There is a saying in the world of dog care and training: “Your dog is smarter than you think.” If you don’t give your dog something to do, he or she is going to find something to do. Chances are, you’re not going to like what they find for themselves.
Since the day I brought home my first dog, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, I have known this to be true. I was rewarded for my belief when I asked my canine trainer friend, Allison Jamison Woosley, for some advice on keeping dogs mentally stimulated, and she responded with the very same phrase.
The reasoning is simple according to Jamison Woosley. “Consider being trapped inside a house with absolutely nothing to do for eight or nine hours. Dog’s can’t watch TV or read a book, or even dust or vacuum to keep themselves occupied.
I think most humans, after a nap perhaps, would go stir crazy. It’s no different for your dog, and your dog is asked to do this in many cases day in, day out up to five days a week.”
When dogs create something to break up the monotony, we usually consider the results to be destructive. They will tear up shoes. They will rip the stuffing out of your couch. They will spend all day barking.
My Corgi, Bailey, spent her days chewing through the baby gates we used to keep her confined to the kitchen area. Even if your dog does manage to behave for the hours you’re gone, as Jamison Woosley puts it, “By the time you get home from work they are likely to be wound up and hyper for any interaction, right when you are exhausted from a long day of work.”
The good news is that it’s really pretty easy to keep your dog occupied. If your dog is like most, acquiring food or treats is a great motivator. You can even turn your dog’s breakfast into a game that lasts for much of their morning. Several different dog toy and product brands make puzzle games for your dog. Instead of putting food in their bowl, you put the food or treats inside the puzzle, and your dogs will spend hours getting it out. My favorite product brand is Kong because most of their toys are tough enough to withstand a lot of chewing.
Jamison Woosley suggests there are less expensive ways of doing the same thing, using empty paper towel rolls with the ends folded, or an empty peanut butter jar. Of course both will likely be shredded by the end of the day, which is better than your shoes.
One of my favorite suggestions by Jamison Woosley is the “Find It” game, which she describes this way.
“’Find It’ means something is buried and they should seek it out. Start easy by placing a treat on a chair and say ‘Find It.’ Offer praise when they get the treat. Eventually you can hide treats all over the house and when you leave, cue your dog to start the hunt game of ‘Find It’.”
Finally, if your dog is social, you might consider taking him or her to doggie daycare while you’re gone to work, or hiring a dog walker to break up the monotony and work out some excess energy. Even a few times a week can make a big difference.
For more on positive reinforcement training visit www.happydogky.com.