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Dogs are social, curious animals that do not handle boredom and isolation well. When left to their own devices, unemployed, under-exercised dogs will find something to do. Guaranteed. Sadly, a dog’s interpretations of fabulous options for entertainment are usually annoying or dangerous: excavation of the yard, the art of escape, recreational barking, and recreational chewing are typical pursuits of the bored pet dog.
It doesn’t have to be that way; with a little planning and creativity, you and your best friend will remain friends for a very long time.
- The “Feed the Ducks” technique. Instead of plopping Sasha’s entire meal down in front of her all at once, take the bowl outside and scatter her kibble all over the backyard, as if you were feeding ducks. We do this with Betty, our high-drive pointer and it takes her 45 minutes per meal to “hunt” down every last piece of kibble. Betty has been bred to hunt and every fiber in her body is programmed to do just that. As a bonus, she loves to eat. Ta-da! Two primary motivators in one game. When she’s done ferreting out each morsel from the grass, Betty takes a nap, which of course, is very rewarding for us.
- The “Work to Repast” technique. There are several interactive toys on the market that can be stuffed with food. Toys like the Buster Cube and Kong Wobbler dispense a few pieces of kibble with each bat of a paw. Check out www.kongcompany.com for an array of toys that can be easily stuffed with food.
- The “Safari.” Stuff five or more interactive toys with Buddy’s meal and hide them around the yard. Think of the fun he’ll have searching for each toy, settling down to clean it out, then tracking down the next installment. Vary the hiding places each day to keep the game interesting. Kong toys are dishwasher safe – no need to worry if food particles are stuck inside.
- Games. If your dog is motivated by play or attention, try livening things up with games. It doesn’t take much time to play Hide and Seek, Find Your Favorite Toy, or Fetch to exercise a dog’s brain and body. I suggest reserving one or two very special toys that Buddy only sees during these games. I once had a dog who would practically do handstands for an opportunity to play with his “training squeaky.”
Tricks. Take a few moments each day to teach your dog tricks. Rollover, play possum, balance a biscuit on the nose, and crawl are just a few tricks that can be taught fairly quickly. I love teaching tricks because there’s no pressure to succeed. After all, we’re just having fun…everyone can relax and enjoy the process. Dogs love learning tricks because humans are so charmed by even marginal success. Imagine if we were as excited each time our dogs performed “sit” or “come” as we are when they “shake hands” or “high five.”
Note: This best-of article was originally published July 2, 2012