What does your dog need?

I get many calls from clients that their dogs are “misbehaving” and one of my first questions is, “What types of activities do you do with your dog?”. Many say they walk their dog a few times a week if they have time. Well then it is no wonder they are seeing what they call “poor behavior”.

Dogs need exercise, mental stimulation, jobs, and companionship.

Most dogs do not need the amount of exercise that one would think. I have a border collie and many people say, “I bet you have to take him out for miles and miles a day?” and the truth is that he only gets a short walk in the morning everyday with my other dog along with mental stimulation, doing his job, and lots of companionship. There are many ways to exercise your dog which include: walking, jogging, hiking, swimming, dog sports, fetching a ball or frisbee, and using a treadmill (but teach them how to like it by shaping it with a clicker). However, I am sure there are more ways to exercise your dog. I once read a bumper sticker that said, “If your dog is fat, then you are not getting enough exercise”, so get out there and have fun with your dog. A dog owner could take their dog out for daily walks of about 20-30 minutes a day and probably see a change in behavior. However, if they also incorporate mental stimulation, a job, and companionship they will see a totally different dog. They will see a cherished furry family member!

In addition to daily exercise a dog needs mental stimulation. Mental stimulation consists of things like learning tricks, having to find their meal in stead of just getting it in a bowl, playing games that require a dog to think and work on impulse control.

Anytime a dog owner teaches their dog a trick it helps strengthen the canine/human bond and can mentally wear out a dog. Not to mention tricks are fun for the dog and the owner.

So many people are stuck on feeding their dogs from a bowl and that food is a great thing to use for training and teaching the dog that nothing in life is free. A food bowl that just sits there all day with food in it is free food. A dog that has to work for his food will appreciate it more, learn that good stuff comes from his owner, and it is mentally stimulating to have to search and find the food.

My suggestion for creative ways to feed your dog is to hide food around the house and have the dog find it, put the dogs food in a buster cube or toy that holds food and when the dog knocks it around the food comes out, stuff Kongs with peanut butter, cream cheese, or squirt cheese, and mix in some kibble if you want, leave out nylabones or appropriate chew bones and get creative. This can help with separation anxiety and prevent the dog from boredom and save your furniture from being chewed.

I also mentioned impulse control and an example of this would be to have your dog sit, stay, or do something for his food and then be released to go and eat. One game that I love to play with dogs to teach impulse control is a game called, “Go wild and freeze”. The game works best when the family plays with the dog. Each family member could have a few treats on them before they start the game. To help reinforce good behavior. Someone will yell “go Wild” and everyone runs around playing with the dog and then someone will yell “freeze” and everyone will freeze, but the person closest to the dog will ask the dog to sit. When the dog sits, give him a treat, and then the game can continue. Soon, the dog will just freeze because everyone else did and the reward will be to get the “go Wild” cue again. This not only teaches impulse control, but is mentally stimulating, and gives the dog exercise. I love it when an activity gives you more bang for your buck. 🙂

One can also use the dogs food to get him used to being handled (your vet will appreciate it if you got your dog used to being handled). Take a handful of his dog food and as you give it to him at the same time with the other hand massage his shoulder, neck, ears, paws, but do this slowly and if the dog pulls away, STOP feeding. With every handful of food you feed touch and massage a different spot on your dog. This will help the dog pair the food with the touch and soon you will have a dog that likes to be touched.

Give your dog a job! Don’t just take him to the dog park, do something constructive with him. Research your dogs breed and find an activity that will suit that breed. My border collie and husky mix’s job is agility and canine freestyle. I tried herding with them and they loved it, but I did not. However, they love agility and doing canine freestyle. My border collie also has another job to fetch a frisbee, ball, and play. My husky mix is starting tracking and I am sure she will love that. So, find an activity you can get your dog into. It will keep you both busy and having fun together. Just about any breed can do agility, canine freestyle, tracking, carting, rally obedience, play fetch, or dock dive but the point is to get them into something and spend time with them. Don’t just get your cup of coffee and let them do whatever they want at the dog park. Dog’s at the dog park could be teaching your dog bad habits and your dog could have a bad experience there. It is our responsibility as a dog owner to do the very best for our dog and that includes keeping them out of danger and setting them up to succeed.

Lastly, give your dog the companionship they deserve. Dogs are pack animals and love being with their humans and other dogs. Take them places, hang out, massage them, treat them well, make sure you know the other dogs you let them play with, respect and love them as a dogs life is too short and hopefully your dog is your best friend.

So, get out there and start having fun with your dogs & make their life enriching!

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