Most people are aware of how to care for their canine companions physical health needs, however the mental well being of dogs is often still not given the attention it needs. Good psychological health means your dog will have a more enjoyable life, and you and the community will be saved from behavioural problems such as nuisance barking and destructive behaviours.
Here are a few tips on how to keep your dog entertained and happy:
Outside is Good!
Teach your dogs that spending time outside and on their own is good! They don’t need you around to have a good time. Give them treats and scatter feed in the yard so they have little surprises to hunt for. Give them bones or a sand pit – whatever they love to do, make sure they spend time outside having a good time on their own with and without you at home. Start with short periods of time (30 seconds) and build it up slowly. Don’t give the dog a chance to begin to vocalise or get wound up before returning to your dog.
If your dog barks and scratches at the door try to ignore it – Don’t talk to them, don’t look, don’t comfort them and don’t touch them. These are all rewards that we offer for behaviour that we would like our dogs to repeat for us.
If Outside is TOOOOOO stimulating:
For many dogs problems start when they are outside and don’t know how to relax. Teach your dogs that they don’t have to run around all the time they are outside.
Spend time outside relaxing and encouraging your dog to relax as well. If this is still too much you may need to reduce the stimulation visually and audio stimulation, This may need you to find an appropriate denning or crating space (see woaw’s web page on crating).
Going to and from work…
It is important that your dog doesn’t think of you leaving home in the morning as a bad thing. If your dog gets stressed or upset by your leaving, it is important that you reduce the effect that leaving home has on your dog. You can provide distractions such as scatter feeding, kong toys, treat balls, bones, ice-blocks, wading pools, digging pits and hanging toys to help keep your dog busy and having fun while you are away.
Try not to make a fuss of your dog when you leave in the morning or when you arrive home at night. Many people like to spend a good 20 minutes saying goodbye to their dog before they leave and hello games when they get home, but this is often the worse thing you can do. This can get your dog aroused and can build anxiety levels which then get the dog all wound up before you have even left home. Try throwing your entertainment out for the dogs 10, 20, 30, 40 or 60 minutes before you leave – vary it. Don’t let your dogs sit and watch you get ready. When it’s time to go, leave your dogs doing their thing with the bones and toys – don’t distract them to say goodbye, just go.
Remember to throw your kongs and toys out sometimes when you are home as well. The idea is for your dogs not to know the difference between you leaving or staying, so mix it up a bit! Variety is the spice of life!
When you get home say hi by all means, but don’t get them too excited. Go inside and put all your things down, change your clothes and have a breather, then go out and have your afternoon game or walk. Again vary the time that this happens and how long it happens for. Don’t let your dog always know what is coming next.
Too much routine can be a bad thing…
While there are many benefits to setting up a good routine when you first get your puppy home, this routine can sometimes get you into trouble later on. Some dogs learn to rely so much upon their routine that when something goes a little differently they start to show signs of stress. If your dog is beginning to show signs of stress when being left on it’s own, have a look at your ‘routine’. Do you take the dog for a walk at the same time everyday? Do you walk the same way? Do you feed your dogs and put them to bed at the same time each day? Do you play with them at the same time?
If your dog becomes too dependent on an everyday routine, they may not be able to cope with change.
Other things you can do the help enrich your dogs lives and keep their mind active are:
- Provide regular exercise outside the yard.
- Dogs need to burn off all their energy or else it can be channelled into nuisance behaviours. Time outside the yard provides mental stimulation; even dogs in the biggest yards can become bored if not taken out regularly.
- To cater for your dog’s mental health needs, the exercise requirement of young active dogs can be at least 30 minutes, twice a day, every day!
Attend formal training classes.
As well as teaching your dog manners, training also provides socialization and some much needed mental stimulation. At the RSPCA we promote positive reinforcement with training aids such as gentle leaders and head halters to help our guardians and canines achieve the best results that we know you and your canine companions are capable of.
“Away from home play”
Consider activities such as agility courses, fly ball, trips to the beach or park etc.