Most breeds of dogs commonly found in American households, were bred for a purpose, other than sitting on laps or snoozing at their humans' feet. Terriers were bred to hunt and unearth critters, sporting dogs were bred to run huge swaths of land, swim, and retrieve, while herding dogs and working dogs, well, that's pretty self-explanatory.
So why are we surprised when we find that our terriers have dug up the back yard, the Visla has run a track around the backyard chasing butterflies, the Lab has chewed off all the sprinkler heads, and the Corgi has taken to nipping the kids as they run around the yard? All these "problem behaviors" are really just symptoms of the dogs' needs not being met.
Since we have taken these purpose-bred dogs out of their "genetic" environments and typically cannot provide them with the proper outlets to do what they were bred to do, what is the solution? Well aside from signing up for hunting or herding lessons, there *are* things we can do to help our dogs fulfill their natural needs.
Dogs need both mental and physical exercise, on a daily basis. And yet, you may be surprised, it does not need to be for hours on end. Basic enrichment activities can not just help your dog be more content, but also can accomodate for most people’s busy schedules. Most enrichment games and activities can take 30 minutes or less, yet will have a lasting impact on your dog's well-being.
Some ideas for mental exercise are;
- food puzzles/toys - dogs should NOT be eating the majority of their meals out of a bowl! Food toys and puzzles are ideal, but other options are scattering food in the backyard or even in a clean hard floored area for your dog to forage, or even feeding your dog his/her meal via a training session. No cost food puzzles can be made from household items such as paper towel rolls, rolled up towels, empty water bottles, etc. Foraging for food consumes both mental and physical energy, as well as frees up time for the human half. Frozen food meals or treats in feeder toys can be made ahead of time, then delivered when needed.
- hard chews - dogs who have good health/teeth should be allowed to chew on a regular basis. Hard chewing is both a physically exerting AND mentally soothing activity for most dogs. Chews can be consumable, such as raw marrow or knuckle bones, or hard edible chews available on the market (bully sticks, Himalayan chews, beef trachea, etc), or, they can be "non-edible" such as Nylabones. Either way, giving you dog a variety of chewing options will not just save your family’s shoes and baseboards, but your sanity too.
- sniffing! Yes, we said it. Sniffing, while on walks, is a GOOD thing. Dogs have "300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. And the part of a dog's brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours!"* Which means, they WANT to explore the world through their noses! Getting your dog out on a more natural terrain such as a park, or even better, a nature trail, on a longer lead, and letting them explore the environment through their nose is a FAR better means of wearing them out than a comparable walk around the neighborhood sidewalk. Try it out, you may be surprised!
- training - using positive reinforcement-based training to teach your dog new skills, or even just fun tricks, is a great way to wear out their mind. What you train isn't so important as the "game" of training itself. Dogs that learn that problem solving can have rewarding outcomes will be the most eager and dedicated learners, as well as easier to communicate with!
We do many of these enrichment activities with our training and Montessori program dogs here at Dogs Abound. Feel free to contact us with questions, or for more information.
* reference; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogs-sense-of-smell.html