It all started when my dog began getting free roll over minutes. — Jay London
We Americans are staunch in our conviction that we must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, earn our keep, dance for our dinner.
But our dogs? Not so much.
A great majority of American dogs spend eight or more hours every weekday snoozing on the couch, waiting for their hardworking humans to come home and deliver dinner and a belly rub — free of charge.
It’s high time our dogs got off the continental breakfast bandwagon. After all, you don’t get somethin’ for nothin’. Am I right, folks?
OK, so I’m not suggesting you tell your dog to get a job or get out. But I would like to introduce you to the wide world of mental and physical stimulation for dogs.
We all know that a tired dog is a good dog. Start your dog’s day with a walk or a run before breakfast. This provides exercise, which drains energy and maintains fitness. It also offers the mental stimulation of moving beyond his small world, especially if you change your route regularly. Just make sure he “sits” and “waits” before fastening the leash and exiting the door. After all, an outing is a major life reward that should be earned.
And don’t stop there.
Instead of spooning your dog’s morning meal into a bowl and handing it over as the ultimate freebie, divide it in half. Stuff one half into one of the many food puzzle toys on the market and put that aside for when you leave for work. Take the other half and turn it into a game of Find It. Here’s how you play:
Have your dog “sit” and “stay.” Go to a room or section of the yard where he can’t see you, and hide small piles of his kibble in various places. When you’re done, instruct your dog to “find it.”
Set your dog up to succeed by easing him into the game. Food should be at least partially visible until your dog gets the hang of working his nose to find it. It’s not unusual to have to point him in the right direction initially. Gradually increase the difficulty as your dog’s sniffer proves itself worthy. Advanced games of Find It involve hiding treats and kibble in flowerpots, under cushions and behind furniture, rocks and trees. This kind of nose work is both physically and mentally exhausting. And it offers the added bonus of reinforcing training and the notion that you control all good things in life.
When your dog has successfully “found it” all, and when you’re ready to get on with your day, hide the food puzzle toy (offered in varying degrees of difficulty) that contains the other half of his breakfast and instruct him to “find it” before you leave the house. (Again, how well you hide it should correspond with the skill of your dog’s nose.) Voila! Mental and physical stimulation even in your absence. Repeat for dinner.
Countless toys and games of this nature exist for the pleasure and growth of you and your dog. Hide-and-Seek is a version of Find It that uses you as the ultimate reward. Fetch is a great game that reinforces training — “here, “drop it, “give,” “fetch” — and provides an awesome physical workout. Agility classes, pack hikes, playdates, trips to the dog park, and group or one-on-one training sessions are all forms of mental and physical stimulation that ward off boredom and all the behavioral problems that come with it.
Sorry, pups. No more free lunches!
Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com, and visit him at http://www.unclematty.com. Send your questions firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.
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