Enriching Your Dog's Life
Boredom and excess energy are two common reasons for behavior problems in dogs. This makes sense because they're meant to lead active lives. Wild dogs spend about 80% of their waking hours hunting and scavenging for food. Domestic dogs have been helping and working alongside us for thousands of years, and most are bred for a specific purpose, such as hunting, farming or protection. For example, retrievers and pointers were bred to locate and fetch game and water birds. Scent hounds, like coonhounds and beagles, were bred to find rabbits, foxes and other small prey. Dogs like German shepherds, collies, cattle dogs and sheepdogs were bred to herd livestock.
Whether dogs were working for us or scavenging on their own, their survival once depended on lots of exercise and problem solving. But what about now?
Today's Job Description: Couch Potato
Today that's all changed. Now the most common job description for dogs is Couch Potato! While we're away at work all day, they sleep. And when we come home, we serve them free food in a bowl—no effort required from them. They eat more calories than they can use. The result is dogs who are bored silly, often overweight and have too much energy. It's a perfect recipe for behavior problems.
What Does Your Dog Need?
It's not necessary to quit your job, take up duck hunting or get yourself a bunch of sheep to keep your dog out of trouble. However, we encourage you to find ways to exercise her brain and body. Read on for some fun, practical ways to enrich your dog's life, both when you're around and when you're not. You'll find that these ideas go a long way toward keeping your dog happy and easier to live with. Try out a few and see what you and your dog enjoy most.
Tips for Alone Time
Because we all lead busy lives, our dogs often end up spending a good portion of their day home alone. If you give your dog “jobs” to do when she's by herself, she'll be less likely to come up with her own ways to occupy her time, like unstuffing your couch, raiding the trash or chewing on your favorite pair of shoes. Plus, she'll be less likely to enthusiastically tackle you when you come home, after she's spent a day doing nothing but recharging her batteries!
K-9 to 5: Will Work for Food
Food puzzle toys
Food puzzle toys are sturdy containers, usually made of hard rubber or plastic, that hold food or treats inside but don't give dogs easy access to the food. They usually have holes on each end or on the sides, and dogs must work by shaking, pawing, rolling, nibbling or licking the toy to get the food to come out. Food puzzle toys require time, patience and problem-solving—all skills that are good for your dog and will help her enjoy quiet time alone. Since our dogs' wild counterparts spend much of their time scavenging for food, food puzzle toys offer a natural solution to pet-dog boredom. Puzzle toys also encourage chewing and licking, which can have a calming effect on dogs.
Examples of food puzzle toys include KONG® Toy, the Buster® Cube, the Tricky Treat™ Ball, the Tug-a-Jug™, the Twist ‘n Treat™, the Atomic Treat Ball™ and the TreatStik®. You can find these toys online or at most major pet stores. Feed your dog at least one meal a day in a food puzzle toy to give her brain and jaws a great workout. You can also stuff these toys with your dog's favorite treats or a little peanut butter, cottage cheese, cooked oatmeal or yogurt.
When you first introduce your dog to a food puzzle toy, make it really easy for her to empty it. She's probably accustomed to getting her food served in a bowl, so she has some learning to do! Choose a toy with a large dispensing hole and make sure the goodies you put inside the toy are small enough to come out easily. As your dog becomes an expert, you can make it harder and harder for her to get food out of her toys. Use bigger pieces or food or, to provide an extra challenge, freeze the toys after stuffing them. You can also place the frozen toys inside a cardboard box or oatmeal tub so that your dog has to rip through the cardboard container to get to her meal. For recipes and detailed pointers on how to stuff a KONG® food puzzle toy, please see our article, How to Stuff a KONG® Toy.
Hunting for dinner
You can make your dog hunt for her meals by hiding stuffed food puzzle toys or small piles of her kibble around your house. Hide one of your dog's meals right before you leave her home alone, and she'll have great fun hunting her chow while you're away. To try a variation on this activity, scatter a couple handfuls of kibble around your yard so your dog can search for the pieces in the grass. Most dogs love this game!
Dogs of all ages need to chew. Both wild and domestic dogs spend hours chewing to keep their jaws strong and their teeth clean. They also chew for fun, for stimulation and to relieve anxiety. Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, it's important to provide a variety of appropriate and attractive chew toys, like Nylabones® and hard rubber toys, natural marrow bones, rawhide and pig ears.
Although chewing behavior is normal, dogs sometimes chew on things we don't want them to. Giving your dog plenty of her own toys and chewies will help prevent her from gnawing on your things. However, if she's still confused and you need help teaching her what's okay to chew and what isn't, please see our article entitled Destructive Chewing.