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Jack, the little Jack Russell, is suddenly acting very strange, he is wobbling around the house like he is drunk, and eventually collapses trembling on the floor. His owners rush him to the animal hospital, where the veterinarian asks if Jack could have had access to chewing gum. As a matter of fact, his owner said she had left gum on a side table by her easy chair earlier that day. It turns out, Jack was suffering from a toxic reaction to an ingredient in the sugarless gum!
Small dogs tend to be in the house a lot and have access to all kinds of things we would rather they didn't, like garbage, candy, and gum. Gum can be very dangerous, especially for your small dog, as many sugar-free gums contain xylitol, which is poisonous to dogs and can result in seizures and even death. Small dogs require smaller amounts of toxins to experience severe illness and severe reactions, that could kill your little dog.
Fortunately, Jack got medical attention and made a full recovery. However, his owners don't ever want to repeat that experience again, and there are other dangers to your dog chewing gum. If it is ingested, gum can cause intestinal blockages. An added problem is that gum, chewed on and spit out by your small dog, can end up stuck to carpet, clothes, and furniture, creating a real mess, and that's if you're lucky and it didn’t make your dog sick! The best way to protect your dog, and your furniture, from harm from gum is to teach your small dog not to chew gum.
You will want to teach your dog to 'leave it' so you can direct your dog away from gum, and other items that could harm him. This is great if you are in the room, or while walking your dog, but what if your dog finds gum all on his own and unsupervised? This sugary treat can be pretty tempting. A strategy to prevent your dog from chewing gum when he is unsupervised, is to train your dog to alert you when he finds chewing gum, or other candy for that matter, left lying around the house, and that he will receive a special treat for his “work”. This is especially useful if you have small children around your house, who do not always remember to put gum and other items out of your dog's reach. This also teaches your dog a useful behavior that you can apply in a variety of situations. Maybe you can teach your dog to let you know when the kids are sneaking candy when they shouldn't!
To reward your dog for leaving gum, or teach him to alert you to gum left out within reach, you will need to treat your dog with something really good to make it worth his while. High value treats like chicken, hot dog bits, or peanut butter, are always popular. You will also want to set up safe scenarios, to practice leaving gum, or reporting it to you. Use gum that does not contain xylitol, so that accidental ingestion during training does not poison your dog. Supervise your small dog carefully, to prevent mistakes and ingestion of gum that will set back training, and could cause your dog to choke or develop gastrointestinal problems.
The Leave It Method
Present closed hand
Put a low value treat, dog kibble works well, in one hand, and have a high value treat in your other hand. Make a fist with your hand around the kibble, and extend your hand toward your dog.
Reward 'leave it'
Your dog will investigate your fist, keep it closed. Ignore your small dog, and when he gives up, say “leave it”, and provide the high value treat with your other hand. Repeat.
Make more accessible
Once your dog is responding to “leave it” with a treat in a closed hand. Present the low value treat on an open palm. When your dog approaches, say “leave it”. If your small dog stops, provide the high value treat. If he continues to investigate the low value treat, close your hand, and repeat the previous step.
Apply to objects on ground
Start using 'leave it' with treats on the ground. Practice 'leave it', start letting your dog be tempted with better treats, continue to command “leave it” and give better treats. Eventually, wean your dog off high value treats and provide praise instead.
Apply to gum
Start planting gum packages and practice the 'leave it' command, when your small dog discovers the gum.
The Signal Me Method
Teach signaling behavior
Teach your dog to signal you. The signal can be a bark, or a nudge of the hand. Use treats to establish the behavior on verbal command, for example: "speak" or "touch".
Pair signal with gum
Now present a pack of gum to your small dog. When your dog investigates the gum, immediately give him the command for his signal, 'speak' or 'touch'.
When your dog barks or nudges your hand give him a high value treat. Repeat until association is well established, and the dog starts to anticipate your command when presented with the gum.
Reward for signaling
Present gum to your dog, do not give a command. Wait for your dog to bark or nudge without being commanded, when he does, throw a big treat party and praise, get excited! You want your dog to recognize that the gum triggering his signal was the goal.
Test and reward periodically
Repeat, and once well established, continue to plant gum occasionally to give your dog the opportunity to signal you, and get a treat to ensure the behavior stays fresh.
The Negative Association Method
Add nasty taste
Put a pack of non toxic gum on the floor in a secure wrapper. Cover the wrapper in a foul tasting substance. Taste deterrents are available at pet stores that are safe for small dogs. Supervise.
When your dog touches the gum with his nose or mouth, he will get an unpleasant taste.
Immediately make a loud noise with a noise maker, and say "no".
Remove the gum so your dog no longer has access to it.
Repeat planting gum, and watching your dog, preferably so he does not know he is being watched, so you can catch him taking gum. When he does, he should get an unpleasant taste and a loud unpleasant noise.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 05/18/2018, edited: 01/08/2021