Whether it’s a game, watching over and protecting livestock, or just being an active family companion, having something to do is an essential part of what makes a dog tick. Our modern world of grocery stores, 9 to 5 jobs, and sedentary lifestyles parked behind the TV or computer screen means more luxury and downtime for your dog…but also less exercise and mental stimulation than ever before.
A dog that is bored or under-stimulated may resort to creating some “jobs” for himself, such as being destructive around the house or excessive barking. Identify opportunities to keep your dog engaged and help your dog burn off energy by breaking up routines, adding spontaneous play or training sessions to your day, and looking for opportunities to include your dog in your daily activities. The time commitment here doesn’t have to be huge – a few minutes of spontaneous playtime, a quick ride in the car, even a quick stroll around the block can keep your dog happy and occupied in a positive way.
Walking the Walk
- For a dog with energy to spare, try a dog backpack. Once they get used to wearing the pack, slowly add some weight. Soup cans or water bottles are a great way to add weight.
- Put away the phone. Let this be a time to focus on yourself and your dog.
- Love to chat? Bring a friend. Walking as a pack can really change the dynamic.
- Pick up the pace. Vary your speed. Slow walking will allow your dog to investigating favorite areas and fast walking or jogging intervals lets your dog know you are in control of setting the pace (and has the added benefit of burning some calories).
- Get out of your rut. Vary your route to keep you both interested. Include some hills or stairs for a challenge.
- Make time to try a different neighborhood or park once a week – then rotate spontaneously.
- Add a second walk to your day when you can (it doesn’t matter how short). A repeat of one of your dog’s favorite activities will make his day.
- Catch your dog doing something right. Do you like what your dog is doing? Reward with a treat, scratch, or just some nice praise. Being around a relaxed dog is relaxing. Win/Win.
- Spend a few minutes each day playing fetch, tug, or chase.
- Try playing “micro fetch” in a confined spot or when you need to keep your dog’s energy level contained. Throw the toy for your dog to catch right in his mouth. Some dogs prefer this to long toss fetch. It’s great for older dogs who love attention but tire easily.
- Tricks for Treats! Ask your dog to perform a trick he knows or one he is working on in a new situation – at the park, on a walk, or in the middle of chore time.
- Rotate your dog’s toys out regularly so that old items can be fun and interesting again.
- Up the ante by ‘recharging’ old toys with new yummy smells! Put an old sturdy toy in with a bag of smellicious treats for a week, then reintroduce it.
- Hide kibble or toys to surprise and delight your dog.
- Running to the gas station or the post office? If your dog loves car rides, a quick errand just might make his day.
When you’re away
- Leave the radio on – and change the station sometimes too. This helps to keep your dog from focusing on outside noises and breaks up routine.
- If you’re going to be gone for a long time, a frozen filled kong or a puzzle toy filled with treats can help while away the hours.
- Shut the blinds on the busy side of your house and open them on the quiet side for some wildlife watching.
- Move your dog’s bed or add a bed or blanket to encourage your dog to relax in different areas.
- Consider breaking up your dog’s day with a dog walker.
- Break up a long work week with a doggie play date.
The take home tip is to mix up your engagement with your dog. Instead of just patting his head, give him a good scratch behind the ears or a belly rub.
Add some unexpected interaction this week with your dog. He will tune into YOU and LOVE IT.