Job Description: Couch Potato*
What does your dog do all day while you are away at work? For that matter, what does your dog do all day when you are home??
The answer for most dogs is……sleep.
Have you ever just sat and watched your dog? Sometimes when I just sit and wa
tch TV or read a book (or play the piano or garden, etc.), I look over at my dogs and feel remorseful that I am “entertaining” myself and they are…….sleeping. Sometimes it “guilts” me into getting up and taking them for a walk. But even then, an hour or so later, I am on to something else and they are……yep, sleeping. Ok, dogs do sleep much more than we do, but some mental and physical stimulation throughout the day is necessary for their total well-being.
While different breeds were bred for different jobs, such as finding prey, herding sheep, or retrieving game birds, all dogs were meant to live active lives. (Did you know that hunting or scavenging for food is almost a full-time job for wild dogs??) The good news is that you don’t have to take up hunting or purchase livestock in order to bring enrichment into your dog’s life. There are many practical ways to provide your dog with mental and physical exercise, thereby relieving boredom and excess energy.
Interactive Activities (Things to do together)
- Walk – good for your body and good for your dog’s. Take different routes and check out different places so your dog can experience new sights and smells. This is a good option for weekends when you don’t have to go to work.
- Chase – also good exercise for your dog (and for you if you have your dog chase you!). Dogs typically love to chase and some will chase until they are exhausted. You can tie a favorite toy to the end of a rope and attach the other end to a long stick (we use lunge whips purchased from a feed store). Drag the toy around, twirl it around in a big circle and snap it up into the air so your dog can chase after it.
- Fetch – not as good for your body, but still good for your dog’s so this a good option when you come home from work and it’s too late or you’re too tired for a walk.
- Tug-of-war – depending on the size of your dog, you may or may not get a workout too! Many dogs love this game as it allows them an outlet for their desire to grab and pull. There are important rules to this game however: your dog must only grab the toy when you tell him to and he must release the toy when you tell him to. Do not play this game if your dog ever exhibits aggression toward you over articles.
- Find it – it is always amazing to watch how powerful a dog’s sense of smell is. Start off easy – with your dog in a different room, hide a few pieces of kibble in one room in places that will be easy for your dog to find. You can even put a few in partial view. You want your dog to be successful. Get your dog and tell her to “find it” just before she enters the room. Then sit back and watch. You might have to point out a few of them at first, but once she has learned the “game”, you can hide treats in increasingly harder places and allow her to use her nose and wear herself out.
- Hide-and-seek – instead of finding treats, let your dog find you! A side benefit is that it can teach your dog to love coming when called! Vary the difficulty of your hiding places depending on the tenaciousness of your dog to actually continue to search for you.
- Sports – if you like to really get out for more than just a walk and want to spend time with other like-minded people and dogs, there are many different sports that you can do with your dog, such as agility, flyball, tracking, hearding, dancing (musical freestyle), go-to-ground (for the little terriers), lure coursing, weight pulling and carting. You can Google them for more information and contact information for each organization.
- Training is another way to bond with your dog, stimulate your dog’s mind and develop a communication link between you. Enroll in a reward-based training class (at Crossroads!)
Solo Activities (Things for your dog to do when alone)
- Chew – Dogs need to chew to keep their jaws strong and teeth clean. They also chew for fun, and to relieve boredom or anxiety. Give your dog plenty of appropriate things to chew on like nylabones, marrow bones, and bully sticks.
- Food Puzzles – if you stuff them creatively, these can keep your dog occupied for hours! A food puzzle is usually made of hard plastic or rubber with holes on the sides or ends, which allow you to put foodstuff inside but do not give your dog easy access to the food. (Can be purchased at any pet store). Dogs have to muzzle, paw, roll, shake or lick the toy to get the food out….lots of good problem-solving to help pass the time away. At first, make it easy for your dog to empty it (e.g. use small pieces of food that easily fall out) then as your dog gets better at it, use bigger pieces or freeze it after stuffing it.
- Scavenger Hunt – by nature dogs are scavengers, so why not let your dog hunt for his meals? You can scatter it around your yard or patio, hide small piles around the house, or even stuff a food puzzle toy with his meal and make him work for food.
- Daycare – dogs are social animals and most do better when they can engage with others, whether human or canine. When your hectic schedule makes it difficult to work in extra time with your dog, Doggy Daycare is a great way to provide your dog all the mental and physical stimulation she needs and give you peace of mind that your dog is happy and safe. Even if you do set aside time for your dog each day, going to doggy daycare at least once or twice a week allows your dog to experience canine companionship and develop (or maintain) proper canine social skills.
If you have any questions about this article or your dog in general, we are here to help. Call us at 714-821-6622. Wags, Woofs, and Behavior Self!
* From: Enriching your dog’s life, ASPCA. Retrieved 8-24-10 from http://www/aspcabehavior.org