Updated: Sep 12, 2020
Ever heard that phrase? Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results? So how do you think your dog feels in your house or property every day of their lives? I hear it often from owners, "They have all this space to play and run, how can they be bored and misbehave?" First let me say, most of what we consider to be misbehavior is actually just a dog being a dog. Just because we don't much care for it does not mean its misbehavior. But that's a topic for a future post. Think of it this way; you live out in the woods, because someone made you live there, not because you chose it. You can leave the property, but only when someone drives you. Some people would LOVE that! And some people would get cabin fever the first day. Our dogs are no different. Sure some dogs can be happy just hanging at home, being taken for walk abouts on their property and hanging with just their family, but the majority of dogs need more stimulation than that. They need new sights, sounds, and smells. There is a reason zoos put so much emphasis on enrichment activities for their animals, they understand these animals get bored in their four walls and are not able to get their natural instincts out. However I realize in today's go go go society even we aren't getting out like we used to. Go to work, come home, eat, go to bed, repeat. *Sigh* being a dog doesn't sound half bad now!
So what is to be done for our pups? How can we keep them happy and satisfied without feeling like we have to spend every free moment we have out and about with them? The good news is there are limitless ways in which to stimulate your dog that can be done for low cost and inside your house! Though they do take a little effort on your part, dogs can't set these things up for themselves! My very favorite is Nosework. Anything nosework related is super fun for your dog, and gets them using their doggy senses while giving you a fun game to enhance your bond with your dog. This can be as simple as hiding treats and letting your dog find them, all the way up to buying scents and working to trial with your dog. The thing I love about Nosework is it can be anything! Boxes they have to get the treat out of, having to get under something (such as a dresser or shelf), searching up trees in your back yard. It's limited only by your imagination. For multi-dog households I like to play this game one at a time, both to prevent any tiffs and to give each dog a chance to get rewards and time with me. I also LOVE flirt poles. There are tons of different types, but my favorite is made by Squishy Face Studios (you can find them on Amazon by typing in flirt pole). This is like fishing for your dog! A cat toy on steroids if you will. It is so much fun to see them chasing and jumping and you can do it while sitting on your couch in your pjs! (Do not however leave this toy laying around where they can get it unattended, it is not made to be intensely chewed on)
I own four dogs, two seniors and two adolescents, and let me tell you to give them all proper attention is something that takes planning. It's not simply enough that they have each other to play with, i feed them, and they live in the house. I must deliberately make time for each dog. That means taking different dogs with me when I go into town, so they each get one on one attention. That means taking us all out as a pack to play at the river. That means giving them places to take breaks from each other. Many owners have the idea that "multiple dogs just tire each other out so I don't have to", which of course can be a help. But it can't be the only thing. Then you'll just have two dogs who work together to drive you nuts.
There are multiple Facebook groups you can join when you search for Canine Enrichment. There are tons of ideas on Pintrest and Google. I love Kongs (as my clients know) and suggest them to everyone. I only use the black ones, as I have yet to (knock on wood) have any dogs that have destroyed them. Be sure to watch them for missing chunks and deep teeth marks if you get any of the other colors. I never give a Kong to a dog that is not frozen, it helps it last so much longer! I use peanut butter or plain yogurt (plain Greek yogurt works well, just check that there is no xylitol in the type you give them, it is very toxic to dogs) and sometimes add a little kibble, or fruits and veggies. Puzzle games are also super fun for dogs. There are tons and tons of different types online and in pet stores. I always suggest to my clients to go cheap or homemade first with puzzle toys as some dogs don't keep trying once they don't get instant gratification. If that happens, try putting a higher value reward in the puzzle, one they hardly ever get, and reserve it only for puzzle time (think chicken, hotdogs, string cheese type rewards). As frustrating as it can be, your dog decides what is motivating enough to work for. Just because one persons dog went nuts for something does not mean yours will sadly. So take the time to try different things with your dogs, and give them reward tiers. Meaning a task they know super well gets a lower level reward than something very new and difficult.
I also tell my clients to stash treat jars around the house in the areas dogs normal reside in. There are many reasons this makes life more interesting for a dog. They learn you are truly the giver of resources, and fun can happen any where any time. "The other day I was just walking thought the livingroom and BAM my owner said Sit so I sat and I got a treat! In the livingroom! That's never happened before!" Soon you'll have a dog that is looking for engagement with you on their own. Plus it is much easier than carrying around a bait bag or always having treats in your pocket. It will make training much easier and more fun too. 5 minutes in the front room of training and rewarding makes your dog happy, helps you reinforce behavior you would like to see from your dog, and helps to mentally tire them out. My clients know this well, I come to their house with my "magic place box" and make their dog work on the Place command and maybe a short recall. By the end of the hour they are pooped! We didn't go anywhere, we barely moved around the house, but their dog snoozes for hours after I leave. Why? Am I just that good?? (I'd like to think so) But really it is the fact it is tasking to them to have to choose to sit on the box and focus. No more, no less. Even though physically they are staying still, mentally they are still going a million miles a minute.
I encourage you to really take your dogs need for mental stimulation to heart. An hour of physical activity a day is awesome, but that dog can still get into mischief if they are mentally bored enough. The old saying "A tired dog is a happy dog" isn't always true. It should be, "A physically tired dog is a dog that can still mentally plot your doom". Kongs, puzzles, Nosework, Flirt Poles, new and interesting ways to feed their normal meals, different types of food rewards; variety is the spice of life! As always, good luck out there! Follow our social media pages for pictures and videos of ways to help your dog live an enriched life!
For the Dogs,