Modern family life can be a bit harried so it may come as a surprise that many of our dogs are actually bored stiff. Luckily, helping dogs find enough to do has never been easier.
If the advertisements that we’re constantly bombarded with are anything to go by, most of us are in desperate need of a holiday. Pictures of easy-going ocean-side vacations with sun, fun, and sand promise naps in hammocks after long and lazy beach walks. Vacuuming robots exist. Restaurant ads offer a meal with no cooking required (and no clean-up either…heaven). Many people have, through necessity or desire, molded their lives to be very full indeed. Soccer on Monday, hockey on Thursday, homework from supper to bedtime, the dreary but somehow obligatory office book club the first Friday of the month, and so on and so forth and so on and so forth. It’s not a stretch to say that humans, in today’s digitally scheduled world, tend to be a bit overcommitted. Oversubscribed. Overdone.
So, this may come as a surprise: while many of us bipeds crave a little rest and relaxation, our dogs might be on the absolute other end of the spectrum: bored to the gills. We cast a jealous glance at them snuggled on the couch as we rush off to work, breakfast “sandwich” of toast and peanut butter wrapped hastily in wax paper and balanced precariously on top of the travel mug of burnt coffee. Dogs sleep all day, only awakening to mosey around the house, chewing on a chair leg and shedding a few more pounds of fur. “It’s a dog’s life” we mutter, hoping the construction on Fifth Street won’t make us late again.
So we want some R and R. But our dogs? Our dogs are typically in need of some E and E: exercise and enrichment.
Dogs Need Exercise
Considering what our doctors suggest to us about exercise—somewhere on the continuum of “gentle suggestion” to “pointed remark”—we are all pretty aware that exercise matters to our physical health. The very same is, unsurprisingly, true for dogs. I’m not talking about a ten-minute leash walk, either (but don’t hang up the leash in despair: see the other “E”, below). For many dogs, their exercise needs can better be met by activities that raise the heartbeat a bit more thoroughly, like fetch games, tug, dog play, or jogging.
If your K-9 kid currently has a life with a relatively high snooze-on-the-couch-factor, it’s probably time to ramp up their activity (talk to your vet if you have any questions about their suitability, of course). The biggest thing is that you make this easy on yourself. Can you schedule a ten-minute tug session while the casserole bubbles, three times a week? Can your oldest be tasked with playing fetch in the backyard after school, for ten minutes? Since kids aren’t always that great at getting stuff done, make it worth their while: the one kid who manages ten minutes of fetch with Fido gets out of dish duty that day. Do not scoff at play (both with you and with other dogs) as a great way to tire out a dog.
Exercise can seem like a bit of a chore, especially to start. Make a promise to yourself and your dog that you’ll do it for at least two weeks, despite it feeling like drudgery at first. Habits form in a couple of weeks, and it will seem much easier at that point. Enjoyable, even. In fact, add it to your calendar right now, for the next 14 days. That will allow you to cross it off as you do it every day, which is pretty satisfying in itself.
Dogs Need Enrichment
The idea of “enrichment” is being tossed around quite a bit these days in the dog world, and for good reason: enrichment matters for dogs’ welfare. Like physical activity is an exercise for the body, enrichment is an exercise for the brain. And if you want a tired, happy family dog, then you must address both the body and the brain. Luckily, enrichment is not tricky to add to your dog’s life.
The easiest way to enrich your dog’s life is to get him playing. Play ticks off both the exercise and enrichment boxes at the same time so is efficient if your time is short. Do you have a dog park nearby? Even a few trips to the dog park every week can have a noticeable effect on your dog. Or perhaps you have a neighbor with both friendly dogs and a fenced yard, and you can pop over there a couple of times a week. They might also be willing to loan you those books for your office book club, and tell you what they’re about—a savings of 15 bucks and a minor amount of mental anguish.
Another fantastic source of canine enrichment comes from food toys. There are many types of food toys available now, so pop over to your local pet store and grab a few to try. Puzzles, stuff-able types, you name it. The point is to get your dog working for their dinner. Aim for a couple of meals per week in a food toy. Free food in a bowl might seem like a wonderful bit of charity, but don’t forget: our dogs are largely bored stiff. Giving them food for free is a wasted opportunity. If you have a Pet Tutor® and a Puppod
let your dog bat it around to earn their supper. In fact, any training with food is a great way for your dog to work for their supper, so sign up for a fun obedience or tricks class, or find any of the numerous great online tricks programs to work through.
Finally, leash walks are a great way to enrich your dog’s life. Have you been feeling like it’s time to pull out your old sneakers and get the heart pumping a few times a week? Your dog will be your willing, very willing, partner. They can trot along beside you sniffling to their heart’s content, taking in all the neighborhood news (and adding their own comments too of course). If you can, let them lead with their nose and stall when and where they want.
It is indeed an unfortunate incongruity that dogs need more to do in today’s busy world when humans generally want nothing more than to curl up and snooze the afternoon away. A lot of the ways we can meet dogs’ exercise and enrichment needs can be slotted in around existing commitments, though, or can be delegated to (properly motivated, of course) family. And the benefits are huge: the old maxim of tired dog is a good dog has some real truth. When it’s finally time for you to settle onto the couch with a glass of wine, your dog will be snuggled in beside you, resting blissfully. And he won’t be dreaming about gnawing on your chair legs anymore, either.
Kristi Benson is an honors graduate of the Academy for Dog Trainers , where she earned her Certificate in Training and Counseling. She lives and works in the Parkland Region of central Manitoba, Canada, where she teaches dog obedience classes and helps dog owners in private consultations – both in-person and via video chat – for a full range of dog problems, from basic obedience to fear and aggression. Kristi is also on staff at the Academy for Dog Trainers, helping to shape the next generation of canine professionals. Kristi’s dogs are rescue sled dogs, and for fun, she runs them with a dog-powered scooter and on skis. Contact her through her website, and check out her blog, Facebook page, or Twitter for training tips, articles about dogs and training, and more.