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shot of a shaggy blonde puppy sitting in the grass

Dear Crystal, 
I have an 8-month-old mini golden doodle. He is actually tearing our grass out by the roots. He is not just pulling the grass. It’s very frustrating. He gets plenty of exercise and lots of toys. I’m not sure what to do. 

Sincerely, 

Save My Lawn 

 

 

 

Dear Save, 

What a frustrating behavior to deal with! I can imagine you probably work really hard on your lawn just to have your puppy pull out the grass. Dogs are really fascinating in some of the behaviors they choose to engage in. Many times, these behaviors are instinctual hold overs from their ancestors. Sometimes they just do things because for whatever reason it is fun or feels good to them. We refer to those behaviors as self-reinforcing which can be difficult to get rid of because the activity is enjoyable. 

You didn’t mention if he is eating the grass or not, if he is, that could potentially affect the solution. Dogs eat grass for a variety of reasons, some of which are medical.  They may have intestinal worms, nutritional deficiencies or need more fiber. Some dogs eat grass because it tastes good to them. It’s pretty typical in puppies so it may not be anything medical but it’s always good to rule that out if he is eating it. 

In researching your question, I did find quite a number of Golden Retriever message boards with people asking this very question. Apparently, it is a very common Golden problem.  I am not exactly sure why it should be a breed specific behavior but it seems it is. Since your dog has Golden in him, I think his breed is likely influencing this behavior. I do see that quite a number of respondents indicate that the dogs often grow out of the behavior. That being said, as all behaviors go, the more the dog is allowed to do the behavior, the less likely the behavior will go away. Management is going to be important in this situation.  

There are a couple options for managing him while he is outside. Unfortunately, at this time he cannot be outside unsupervised where he has access to grass. There is no way to interrupt a behavior that you aren’t there to witness. You could let him drag a long line outside so that you can get him away from the grass if he starts pulling and won’t leave it when told. Keep outdoor time busy with activities. Let him out to potty and then start to play a game of fetch, tug, flirt pole or training. If he starts to pull the grass, it’s time to go back inside if you can’t redirect him. If he would rather pull grass then play or train, it is going to be hard to compete with that so you will need to get him out of the area.

If your budget allows, you could create a fenced in area where he is allowed to be. Maybe install gravel instead of grass and add some enrichment like a digging pit or toys hanging from the tree branches. You could potentially set up something temporarily in one small part of the yard with some temporary fencing so when he grows out of it, you could remove it. 

There is a possibility that it is an attention getting ploy on his part if you aren’t playing attention to him until he starts pulling the grass. Again, in this case, finding ways to engage with him outside will give him other ways to get your attention. If he gets reinforced for sitting a lot in the backyard, he may start to offer that as a way to get attention instead. 

Boredom is a big cause of this type of behavior. I know that you feel like he gets sufficient exercise but it could be that he doesn’t agree or maybe he doesn’t necessarily need more exercise but rather more enrichment.  My suggestion would be to be sure you are adding training sessions and enrichment to his daily routine to add the extra stimulation to combat boredom.  

Enrichment refers to different activities that you can give your dog that encourage their natural behaviors such as digging, chewing, sniffing, foraging, playing and chasing in an appropriate way. These activities are natural for dogs even if humans don’t always like them. If we can offer the dog appropriate outlets for their species-specific behaviors, then we can often prevent them from coming out in other ways and keep their minds occupied.  

A white puppy with black spot over its right eye and ear stands up to grab a Kong with it's mouthAny easy way to add enrichment is through feeding. It takes very little effort on your part and generally entertains them for 15-30 minutes. There are so many really fun toys on the market now for feeding your dog. It’s important to have a variety of options and switch things up frequently. Dogs get bored of the same thing every day. You can make your own out of boxes and tubes as well. There are some really fun dog enrichment groups on Facebook for sharing ideas. 

I find that giving dogs an outlet for ripping things up can be really helpful to channel those urges. It is messy but it won’t be forever and it’s better than other things getting ripped. I give my dog the majority of boxes and cardboard tubes that come through my house and she has a great time tearing them into little pieces. It’s an inexpensive way to allow her that natural urge. 

Sniffing games are another great enrichment activity. Teach your dog a “find it” cue and hide treats around the house for him to find. You can also have treats hidden in boxes for him to search. Decompression walks are walks on a long line in a quiet area where the dog is allowed to sniff as much as they want. These walks are a great way to tire a pup out. 

If he is dog friendly, dog day care or play groups with a friend is another great way to tire a dog out. You could try a dog sport like agility. You can buy some really inexpensive home agility equipment or make your own quite easily. It doesn’t have to be anything formal and leave the big jumps until he is over a year to prevent joint damage. 

Training suggestions for management would be teaching him leave it.  If taught properly, he should turn and run over to you when told to leave something. At that point, redirect him into another behavior like sit, down or target to get his attention back to you and focused on you. Engage him in some training games or play an interactive game with him like fetch.  It’s important that if he actually leaves something alone, he receives some sort of reinforcement for that or he won’t choose to continue to do it when he is asked. 

If you aren’t using the Say Please protocol, it’s a great time to start so that he has rules and structure for getting the things he wants in life. This will make it much more likely that he will listen when asked to do something and be more compliant in general. I have seen really amazing results personally with this method and recommend it for most dogs at least for a while. It isn’t usually something you have to do forever but you can always pull it out again when behavior starts slipping. 

light tan and white hound looking puppy looks up at camera with a begging expressionSay Please just means that we ask that our dog to perform a behavior before we give him anything he wants. For example, if he wants to go outside, he needs to sit at the door first. You can mix up the behaviors and what we are looking for is the dog to start offering polite behaviors like sit or down at the times when they want things rather than cueing them to do the behavior. This way they are using their brain to think about what they should be doing and we don’t have to micromanage their behavior to have a well-behaved dog. 

Unfortunately, he is going to have to be closely managed at this point in his life. That would probably be true even if he didn’t pull grass. Most 8-month-old dogs are really pushing their boundaries so it’s definitely not the time to be loosening up those rules. Finding the right balance of enrichment, training and exercise can take some time but I really recommend experimenting with it until you start to see improvement and find the sweet spot for him.  I also hope these tips coupled with the fact that he will likely grow out of this give you some hope that at some point you won’t have to deal with this behavior any more.

Until next time, 

Crystal 

 

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