Dogs need to be stimulated, both mentally and physically. Most breeds of dogs were developed to perform specific jobs for people, such as guarding, herding and hunting—work that demands great physical stamina and intense mental concentration. Without a “job” to do every day, our companion canines can become bored—at the very least. In general, a stimulated dog is a better-behaved dog. If the dog is physically spent, he is much less likely to engage in a variety of problem behaviors.Physical Exercise: Most dogs benefit from a minimum of two outings a day. If the dog is trained to come when called, it’s ideal if you can exercise him off-leash in a safe area. The first outing of the day should be 45-60 minutes, early in the morning, especially if the dog is going to be left alone all day. The second outing can be shorter, around 30-45 minutes. Strenuous aerobic exercise is best, such as off-leash running/play with other dogs, running alongside a bicycle, swimming, playing fetch games, accompanying a jogger, or running on a treadmill. (Yes, there are treadmills specifically made for dogs, but canines can also be trained to run on human treadmills.) If your dog is a habitual couch potato, check with your veterinarian before staring an exercise program. You’ll need to build your dog up gradually, the same as you would with a person unaccustomed to exercise. Puppies who are still growing should never be made to do any exercise or activity in which they are forced to keep moving. Playing with other puppies or people is the best exercise for a puppy. If your dog has hip dysplasia or some other type of physical problem that limits his ability to exercise, swimming is an excellent option.Mental stimulation: Dogs enjoy searching and working for their food, so rather than simply giving your dog his food in a bowl, give him his dinner in a Kong, a Goodie Ship, or a Buster Cube. Hide small containers of food around the house and let him find them. Take his bowl of food and toss the kibble into the backyard so he has to snuffle around in the grass to find it.Training is another excellent way to stimulate a dog’s brain. You can practice basic obedience behaviors, teach tricks, or set up a few obstacles in your backyard for your dog to navigate. Short sessions of 5-10 minutes once or twice a day are best. Keep it light and fun for the dog, with plenty of rewards for good behavior. There are unlimited activities that you and your dog can become involved in together, such as agility, flyball, tracking, search and rescue, pet visitation, clicker training, herding, freestyle dancing, etc. Ask your local Certified Professional Dog Trainer for guidance.
BREED-BASED ACTIVITIES FOR BORED DOGS
There was a time when every dog had a job. The border collie herded sheep, and the komondor guarded them. The Siberian husky moved the men of the North, while the Alaskan malamute hauled freight. Depending on geography and game, any number of breeds helped bring home dinner. Meanwhile, back at the homestead, terriers kept busy chasing the fox out of the henhouse and exterminating any vermin that crossed their path. Today, unemployment has hit the dog world hard. And without work, all too many of our canine companions occupy themselves with destructive chewing and digging. They liven up their days with choruses of barks and howls, and generally worry themselves into a dither. In other words, they are bored and underexercised! The solution is increased exercise and structured play.
Exercise A walk around the block or a ten-minute romp in the backyard several times a day is minimal exercise, and is not enough to meet the average dog's needs. Active breeds (dogs from the sporting, herding, hound, and terrier groups, northern breeds, or any mixtures of these) and virtually all adolescents (dogs who are six to 18 months old) require much, much more. Brisk on-leash jogging, race walking, or strolling several miles can tire out Bonkers. Playing Frisbee or retrieving a tennis ball in a fenced-in enclosure is wonderful aerobic exercise. Road working your dog by bicycle or in-line skates can tire out the likes of just about any boxer or Doberman.
Make sure you have veterinary approval for any of these high-level activities, especially if your dog has been the neighborhood couch potato lately. Start slowly in order to build up your dog's stamina, strengthen his muscles, and toughen the pads of his feet.
If your canine is dog friendly, the neighborhood dog run is the urban owner's best friend. What could be better than a safe, fenced-in area where your dog can run off-leash with his own kind? But it is important to be sure that you are able to call your dog out of the play group (and that your dog will respond appropriately) in case there is an emergency and everyone needs to swiftly get hold of his or her own dog.
Structured Play Base your play on the jobs your dog's forefathers used to perform. Most golden and Labrador retrievers, for example, are naturals at water retrieving tennis balls or nubby rubber bumpers. Corgis and border collies are in seventh heaven when herding a giant boomer ball. Bichons frises and Maltese delight in trick training. Beagles will excel at biscuit hunts around your property.
Many dogs enjoy a rousing game of tug of war, but beware: teaching a dog that he is stronger than you can be hazardous to your health! If the dog growls in a menacing manner (as opposed to a play growl) or stiffly stands over the tug toy and snarls, abort the game. This activity is not appropriate for your dog. Perhaps he'll do better with one of the many food-dispensing toys on the market. Make him work for his breakfast kibbles!
Remember that as the leader you must always be in control of these games—when, where, and for how long Bonkers gets to play. Increasing your exercise time together may just add a sparkle to the eye and a spring to the step for both of you!
By Jacque Lynn Schultz, CPDT Companion Animal Programs Advisor ASPCA National Shelter Outreach
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