By Jennifer Kyzer, Master Trainer and Behavior Specialist
If your dog stares at you incessantly, barks at you, or paws and nudges you, he is demanding attention. But more notably, your dog may be bored.
The importance of mental stimulation is significant and cannot be understated. Interaction with your dog should be initiated by you. If your dog is demanding your attention, analyze your schedule, explore the time spent with your dog, and assess the exercise your dog is getting. On these chilly days, it can be challenging to get outside for the normal walks, much less make time for extended play-time. Try not to neglect your dog because of these challenges.Instead, learn some fun, interactive ways to mentally challenge your dog. Playing games, teaching obedience commands, and taking disciplined walks can help your dog be a well-behaved companion.
Playing games with your dog can be a fun, interactive way to provide mental and physical exercise for your dog. The find it game is a favorite at our house. Place your dog in a stay (or have someone hold him briefly) while you or your child hides a treat or two inside (behind a table leg, under a door, beside a bookcase, etc.) Come back to your pup and release them with, Go find it! Using an encouraging voice. If at first he doesn’t go for the treat, go near the hidden treat and continue to encourage with, Go find it! As he progresses with the game, you can hide treats in another room or even on a different floor of the house.My kids – and dogs – love this game and request to play it often!
Basic obedience commands (like sit, down, stay, come) are another great way to mentally stimulate your dog. Use sit and down together for puppy push-ups.Have your kids use a stopwatch to see how many push-ups the dog can do in thirty seconds. Keep a chart to document improvement. Work on stay in conjunction with the find it game. Start with your dog doing a thirty-second stay and work up to a few minutes. You can also use your dog’s natural talents to teach him a trick. Notice something your dog already does that is funny or cute, assign a name to the action, name it as he does it, and then reward him.Continue to name and reward until he will do the action on cue. For example, let’s say your dog picks up a toy, carries it to you, and drops it at your feet – that is clean up.Teach him to do it on command, or to drop the toy in his toy bucket. Have him pick up his own toys. Who knows, maybe the kids will follow suit!
As often as weather allows, incorporate a disciplined walk into your pup’s daily schedule. The disciplined heel walk is a key element to achieving a balanced dog – bored or not. Although we think of a walk as physical exercise, when you add the heel aspect, you add the mental exercise. A disciplined walk means walking your dog so that you are leading and he is following you, paying attention to you, and focused solely on the walking. Teaching your dog to follow you requires a calm, confident demeanor and a little skill. I recommend the long lead approach.Master the walk and see what a difference it makes in your dog’s overall personality.
All three of these suggestions – games, obedience, and the disciplined walk – will keep your bored dog engaged so he can achieve the balanced, calm personality we all desire for the dogs we love.
Published in Richmond Family Magazine, March 2013