthing, merely removing items from his mouth won’t alleviate his instincts, and frustration will manifest elsewhere. Divert focus to a desirable alternative. Jack may have never played with toys before adoption and may need to be taught how. Persist in offering safe playthings. You may need to play with it yourself– toss it, kick it around, get on the floor and squeak it, really convince him it’s fun. If passive toys bore him, tie a tuggie to a buggy whip or fishing pole and give it a twirl in the yard, much like you’d tease a kitten…he can burn energy chasing, vent his desire to grab and carry and come back inside ready to nap.

Follow Jack’s progress next month. –Beth Dillenbeck