At six months old, I decided it was time to drop Ayla down to one walk a day. The twice-a-day dog walks were killing my ability to save any money outside of my 401(k) because it all went towards dog walking, vet bills, or training expenses.
During this spell, I did try to keep the superfluous dog expenses to a minimum. (This was harder than it might sound; Ayla was so damn cute and it was challenging not to want to buy her new toys or chews.) Instead, I turned to using the free toys found around my house and pulled from my neighbors’ recycling bins. Every plastic bottle I emptied, removed the lid, remove the plastic wrapper, washed, and then gave to Ayla to crush for the recycling bin. I also gave her cardboard containers, which I hid on the top of her crate, so she could feel sneaky for finding them and destroying them. Basically, Ayla did a pre-compressing phase on everything in my recycling bin. Pro tip: Applesauce containers are nearly indestructible compared to the majority of plastic bottles and if you dog is into frozen peas like mine, it’s a great game to hide some in there and have them bat the thing around the kitchen. While having plastic bottles go flying around on your laminate flooring is not the quietest game you might imagine for your puppy, it does allow them to entertain themselves and chase things. +1 for games that wear them out.
However, I tried to limit cardboard shredding to the kitchen, because it got old vacuuming everyday and also because I was trying to provide some mental stimulation when Ayla was in there. As part of my reduction in dog walks, I also began experimenting with leaving my pup loose in my kitchen for half the day. Initially, I crated Ayla in the morning, and left her loose in the afternoon after her dog walker left. But it took her exactly one week to begin chewing the walls and I wasn’t keen on that. I had been warned by a neighbor that plaster-chewing was a phase that many dogs go through (he had two Bichons who’d managed some minor destruction around the windows.)
After the first attack on the wall, I reconsidered my strategy. First, I ordered corner protectors for my walls. Thankfully, Ayla wasn’t going after the flat surfaces of the walls. She was chewing corners because they were the easiest. Secondly, after applying the protectors, I took a moment to observe these new plastic shields. I was pretty sure Ayla would consider this simply another texture worth chewing on and I needed a deterrent. I was not actually naive about the prospect of plaster chewing and prior to the corner protectors I had applied artists’ tape sprayed with bitter apple on my corners. Ayla had simply proved that she wasn’t stopped by bitter apple spray.
I recalled my mother using Tabasco sauce to stop one of our dogs from chewing on chair legs. I didn’t have Tabasco, but I did have Sriracha. I felt sort of bad though; Sriracha was a bit powerful even for me. I diluted the Sriracha with water and then finger painted it up and down the sides of the corner guards. Ayla came in and took a sniff. She licked it, once, twice, three times. I said, “Oh hell no, if you had to taste that more than once, it’s not spicy enough.” I wiped it off and painted straight Sriracha onto the plastic. Ayla tasted it again and left it alone after that. (This would not be the only time I had to use Sriracha as a chewing deterrent.)
Once the kitchen was shored up, I reconsidered Ayla’s routine. I decided that since I took Ayla on a longer morning walk than she got from her midday dog walker, my new plan would be to wear her out in the morning, leave her with a mental puzzle, and then have the dog walker crate her in the afternoon. My dog walker was so nice about the fact that I kept changing Ayla’s routine on them. Luckily, the adjusted routine worked out much better. Plus, in the event I got caught in traffic and didn’t make it home at my regular time, rather than being bored and destructive, Ayla was forced to nap.
For Ayla’s morning mental stimulation when she was loose, I filled her Sir-Bobs-a-Lot toy with kibble and left it on the floor. I used small bags of different varieties, so it was not the same kind she had to eat for dinner and thus more exciting. I filled an elk horn with peanut butter for her to lick clean. Typically, I filled this and froze it, much to the surprise of a friend who was visiting and saw the elk-horn fall out of the freezer while I was fishing around for human food and observed me nonchalantly pick it up off the floor and chuck it back into the freezer. “Did an antler just fall out of your freezer?”
Finally, I usually left Ayla some cardboard boxes to shred and a couple of her less destructible toys (re: applesauce container.) In prepping the elk horn, I would also fill up a Kong toy will dog food and seal it with peanut butter and put that in the freezer too. I had Ayla’s dog walker give that to her when they put her in her crate in the afternoon. Prepping all these food related puzzles each evening does feel an awful lot like packing your kids’ lunch, but our routine has not changed that much between 6 months and 14 months, and in the grand scheme of things, I have actually had very little destroyed in my home because I try to work my dog’s mind.
Update: For many months, my evening routine was to refill Ayla’s Kong and the Sir Bobs A Lot every single night. It wasn’t until I joined a Facebook group called Canine Enrichment and saw a post from someone who showed her whole freezer filled with frozen dog toys that I had the idea to do the same. While I do have to fill the Sir Bobs A Lot every night, my new routine is running all dog toys through the dishwasher at the end of the week and then doing dog food prep during the same hours I’m doing human food prep. I have two Zogoflex Topple Toys (one big and one small), one Kong, two rubber snakes (these are amazing, but they have the most ear-piercing squeaker – I had to run a pin through the heads to kill it), and two Lick It Mats. I fill all of these with some combination of dry dog food/water, pumpkin, dehydrated dog food mixed with water to form paste, and raw cucumbers, while using peanut butter to seal, and then freeze them. I give Ayla one before I leave the house and her dog walker gives her one after their noon time walk with her. It is much more convenient than having to prep every single night.