Keeping Your Dog Busy

July 26, 2011

Giving your dog a supply of toys is one way of keeping him busy.  There are an amazing variety of toys for dogs these days.   Fluffy toys that squeak, rubber toys for chewing, and interactive rope toys for playing tug.  The problem with most of these toys is that because dogs – unlike children – do not have the right brains for inventing solitary make-believe games with their toys, very quickly tire of them.  One solution is that if your dog has many toys, do not make them available all at once.  Rotate them so that there are always one or two toys that he or she hasn’t seen in a while.

The best toys are those that involve finding food.  Dogs that are not family pets spend most of their waking hours foraging for food.  So, it stands to reason that if you want to keep your dog amused during the day when you are not home to interact with him, any toys or activity you provide needs to have food as one of the components.   These are some ideas for you to try:

Hunt for breakfast:   Instead of giving your dog a free meal in a bowl before you leave for work, make him work for it.  There are two ways that he can work for his dinner.  Either scatter it about on the lawn for him to find piece by piece, or hide small parcels around the garden for him to locate and unwrap.  Dogs love to dissect things, as I’m sure you’ve discovered when the new toy you just bought your pup has been dissected to get at the squeaker inside.

The other way you can keep him busy is to stuff a kong.  A Kong is more than just a chew toy.  Most chew toys get pretty boring after five minutes or so but there is a reason that the Kong is hollow.  This hollow is designed to be filled with food.  No, not just peanut butter, but with a whole host of combinations to whet your pup’s appetite.  If I know that I’m going to be out for a while, and so that my dogs don’t start chewing inappropriate things I layer my kongs with some mince, followed by some grated cheese, a layer of small dog treats, and finally, a couple of teaspoons of soft canned food.  I then plug up the opening with either a large dog biscuit, or a layer of peanut butter.  Then – and this is the trick – the whole thing gets popped into my freezer overnight.  When I give it to my dogs it’s frozen and I know it will keep them busy for quite a while.  The other thing one can do is to hide a couple of stuffed kongs around the garden or house for your dog to find.  He will have to use his nose to do this, and using his nose to detect scent is pretty exhausting work.

Digging is another very enjoyable pastime for most dogs.  Unfortunately they have a habit of digging your best flower beds.  If you can set aside a part of your garden where your dog is allowed to dig to his heart’s content he will probably confine his digging activities to this particular place.  You can encourage digging in his very own sand pit by letting him watch you bury toys or treats in the allocated area and directing him to “get ‘em”.

Having said all this, it is extremely important to spend quality time with your dog each day.  Set aside a part of the day for some physical exercise that you can do together, such as retrieve games or a walk in the local park.  Keep his brain stimulated by either training some obedience exercises or playing some problem-solving games with him, or even teaching him a trick or two.

If you do not have time to take your dog out of the garden every day, then make sure that he can actually see out.  His visual sense should also receive some stimulation.  If you have a wall around your property try and avoid putting up a solid gate, or identify some area where the dog can see over the fence into the outside world.

A Busy Dog is a Happy Dog

July 12, 2011

It is recognized nowadays that a dog that is confined for long periods of time without stimulation, both mental and physical, can develop behavioural problems such as chewing of inappropriate items, digging and excessive vocalization, amongst others.  Providing a large area for a dog “to run around in” is not enough, unless this area contains many interesting things to smell and to eat and to look at.  Stimulation should involve all the dog’s senses.

Feral or Village dogs spend about 80% of their waking hours hunting and scavenging for food. Domestic dogs have been helping and working alongside us for thousands of years, and most are bred for a specific purpose, such as hunting, farming or protection. For example, retrievers and pointers were bred to locate and fetch game and water birds. Scent hounds, like coonhounds and beagles, were bred to find rabbits, foxes and other small prey. Dogs like German shepherds, collies, cattle dogs and sheepdogs were bred to herd livestock.

Whether dogs were working for us or scavenging on their own, their survival once depended on lots of exercise and problem solving, all in their quest for food.  Do we provide all this for our pets?  The common scenario for most dogs is that while we’re away at work all day, they sleep.  When we come home, we serve them free food in a bowl—no effort required from them.  They eat more calories than they can use.  The result is dogs who are bored silly, often overweight and have too much energy.  To alleviate this boredom and to get rid of all this excess energy, our pet dog will often indulge in totally unacceptable behaviour such as shredding the outdoor furniture (or even the indoor furniture if she’s confined indoors), tipping up the dustbin (guaranteed to keep her busy for hours), digging holes in a newly planted flower beds.  Her welcome home behaviour will also be a little over the top because she’s so pleased that her boring, unproductive day has come to an end.

If you spend a little time giving your dog “jobs” to do while you’re away, there will be no unpleasant surprises for you when you get home, and you will also have a calmer, more relaxed and “fulfilled” pet, without having to start taking up sheep or cattle herding, or hunting ducks and geese.

In my next post I’ll discuss some ways that you can keep your dog “busy” and happy.

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