How To Get Your Dog to Stop Eating Your Daughters’ Underwear With Jenny Slate
S1: You know what, dog is not like a donkey, you know, like, I don’t know, like and I mean, we were just my fiancee and I were just talking about this last night because I heard the dog coming up the stairs. And then my fiancee was like she was just licking her, but she was just licking there. But like, don’t kiss her, don’t kiss her. And I was like, but I had also heard her drinking water and like, she just had a drink of water. It’s fine.
S2: Welcome to How to. I’m Charles Duhigg, and for this week’s episode, it is important that I make something clear up front, actually kind of an admission I am not a dog person. I mean, I understand that people love dogs and that they’re cute. We are actually. My family has a dog. Her name is Penny. And my children adore her. But me, I kind of feel like animals should live outside. Right? Like you wouldn’t invite a horse to come into your house or tell a goat to come sleep in bed with you. But I completely realize that I am in the minority on this. My my children basically think I’m a monster. And it turns out that this week’s listener, she also totally disagrees with me.
S3: My name is Aaron and I am a dog owner of two Portuguese water dog poodles. So Paudie Doodles one is very smart and one is not very smart, but very lovable, though not very smart, but lovable one that would be chief.
S4: Could we meet Chief? Jeepers. Well, hang on. He’s a little ok. OK. Oh he’s so sweet. Chief is a kind of big dog with fluffy black fur. He looks a little bit like Bo, the dog that used to live in the Obama White House. But there’s one thing that makes chief special.
S3: He has a penchant for underwear. I can’t even believe that I’m saying this out loud. And it’s not just a pension. It’s like it’s an obsession.
S5: It all started a couple of years ago when Erin found chief lying on the floor, clearly not feeling well. So she took him to the vet.
S1: We had an ultrasound done on him. Six hundred dollars. And he’s like, yeah, I think something’s in there, Erin. And he comes out of surgery and he hands me a plastic bag with my daughter’s underwear in it.
S3: And so I take him home. I’m like, OK, we can figure this out. This will never happen again. Two and a half weeks later, I kid you not. He’s laying on the floor again. Sure enough, it’s another pair of underwear. And this time it’s my other daughters. And so this is thirty four hundred dollars later. Oh my gosh. Yeah, thirty four hundred. And that’s not the worst part of it. My vet sends me a picture of him in Hawaii with his son in a helicopter ride saying thanks for the surgery.
S4: This is an expensive problem, not to mention that eventually it could end up killing Chief. Yet no matter what Erin tries, she has not been able to get chief to stop any underwear or get her daughters to stop leaving them on the floor.
S3: This is a continuing issue. I got to tell you. He just did it last week. Oh, my gosh. So it’s about once a month.
S5: On today’s episode, how to get your dog to Stop Eating Underwear or if that’s not exactly your problem, how to train the people who live with dogs like, say, your children to build better habits. Our expert this week is comedian Jenny Slate, who, believe it or not, has learned a few things from an experience that is pretty similar to what Erin’s going through. You really want to hear what happens next? If you know the actor Jenny Slate, it’s probably from her time on Saturday Night Live or her recent stand up special, or you heard her work as a voice actor in animated movies. Oh, no. Oh, no. Jenny, you actually let your voice to a dog in the movie The Secret Life of Pets. So like, you kind of had this experience of taking on the mindset of a dog is that is unfair.
S1: I that’s more than fair. My fiancee says that I am very much like a dog. What have you done?
S4: It turns out Jenny also knows what it’s like to have a dog with an unusual appetite.
S1: I do. I do. My dog, Reggie, he was very naughty. And Reggie at one point eighty five used tampons, five and a lot of stuff that that’s just like like underwear, our underwear. We all wear them or should or actually do whatever you want. But like, they’re not an embarrassing item. Like, no, maybe you don’t want people to see your underwear. I understand that. Or see you in your underwear. But like it’s basically like a sock. And so the embarrassment factor of the five tampons was really, really big. And it also happened a couple of times.
S4: I have a couple of questions. Sure. So is it five in one setting or is that like like five over a period of time?
S1: So first of all, I used to flush my tampons down the toilet. I was making a film and one of the other actors who happened to be a man who has never used a tampon was like, well, you know, you shouldn’t do that because you’re going to ruin your plumbing. And so we could get into an entire side discussion on why a man should never tell you what to do with your tampons. So, of course, I’m like, I better start throwing away my tampons, even though he doesn’t know anything about my life or how I live my dog is and how gross my dog is. And so in the course of a normal menstrual period, I threw the tampons away wrapped in toilet paper. Like I didn’t just like to come in there, but the trashcan didn’t have a litter anything. And Reggie emptied the trash.
S4: And how did how did you discover this, like did read the same story that Erin is telling.
S1: He was like and it was like Reggie sitting kind of weird. He’s like sitting strangely, you know, he already had so many issues that, like, we would go to the vet a lot anyway just to be like, what’s this? Like one time he ate a bag of, like, really strong coffee and was like, yo, you like just like crazy. And I was like, what is this? And then that is also lots of stuff, you know? So he was sitting weird and it was like, we all know that something is up here, you know, like so we took him in and and they were all in there. Oh, OK. It’s a surgery situation.
S4: You are the perfect person to be giving advice on which which is which is amazing. And OK, so I want to walk through what we should actually do to help solve this problem. And I want to hear, Aaron a little bit about what you’ve done. But before I do you work for the FBI, right?
S3: What? Yes, I’m a contractor for some federal agencies. And so my job is patterns of behavior. There are no patterns of behavior. And so I can’t go down my normal rabbit trails to solve these problems. I’ve tried to apply logical techniques to it. Yeah, it really is. Not had any it has not had any effect.
S4: OK, OK, so. So what about your daughters? Can you tell us what you’ve done to try and get your daughters to stop leaving their underwear on the floor.
S3: OK, so let’s see, we started out with punishments. Right. So the first one was if this happens again or I find it in his mouth, then you get your phone taken away. I took away her car for a day. Either I’m following the dog around in the morning to make sure he poops it out and then, you know, and then we can see whose it is.
S5: The follow the clues. I love it.
S3: Yeah. So then the kids had to go pick up that said underwear in the backyard. We’ve tried guilt like this is going to kill the dog. I tried to lock box on the underwear.
S1: Well, what do you what do you mean by that. Yeah.
S3: So I’m not giving you I bought a lock box at Wal-Mart and then I have taken all the underwear in the house and it has gone into the lock box so that they have to come and tell me that they have put their underwear in to the laundry drop. And then I unlock the lock box and I give them a pair of underwear. Wow. So that worked until they found out what the combination was.
S5: In case you’re wondering, Aaron has also tried to turn for the dog like like dousing dirty underwear with hot sauce, but but she still just ate it up anyway. Erin’s daughters, Jordan and Taylor, are 18 and 15, and they are probably like totally embarrassed right now. She says they’re both good kids and they’re smart, just a little absent minded and their rooms are a complete disaster zones.
S4: So let me just ask, so when you go to your daughters before you have to resort to locking up all of their underwear and you sit down with them and you say, girls, if you leave your underwear on the floor, she’s going to eat it, that’s bad for him. Let’s just put our underwear in the hamper every night. What do they say? Because it sounds to me like what you’re saying is not that you have a dog eating underwear problem, that you have a daughter leaving underwear on the floor problem.
S1: Well, I was just going to say, like, you know, one of the things that I love about having a dog is that it’s like it’s just an exercise in accepting something or someone for their limits and still saying that they can contribute, like, greatly to your life, but like really accepting that, like, they just don’t get it. They just don’t get it. Yeah. No, yeah. No, not even there’s no processing there at all. But I don’t really feel like there’s much on my teenage daughters processing that either though.
S5: Here’s our first rule. Except for some behavior you just can’t change because unless you bring in a dog whisperer you will not be able to train a problem like this out of your dog. And moreover, you can’t change your teenager’s behavior just by berating them and telling them to be different. That’s not how teenagers minds work. Jenny, what did you do with your dog? What was the solution for you?
S1: Well, the control lies with me. Like, Reggie is not he’s not able to control himself. And now, again, these are like major expenses and the dog is in really, really real danger. So the first thing that I did was that I replaced all of the trash cans in my house with, like, those trash cans that like even if you tip them over, the lid doesn’t open. And I also was like, I am absent minded. And to be honest, at the time was like a major stoner. So I had some some don’t tell the FBI or do I don’t know. Isn’t it legal now? I have no idea. And I was like, you know what, Jerry? Get real. You can’t be trusted. You know, like I at the time, I had a Prius and would constantly just be like, well, I guess I’m done driving the car like and it’s like, leave the car, leave it on. Like, I just was just a little bit absentminded. Yeah, well, they’re really quiet and they don’t have like a key that you take out. So anyway, I was like, OK, you’ve got to outfit this house to remind yourself that there’s an issue and to also try to solve the issue. So I put baby Gates like in the bathroom and my house just became much, much, much more tidy. But yeah, I mean, maybe you have to get some gates for your daughter’s rooms and for your bathroom.
S4: Yeah, maybe there’s a lesson here, because what I’m hearing is that your dog actually taught you a valuable lesson that that by eating your your tampons, you learned to tidy your house more and to stop smoking pot and. Yeah. Not leave the Prius running anymore. Like this. Like this.
S1: Yeah. I mean, now I have a Subaru. No, I think the dog’s instincts are the dog’s instincts. But again, like one of the coolest things about having an animal is that they can, like, really make you aware of your own dysfunctions. You know, like if you have a messy house and you have a dog, they’re going to exacerbate that issue, that’s for sure. Absolutely right. And I think that’s the way with two teenagers, too, right. Like I mean, teenagers are going to be teenagers. But I think you’re right, Jenny. They are both absent minded. And so I’m not sure I’m going to change that either. No, you’re not. That that’s going to happen in time. And by in time, I mean. Right. Mind change. I was like thirty five.
S5: OK, so here’s our next rule. Research shows that our habits are really tied into our environments. If you’re starting a new diet, for example, you should take all the snacks off the counter so you don’t see them. In Erin’s case, putting up Gates will not only make it harder for Chief to access the rooms with the underwear, but it can also serve as a reminder of this problem for her daughters. But baby kids are just one step. How can they actually get her teenage daughters to change their habits on their own? After all, she’s life may depend on it. We’re back with our listener, Erin, and her expert, Jenny Slate. In addition to Gidget in the secret life of pets, Jenny’s also voiced lots of other animals, including a sheep in Utopia and a character named Marcel the Shell. In a viral video about a talking seashell with a googly eye in a pair of miniature shoes yesterday wears a hat.
S6: Lenthall One time I nibbled on a piece of cheese and my cholesterol went up to nine hundred. Guess what? I used to tie my skis to my car, cut her hair. Guess what my skis are toenails from the man.
S4: Jenny, you’ve done a lot of comedy that involves animals. That’s true. What is it about animals. That’s that’s been like a muse to you?
S1: You know, what I think it is, is that there’s something about animals that reminds us of our animal selves and allows us to feel like immediate empathy. I just think animals give us a big opportunity to give the other the most chances for understanding that makes a life.
S4: I had never thought about that. But that’s really that’s really insightful that, like, I can actually disarm my audience by presenting myself as an animal because it doesn’t carry all these, like, assumptions and biases.
S1: Yeah. Whereas, like, a woman can’t, like, you know, pee on the rug. That’s right. Right. Plus, they don’t really care. Right. Like I mean, they don’t they don’t care what you think about them. They’re just like, yeah, whatever. Yeah. He drives me crazy. But that dog brings me a ton of joy. Yeah. You know, just because of who he is.
S4: So so here’s my next question to you, Jenny. Take me back into the head of a sixteen year old, Jenny Slate. What could your parents have told you that would have convinced you to change your behavior since we’re trying to do that for Erin’s kids, you know, like I mean, and I was probably more similar than different, it seems like, from Erin’s daughters.
S1: Like, I I was good in school and like a general good kid. But I really was so absent minded, I would have felt bad if if only I had been, you know, like had surgery and I would have felt really bad about the money for sure. But shame is like so shortsighted and like creates other problems, I think. But I really think the thing that would have helped the most would have been like constant discussion. Like if you have a relationship where you guys can talk about it to be like, OK, I know this is like annoying that we’re talking about it again. But tonight, when you guys get undressed or like, where’s your gym bag? Let’s talk about it. Keep bringing it up.
S4: When you were a teenager, was there anything your parents tried to change about? You were they were successful.
S1: I remember like freshman year of high school, I really had, like, a hard problem studying subjects that weren’t interesting to me, like I just couldn’t do. I like with math, it kind of stresses me out, like it personally makes me feel bad about myself, whatever I am. And I’m not developed enough to encounter these feelings. But I do remember my mom just basically being like, you’re you’re really smart. And if you do want to go to this college, you say you want to go to like you, you have to study more with math and science. And I would sit in my room and like, look at the books and just not be able to click in. And I just remember her being like, we’re just going to find a tutor for you, like someone that you like, that you can talk to. You could be yourself. She made it really specific to me. That’s a memory. Did you find it did. Really? Yeah.
S4: That’s a really nice story.
S1: Like, so nice. Yeah.
S3: Because it’s also like you talked about, like accepting the limitations. Taylor is exactly that highly intelligent. But just in terms of processing the information and all of this and getting not distracted, it’s challenge for her. And so what I think that we’ve been doing, or at least I am, it’s like we why why isn’t this clicking with you? Yeah. Oh, I don’t understand how this is even possible. And so I think by you saying that, ironically, I’ve accepted chiefs limitations, I’m not sure I’ve accepted my teenagers.
S5: And so here’s our next rule, instead of presenting this issue as, say, your child’s problem, make sure they know that you really want to solve this with them and make your solution really specific to your children what what they think makes sense and not just what you think makes the most sense, like locking up their underwear in a lock box and finally enlist your kids to come up with solutions themselves.
S4: Have you ever sat down with your daughters and said, look, this is a problem? Tell me how you think we should solve it rather than you coming up with solutions for them? Have you ever asked them to solve the problem for you?
S3: I’m trying to think I don’t think I have I mean, we’ve literally had a family meeting about this, but I don’t think we did. I think it was more talking at them. And I have not applied that to this.
S4: I think that might be a great step.
S3: Yeah, no, I, I think that’s I, I’ve seen them do it in so many other areas. I think ironically, just to be completely transparent too. Is there some parenting shame around. Like I do not talk to my friends about this anymore because they literally look at me like, wait, why can’t you get your kids to keep their underwear off the floor?
S1: But you know what? Everybody leaves their underwear on the floor from, you know, every now and then. I probably have underwear on the floor upstairs in my house right now, but, like, my dog just doesn’t eat them. So it’s not an issue and we haven’t focused on it. You know, it’s right. It’s really like the getting back on like quitting smoking, which is something that I did a couple of years ago. It’s like the things that never really worked for me are these huge moments of like, OK, and I’m just never doing this again because because it’s so bad and there’s like so much shame and pressure and the highs and lows of that, like always ended up with me being like, man, it’s nine forty five p.m. and I go to the gas station and buy back the cigarettes and it’s seven of them at once in my Prius that I’m, I forget to turn off and like and that like that the things that have always helped me make the changes are like the slow like consistent engagement.
S4: Well and that brings me to something else you had said, Jenny, about reminders. I’m wondering, Aaron, is there some way of putting reminders up like it might actually be that your daughters are literally just forgetting?
S1: I do think it would help. I think the verbal ones of just saying, you know, just reminders of when they’re getting a shower. Hey, don’t forget your, you know, underwear. I think that would feel more gracious.
S7: So here’s another rule. Remind your kids what they’re supposed to do and then remind them again and again and again.
S5: As an expert pointed out in a previous episode, we don’t tell our kids, just wants to have good table manners. We have to tell them like hundreds, thousands of times. Right. But that’s how we help them build better habits.
S4: When we think about the science behind habits, there’s like these three parts to have it right. There’s a cue, which is like a trigger for the behavior and then the routine, the behavior itself, and then finally a reward. Every habit that we develop has a reward. But I’m wondering on those days that the chief does not eat underwear because your daughters have done a good job of putting it in the hamper. Do you reward them?
S3: No, I don’t reward them and I don’t even, you know, because I think it should be an expectation. But I think you’re right. I think we have to remind them, hey, you know what? You put your underwear in the hamper after you took a shower or you threw your stuff in the laundry. No, I haven’t done that.
S4: It’s a great idea. I do the same thing. Like when my kids do brush their teeth, I never say, like, oh, I’m so proud of you for brushing your teeth. But I read. Right, like like that’s that. I know that that positive reinforcement. I mean we do with other stuff when they read we tell them like Rachel Unperson and and I’m sure, Jenny, you probably give your dog positive reinforcement.
S1: I give everyone positive reinforcement if I need it. I mean, it feels so good to be noticed for something that could easily be disregarded. We have a blackboard in our kitchen, especially during the pandemic. We were just like in our house and we started to lose track of the days, you know, what is it? What kind of day is it? Is it sort of a Wednesday? We should probably check. Weirdly, that demoralized me a lot. And so I started to write the name of the day on the blackboard every morning when I would wake up to make the coffee and I would make like a little picture with it. And and I’ve been doing it, you know, since like I did since, I don’t know, like late spring, I guess. And I could just do it for myself, like, whatever. But it’s kind of something that I’ve become sort of proud of, even though I’m an adult. And and like every day Ben says my fiancee says that, you know, he saw the picture and like, he likes it so he could say nothing. But it makes me feel so good. And he’s like, well, you did it again, you know?
S4: I know. Like, we love Prain so much.
S1: We love words. It’s I like it does well in recognition.
S3: Yeah. Like, I can actually see it in my kid’s face when I say, hey, I think you really used wise judgment on that. And I so we have a quote, board in our kitchen. I wonder if what do you think about, you know, like on a construction job sites where they go fourteen days without an accident or could I do that?
S1: I mean, is that too. I love stuff like that.
S4: Twenty three days without leaving underwear on the ground or in the dog’s stomach. Yeah, exactly. Like, OK, well I’m sorry, she’s very excited, but he loves the idea too. And this is our final rule. Reward good behavior.
S5: This can be as simple as praising your kids for remembering to do something or her writing down an accomplishment on the family, quote, board and teach your kids to reward themselves because rewards are a key part of enforcing habits. And by helping your kids learn to validate their own behavior, you’re teaching them how to build good habits into the future.
S4: One of the things we know about, like raising good kids and it sounds like, Jenny, this is what you do is is we need to teach people to self reward. You gave yourself a reward for kind of like structuring your days when you didn’t have to. And that reward was as simple as just making a picture that you liked and that you know, that your fiancee might like. But when we teach when we teach Erin’s daughters how to self reward, I think that’s something that they’re going to carry into life.
S1: Yeah, I definitely think so. It’s so weird. I really have. I’ve always been forgetful and and growing up was rather untidy. And to be to be tuned in and to be organized is something that I’ve learned over the years. And it’s still because it’s not natural to me. I’m so proud that I’ve changed that, like the rewards that I give to myself, like they really, really, really mean something. No, I totally agree that you’re a perfect person for that, because I do really feel like if you would have lived in my house, probably it would have been similar. Yeah.
S4: So, Aaron, let me ask you this, you had reached out to us with this, I have to admit a problem I have never been exposed to before, which is your dog eating your daughter’s underwear and then requiring thousands of dollars of surgery. Right. Do you feel like this conversation has helped you with your problem?
S3: Oh, definitely. Oh, yeah. Because while they’re older, you know, 18 and almost 16, I’ve been doing this parenting thing for a while. I did not think about, oh, why don’t I ask them or I know the limitations of both of those girls. And yet I haven’t approached it from that and helping them instead of locking up their underwear for taking away their phone. So all that to say is that I really do feel like you were able to say this may have been something that I would have done. And yet here you are, like if I were your parent, I’d feel very proud of where you are. Like, I love that you figured out how to adapt to your weaknesses. And I think I can do that with the girls. So I really do. I really like that. I think I have not approached it from that standpoint.
S1: And the very fact that they found you, Jenny, that is the coolest thing. I mean, I can’t believe that they found you. I’m so glad we could share this this issue together.
S5: Thank you to Erin for sharing what is kind of an embarrassing story with us and to her daughters for letting her talk to us. And thank you to Jenny Slate for her amazing advice. You should definitely look for her latest book, Little Weird’s. And she told us that there’s a Marcel the Shell movie in the works.
S6: My one regret in life is that I have a dog, but sometimes I tie a hair to a piece of land and I drag it around. OK, well, you can on. Well, you know what they say, well, Michelle’s best friend.
S5: And if you want to learn more about building better habits, you can check out my book, The Power of Habit. Do you have a strange and seemingly impossible problem? If so, you should send us a note of how to it’s late dotcom, or you can leave us a voicemail at six four six four nine five four zero zero one. And if you liked what you heard today, please give us a rating and a review. Consider subscribing and tell a friend. The more people who listen, the more people and dogs we get to help. OK, ok. How TOS executive producer is Derek John, Rachel Allen and Rosemarie Bellson produce a show in. Marc Jacob is our engineer. Our theme music is by Hannis Brown. June Thomas is senior managing producer and Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate podcasts. Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director of audio special. Thanks to Chief The Dog, no animals were harmed or injured in the making of this podcast.
S8: I’m Charles Duhigg. Thanks for listening.