One thing as a trainer I always stress the importance of mental stimulation. Not enough dogs get it. We are busy. We work away from home. We take the dog for a walk then want to relax for the evening. All day the dog has been napping their day away, waiting for us to return home. They move from their bed to the couch. Watched out the window a bit. If they are lucky, chewed something, hopefully an appropriate dog toy or treat. But mostly, they passed time waiting for your return (and dinner!). They have a pretty easy life. Sometimes, I wish I was a dog.
You’re probably a fantastic owner who buys good quality dog food, provides a comfy bed, and shops regularly for new toys. Your dog probably has at least a few sets of collars and leashes. Gets to go to the dog park and for car rides often, and goes walks daily. They are a part of your family, your best bud.
We put so much focus on ‘things’ that sometimes we forget what a dog really needs.
You love them unconditionally, yet, it drives you mad enough when they chewed the corner of the couch or steal food off the counter and eat the garbage that you threaten to find them a new home. We have all had those days when the thought creeps into the back of your mind. It can be incredibly difficult to put up with a dog with undesirable behaviours, and at some point, we just cannot deal with it anymore.
In a USA based study (by Jennifer Kwan and Melissa Bain), comparing reasons behind dogs being relinquished at three Sacramento animal shelters, a staggering 65% of owners indicated some type of behavioural reason as part of the influencing decision to give up their dog. In 2014-2015 the RSPCA (Australia) reported just under 70% of dogs euthanized were for behaviour related problems. Where have we gone so wrong? How is it possible that there are so many ‘bad dogs’?
Behavioural issues arise for many reasons, these are just a few:
Lack of training. Boredom. Instinctive behaviour we find unappealing: digging, chewing, using prey drive to go after animal we don’t want them to. If we found the behaviour appealing, we wouldn’t be calling it an issue! Learned behaviours and/or accidently reinforced unwanted behaviours.
If you find your dog performing stunts you did not ask for here is what you need to do.
Find out the cause of the behaviour. Ask yourself why does my dog dig? What caused my dog to chew the couch? Why does my dog like to corral the kids?
All dogs were purposed bred for something. Hunting, retrieving, herding... On top of that, they have natural desires like chewing. And all are opportunistic feeders; willing to catch a free meal wherever they can. Do a little bit of research on your dog’s breed(s) and find out where it originated from? You will likely find clues to their behaviours. When was the last time your dog got to fulfill that instinctive behaviour?
When a dog is physically restless they tend to find other ways to expel pent up energy. Their minds aren’t really any different. A dog that is mentally or physically frustrated will find a way to soothe their frustrations. This typically comes out in the form of an unwanted behaviour. Aside from that, they can’t help that their brain was wired to want to chase things, chew, dig, carry things in their mouths constantly, herding the kids around the house etc.
The best thing we can do is firstly understand the behaviour and then find a way to embrace it, and use it to our advantage. You can’t always stop the behaviour, but you can work to change it. Mold it into something useful. Embrace it. It is part of our dog.
A dog with high prey drive can easily be trained using toys as a reward.
Dogs bred for retrieving would just really like something to carry around with them, so give them something to carry, and play fetch. You’ll be the best human ever! Teach them how to fetch the newspaper, or find your car keys.
Have a hound dog? Play scent games with them. Hide treats for them to find around the house. Try a snuffle mat (you may need to google that one if you’re unfamiliar). Take them to some nose work classes.
Anxious or high strung dog? Use a food dispensing toy in place of a bowl at meal times. These are great games to keep them occupied and their mind off other things. You may need to help show them how to use them in the beginning. (Never leave your dog unattended with one, and replace them immediately if they become damaged).
Enhance your walks. Dogs go into “Zombie mode” when they just walk. It is not tiring for many dogs, no matter how long or far you travel on your walks. Add in jumps, get them going over, on top of things, try some urban parkour.
Border Collie always running circle around the kids? Time to find some sheep and try a hand at herding or agility.
One word: OBEDIENCE. Your dog finds this incredibly mentally tiring. You will benefit from having a dog with manners, they will listen better, it will enhance your relationship, and you’ll have cool tricks to show off to friends.
There are so many dog sports, clubs, groups, and organizations available. The internet is your best source for finding them. Get out, and try something new! Remember a tired dog is a good dog. A good dog equals a happy owner.
By Katie @Pet_IQ
Katie is a Pet Industry Consultant, Dog Trainer, Rescuer, PetCoach Advisor, and specializes in “All things dog”. She proudly shares her home with three lovely rescue mutts, and one special foster.