Boredom is by far the biggest cause of behavioural issues in our dogs! Do you have issues with barking, separation anxiety, digging or destructive chewing? Unfortunately, we see a fair amount of this in our patients at McDowall Vets and most pet owners have experienced at least one of these problem behaviours. It’s extremely common, especially as these days we often have less and less time to spend with our pets – inevitably, we all have to work or leave our pets alone at some stage. Altering these problem behaviours can seem like an impossible task, and it’s very difficult to know where to start. Enrichment is a perfect way to ensure they are not bored while we are away, and we can use it to curb boredom related behaviour in our dogs.
Enrichment describes the process of providing a stimulating environment to an animal to keep them busy and interested. This type of training has been used in zoos for many years, and ensures that the animals in captivity are kept stimulated and don’t become bored. Boredom in zoo animals leads to stereotypical behaviours – these are abnormal repetitive behaviours that animals lacking stimulation perform to amuse themselves. This includes things like pacing, weaving and destructive and aggressive behaviours. We see the same sort of stereotypical behaviours in our pets – barking, chewing, digging and escaping – the list goes on. So, if large scale zoos can manage to keep all of their animals entertained and busy using enrichment, surely it is doing something right! We have borrowed some of their great ideas and applied it to our pets to create a list of easy ways to keep them happy and stimulated.
• Food puzzle toys
The key to enrichment is to find out what drives your dog – and most dogs love their food! There are endless products on the market which are food related and which your dog will play with for hours! The Kong is the most famous example of this type of toy. Fill these toys with Fido’s favourite titbits – kibble pieces, cooked chicken, canned food, doggy treats and even small amounts of cheese or peanut butter. You can even make your own toy, by taking an old drink or milk bottle and filling it with food. Your dog will push around the bottle until the food falls out of the opening. If you’re using food puzzle toys frequently, feed your dog a little less at meal times.
• Hunting for dinner
Wolves and wild dogs hunt for every meal. Meal times for domesticated dogs are generally an unremarkable experience in comparison – we hand all of their meals to them in a bowl. We can make meal times more interesting for our pups by making them “hunt” for their food. This can be as simple as scattering biscuits along on the floor for your dog to gobble up, or as complex as hiding food in the backyard for your dog to sniff out. You can also give raw bones to your pup for them to chew – it can upset their belly however, so try to make this a sometimes treat.
An alternative to the hunting for dinner idea is the working for food idea. If your dog enjoys performing commands, feed some of their daily kibble in the form of rewards during training sessions. Remember, rewards can be given simply for being calm or not jumping up.
• Enrichment in hot weather
In summer, use of ice and water in toys is great enrichment but also will help your pup stay cool. Adding ice cubes to their water bowl is a simple way of doing this. You can also turn your food puzzle toys into ice blocks by adding water with your treats and freezing them. If your dog really likes water, taking them to your local beach or creek is a great way to keep them active and stimulated! Swimming is perfect exercise for older dogs. If this isn’t practical for you, try giving your pup water to play with in the backyard in the form of a sprinkler, hose or a small wading pool.
Walking is not only good exercise, but is extremely stimulating for dogs – especially to their sense of sight and smell. Try to make it a habit to take your pup for at least a short walk every day. Not only is it enriching for both of you, but helps control weight and provides a bonding experience between you and your pup.
• Social opportunities
If walking isn’t always practical for you, there are other ways to socialise your dog. Organise a puppy play date with a friend’s dog, or take your dog to your local off-leash area! Dogs are social animals, and will usually wear themselves out quite quickly playing with their friends. If you’re going for a drive to pick up the kids or through the drive thru to pick up dinner, a simple way to keep your dog stimulated is to take them along for the ride. This is also a good way to get nervous dogs used to the car! Remember, we always like to see our patients, even if it is just a social visit. Maybe stop by McDowall Vet on your drive so we can say hello!
Dogs that aren’t food motivated may be more interested in games as enrichment! Good games to play with your dog include active games like fetch or tug-of-war. Games like these are really great in terms of bonding with your dog, and also keep them happy and active. Use games as rewards for good behaviour, even if you only take 5 minutes out of your day for a quick game of fetch.
We hope that this has given you some ideas to help prevent boredom in your pets. Please feel free to call us on 3353 6999 if you would like to discuss any behavioural issues that your pet may be displaying.
Happy Enriching – McDowall Vets.