Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Enrichment Activities For Your Dog

You may be wondering why I'm writing this. Since I've become an "expat wife," I've had more time to spend with my husband, myself, friends, and my dogs. I've been able to pay more attention and be more aware of things than previously when I was working full time and commuting. One very important lesson I have become more aware of and painstakingly changed my habits to address, is that dogs need daily exercise, discipline, and structure. We all know this, but do you REALLY know what it means, and do you have it in you to commit to your furry companion the way you and they need? If you give your dog these things, you will find that you have a much healthier and happier dog (not constantly begging for attention or exhibiting destructive behaviors), and also an even better relationship with him/her.

I know that we all get busy, and it's hard to find time to take your dog on a walk sometimes, but it's good for both of you. Make some time to go after dinner to aid in digestion and reduce stress! The latter may have to wait until you have fully developed the proper leadership walk. What is it a leadership walk? It's walking with your dog in a way that helps you to establish leadership and bond with your dog. Keep them at your side or behind you and don't let them stop for a sniff until they have been walking obediently by your side (not trying to drag you to a shrub or pole to sniff!). It's not about being mean or aggressive. Stay calm, happy, and talk to your dog. The leadership walk is like saying, "Hey, I want to go for a walk and would like you to come with me," instead of "I'm willing to let your roam the neighborhood under my supervision." The former establishes that you are the pack leader, while the latter says you work for them. Get it? You are, most likely, going on a walk solely for their benefit, but remember that your actions during that walk will send a message to them. Think about it. Practice it. Enjoy it.

Anyway, let's get to toys. I was once the type that bought toys without really thinking about their purpose. I only thought of one purpose: play. I've realized recently that when you buy (or make) toys for your dog, you have to consider the purpose of the toy and what your dog needs. They can chew on and shred almost anything if you just throw it to them. Bones and dental chews are a great way to keep their jaws strong, teeth healthy, and to help them release some energy, but they need more than that. Would you want to do the same exercise or activity every day using the same muscles? I wouldn't. I would get bored and sore. Give them variety and pick toys with intention. For example, to give them some brain and nose exercise, you can play a game of hide the treat. You can use boxes, plastic containers, plastic plant pots, or any other item that can safely hide a treat. Make your dog wait (this may take some patience for both of you), and then after hiding the treats, give them a release phrase (ex: Free, Find it, etc.,). You may have to help them to find the treats the first few times. Another alternative is to buy a game. I use this one that I bought at TK-Max (TJ-Max for those of you in the USA):
I have her "sit" and "wait" while I had bits of dog food in the holes. Then, I say "Find the treat" to let her begin. Occasionally, she needs a little help.

For more exercise, a friend of mine introduced me to the Boomer ball. A game of fetch is great, but sometimes a different game is nice. A Boomer ball is a hard plastic exercise ball that they can push and toss around the yard.

Image from Amazon
Angel goes CRAZY with this ball. She pounces on it pushing it all around the yard and even tosses it in the air with her nose! She gets so out of breath that I have to stop her occasionally to make her take a break. Stopping her throughout play is also part of the exercise. It teaches her to listen to the command even when she's excited and to move into a more relaxed state of mind. This is very important, especially when you are in a public place. The boomer ball is also great exercise for dogs that have trouble with long walks. For example, Frog cannot go on walks around the city (or even make it to the park via sidewalks) very often because he drags his feet when he walks causing his nails to chip on the pavement and bleed. The Boomer ball gives him more opportunities to exercise throughout the day.

Use this ball in an enclosed area and outside only. Purchase a size that is too big for them so that they cannot pick it up with their mouth. The idea is that they push it around with their nose and paws. Definitely keep an eye of them because they can get it stuck in shrubs (which they will then proceed to destroy to get the ball), under or over fences, or they may try to chew on it where there are grooves, which can damage their teeth over time. Also, they need you to establish those listen and rest rules.

Pushing the ball with her nose. She is actually running really fast here!

Frog is trying, but he hasn't gotten the hang of it just yet. He'll often just stand over it to claim it as his own.

For more information about how to stimulate your dog (and thanks to) check out:

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