Improve Your Dog's To-do List
By Kim Boatman
It’s hard enough to keep up with your own to-do list, but do you ever stop to think about your dog’s daily schedule? If your best friend doesn’t receive plenty of mental and physical stimulation, your dog’s own to-do list could be a real yawner. That’s because, just like people, your dog can get stuck in a dull rut. It might seem like bliss to have nothing to do all day long, but it soon grows old for both humans and their furry pals.
It won’t wreak havoc with your own schedule to improve your canine chum’s daily routine. Check out our schedule makeovers that could put the spark back into your dog’s daily life. Here’s a look at the common signs of a bored dog -- and the fixes:
Doggie boredom surfaces in several behaviors. You might recognize your pal in one of these types:
- The couch potato “Some dogs have a natural tendency to rest and sleep,” says Daphne Robert-Hamilton, a certified pet dog trainer in Morgan Hill, Calif. But if your dog’s routine involves little more than a good morning snooze on its bed or the sofa followed by a midday snack, then an afternoon nap and a sleepy, yawn-filled greeting when you arrive home, it’s probably time for a makeover.
- The piner This dog spends its morning pining for your return, then waits longingly by the door all afternoon.
- The digger Left to its own devices, the digger happily starts its day excavating your favorite rosebush, then spends the afternoon tunneling under the back fence.
- The chewer That sock you dropped while carrying clothes from the dryer? It’s fair game for the chewer, which could spend much of its day gnawing on everything it shouldn’t.
“It’s not that we need to always supply our dogs with activities all the time,” says Robert-Hamilton. “A lot of it has to do with managing their environment, giving them plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation.”
If you’re ready to make over your dog’s daily routine, it helps to think like a dog, advises Laurie Luck, owner of the Maryland-based Smart Dog University and president of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Luck continually looks at everyday objects as potential entertainment and mental stimulation for her dogs. “Ask yourself, ‘How can my dog have fun with this?’” says Luck. Of course, she says, you’ll want to make sure that the objects you use are safe and that your dog won’t be able to create more of a mess than you can handle with good humor.
Acknowledging your dog’s basic nature helps, as well, when trying these makeovers:
- Off the couch If your dog is a couch pup, you needn’t try to put it through Olympian feats each day. Simply add an interesting walk in the morning or evening, varying your route, says Luck. Try playing games with modest obstacles, having your dog jump over a downed tree branch if it’s able to, for example. “Add a walk guided by your dog,” advises Luck. “Go wherever he wants to sniff. I think they get a real kick out of that. It’s encouraging enough for couch potatoes.”
- Lonesome no more You may be able to satisfy a couch potato with an intriguing evening walk, but how do you help a piner? Dogs with severe separation anxiety may need professional behavioral work, says Robert-Hamilton. If your dog is simply a bit lonely, think about having a friend, neighbor or dog walker come and take it for a stroll during your time away. Doggie daycare might be an alternative. Adopting another dog, if possible, could also help to ease your pet’s loneliness, along with your own.
- Entertained For piners, diggers and chewers looking for something to do during the day, both Luck and Robert-Hamilton suggest investing in a KongTime device. It releases Kongs -- little red toys -- stuffed with food or treats. With a timer, you control when the Kongs are dispensed. “Some dogs eat all their meals out of the bowl,” says Luck, who finds the KongTime a simple way to vary your dog’s routine. “With the stuffed Kongs, dogs have to actually work for their food. It gives your dog something to do in that eight-hour stretch when you’re gone, and it’s better than just 30 seconds of your dog inhaling its food.” Other suggestions include the Canine Genius Leo puzzle, which can also be stuffed with a treat, and the Gazillion Fetch a Bubble machine, which -- believe it or not -- blows bacon-scented bubbles.
Other enrichment ideas include hiding a treat in an empty tissue box or placing a stuffed Kong inside a paper lunch sack, then twisting it closed. These provide your dog with a puzzle to investigate and solve during the day. If you roll up balls of newspaper but only place a treat inside one ball, your dog will have to work to find the food reward. One word of caution: These ideas work best in a single-dog household. You don’t want your pups competing for treats.
Once you’re home, take the time to play similar games, say the experts. Have your dog guess which disposable cup hides a treat, or create a tunnel with blankets draped over kitchen chairs and encourage your dog to walk through it by offering a treat at one end. If your dog is a digger, block off a corner of your yard as a legal digging area, suggests Robert-Hamilton. Find an Earthdog event, designed for multiple breeds, such as dachshunds, that were originally bred as underground hunters. During such events, your pal can dig and wander through tunnels, Robert-Hamilton says. The American Kennel Club and other organizations post information online about upcoming Earthdog events.
Luck says, “If you can just change up your dog’s routine occasionally, it works.”
Kim Boatman is a journalist based in Northern California. She is also the managing editor of ExceptionalCanine.com. Boatman's work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals, and a frequent contributor to The Dog Daily.