There is little doubt that no matter how much we love our dogs, the friendship can get somewhat strained if we come home to destruction or soiling inside. It’s even worse if our relationship with our neighbours and the council is threatened because our pooch has been barking all day or repeatedly escapes despite our best efforts to keep him confined.
There are numerous causes for these types of behavioural problems but one aspect of a treatment programme that can help to reduce these unwanted activities involves providing more stimulation and unpredictability in the dog’s routine. While some owners react by confining the dog or tying it up so that its annoying habits are not so widespread, this will tend to add to the potential stress and/or boredom the dog feels and will make matters worse in the long run. A far better strategy is to implement as many of the following recommendations as possible.
There are marked individual differences in the requirements for stimulation and activity that a dog requires – some are happy to be lounge (or lap) lizards while others like to be on the go all day. Don’t be concerned if you only have a small back yard – the area available is far less important than what takes place there.
IDEAL FOR OWNERS SHORT ON TIME
Some activities that our dogs enjoy can be provided without the need for a lot of additional time on our part. Most dogs enjoy eating but will eat their meal very quickly. We can make this activity more challenging by providing at least some of their ration stuffed inside a “Kong” (a sturdy, hollow, rubber toy) or within a training treat ball (which the dog must roll around to allow pieces of food to drop out). This can extend eating time from a few minutes to half an hour or more. Providing raw bones to chew on is also worthwhile. Monitor your pets if you have more than one, to ensure bones and toys don’t trigger aggression between them. Don’t leave all the toys out all the time or they will become “humdrum”. Offer a different toy every day
Some dogs become frustrated because they can smell and hear activities going on outside their yard but are unable to see out. Providing a couple of escape proof “windows” in solid fences can help. If your dog enjoys digging then providing a sand pit for this purpose can save the rest of your garden, while meeting the dog’s needs. A bird bath, a secure aviary or caged bird, if you enjoy these, can help provide some added entertainment for the dog. These things take time to set up initially but provide a permanent source of enrichment for the dog in the long term. Even a short game of throw and retrieve can allow a substantial amount of aerobic activity in a relatively confined space. Ensure you control when the game starts by having your dog sit quietly first and control finishes by putting the toy away while your dog is still interested in playing. Different items can be chased – including balls, squeaky toys, Kongs, or frisbees which are specifically designed to be long lasting and easy for dogs to pick up. Some dogs prefer to play soccer with a little encouragement from you. Aussie Dog make some wonderful toys including the Home-alone range, and they are pretty indestructible. They make toys for the animals at the Zoos so we are sure they would have something for you. Check out other toys online like the “go-bone” that can occupy your pet when you are away from home with spontaneous play programs. Scatter their morning meal in the grass, or place special treats throughout the yard for “hide & seek”.
QUALITY TIME WITH YOUR DOG
Stimulating your dog’s mind is just as important as giving him physical activity. Some basic obedience work, either at home or in a class situation, can assist you in having better control of your dog as well as giving him a mental work-out. We recommend Point Cook Dog Training for classes in our area. Dog trainers use different methods so be sure to find one that uses a gentle positive reinforcement and reward approach. You may need to shop around for the trainer you like. Before selecting a training group, go to a class without your dog to see if you feel comfortable with the instructor and their methods. Dogs who love to run and play will often benefit from agility work or nose works (scent training). The amazing team at Point Cook Dog Training also offer these classes. If your dog has more energy than sense, Flyball is amazing and highly competitive, not just for the dogs, but also the humans. For the working breeds check out Digger Herding – yep, I kid you not, they can go to herding school and sharpen their breed instincts. Even if you are not a traditional working breed, you are not excluded – check out some of the hilarious videos of pugs and dachshunds on YouTube rounding up sheep like pros.
Alternately, have you considered Dog Day Care? Just like children, many dogs love having a romp with friends and if you are working long hours this can be a way of getting them some exercise and stimulation while you are at work. Then you can both sit down in the evening and chill on the couch after a productive day.
Making time to ensure your dog has regular walks can be difficult but even 20 minutes a day can make a difference. Obviously, longer or more frequent sessions are even better providing your dog has no health issues preventing this. Your local council can advise you of the location of “Off-leash” areas where your dog is permitted to run off lead. If you are in Wyndham, check out this link for locations – https://www.wyndham.vic.gov.au/services/pets-animals/caring-your-pets/dog-lead-areas. Consider the use of a head halter such as a “Gentle Leader” or “Halti” if you have problems with your dog pulling or being unruly on a lead, or a dual attachment point harness like those made by Blackdog. Having a fixed harness will not work with a dog that pulls, just think about what happens when we put a horse in a harness in front of a cart, IT PULLS.
Swimming is another pastime that many dogs enjoy and is particularly good for any individuals with arthritis. There are local canine swimming pools in this area at Rothwell Run in Little River, Pet Hotel in Lara and Kepala in Tullamarine or you may have access to a beach or lake where dogs are permitted, like Werribee South, Williamstown and Altona beaches or Presidents Park in Wyndhamvale. Word of warning though, use caution at these sites in Summer as snakes like to exercise in these locations as well.
Some owners consider getting another dog as a source of activity for their current dog. Unfortunately, there is a risk that your problems may be doubled by this approach. A better solution, if possible, is to have another dog visit or arrange to meet on your outings. Not all dogs will welcome the company of others but if they can be monitored closely during the initial stages then many will go on to become a great source of fun for one another.
WHAT ABOUT CATS?
Cats can also be destructive and some will have amplified hunting behaviours seeking out and attacking owners when they least expect it, leaving some wounded and scarred (the owners that is). As you can see some cats, like Puckers, will happily go for a walk on a lead while others would rather flop and sulk. There are an enormous number of toys out there to entertain your cats. “Ferret-in-a-bag” is an old classic, it’s a crinkly bag with a ball that has spontaneous motion and a fluffy tail that sticks out of the bag. Its movement will stimulate the inner hunter in your fearless feline. Kong make the Cat Wobbler, Kickeroo’s and other cat play toys. Laser toys can also be great fun. And a plug for Kmart, keep your eye on their pet section, they have some amazing toys. Don’t forget the humble box or paper bag, cats and kids alike can have hours of fun with these items, and you can hide food treats in them as an extra reward. Also never forget the value of some safe outdoor play, a cat run will keep your kitty safe from harm and can be great fun for the family to decorate. It can be as simple as a big rabbit hutch or bird aviary (especially if you are in a rental) to netting in an area such as an unused sideway.
If you need some further advice on how to engage your companions brain, or on recommendations for training and stimulating products, feel free to drop us a line at the clinic on 03 9369 1822 or book an appointment online.