Rewind the clock back 30 years.
Most of us didn’t have front fences and lived on ¼ acre blocks, Mum’s were domestic Goddesses, kids didn’t have electronic equipment, work hours were more predictable and shorter ….. and what about our dogs?
I honestly have no idea what my dogs did! I know they followed us to school and were waiting for us after school. We’d get home, throw our bags down, get on our bikes and good old ‘Fido’ would follow us kids to the park then come home with us for dinner.
But where was faithful ‘Fido’ during the day and what did he do?
‘Fido’ spent the day doing stuff that ‘Fido’ wanted to do; foraging, playing and interacting with other fellow canines, chased the local cat or a few Magpies, found some really cool smelling stuff to explore, walked, galloped and trotted to his heart’s content….. ‘Fido’ had fun and ‘Fido’ was relaxed and calm.
Fast forward to 2016. We all have fences and the block sizes are much smaller, generally all members of the home work or are at school, work hours are more unpredictable and much longer, kids are nowhere near as active….. and our dogs? They are confined for the bulk of their day until their people come home. So what does your dog do all day?
Our dogs now rely on us to provide them access to the awesome stuff that they want to do. We race in the door, put the lead on ‘Fido’ and off we go for exercise time. What ‘Fido’ used to be able to do all day long is now condensed into a couple of hours a day and much of the time this is on lead. Poor ‘Fido’ moves from ‘bored, bored, bored’ to ‘woohoo!’ in the blink of an eye. ‘Fido’ has lost his happy medium.
Could this be the reason that when you get home ‘Fido’ is SUPER excited and has trouble calming down, ‘Fido’ pulls on the lead, when you let ‘Fido’ off lead at the park he won’t listen to you, your neighbours tell you that ‘Fido’ is barking during the day, your backyard looks like a demolition site, ‘Fido’ destroys stuff around the house ….. the short answer is yes!
As dog owners we gravitate towards the biggest, greenest open area we can find, but is that where ‘Fido’ really wants to go? Possibly not as dogs love to explore! What is to explore at a big, wide, green open area? Try taking ‘Fido’ to locations that exercise his mind and body. Locations where he has to move his body and navigate over obstacles, use his nose and explore!
So what can we do?
- Get rid of your dog’s food bowl and feed your dog using enrichment ideas that replicate the skills that your individual dog likes to use; foraging, shredding, chewing, digging, licking, etc. If ‘Fido’ is provided with an outlet where he can use these skills, guess what? He is less likely to try and find his own outlets!
- Enrich your backyard: Add a herb garden, digging pit, move furniture regularly, add bails of straw, empty cardboard boxes, etc. I’d get bored if I had to spend all day reading the same book. ‘Fido’ feels the same way!
- Vary the types of exercise you give your dog. Take them to different locations where the focus is on exploratory behaviours rather than on other dogs. Again, don’t you like a change of scenery?
- Make the focus of your walk on quality rather than quantity. Don’t worry about the distance you walk, allow ‘Fido’ to sniff and explore. Use a long lead in safe locations if you don’t have a reliable recall.
- Balance high energy behaviours with calm behaviours; allow your dog to play with the other dogs, then take them for a quiet sniffing walk.
- Invest time not only in training basic cues but also tricks. Tricks are fun and increase learning capabilities and work ethic as we tend to teach them with lower emotional investment and therefore less pressure on ‘Fido’.
- Take your dog for drives in the car with the window partly down to allow all the smells to enter for your dog to sniff. Sniffing is the most mentally exhausting activity your dog can do!
- Try a dog sport! There are many amazing dog sports available and they are fun for the owners too!
- Vary the content of your dog’s life based on their age, social maturity, individual temperament and personality. Like human’s dog mature and outgrow many situations. I used to LOVE nightclubs but now… ummmm no thanks! Dog parks are nightclubs for dogs and many dogs do outgrow them and prefer to engage in other outings. Not only is that okay, it is also perfectly normal!
Head Trainer, Kalmpets Animal Behaviour Centre