A recent client had a 8-month old Labrador who was causing a little bit of trouble in the home. Nothing major – stealing toys from the kids and playing keep-away, finding boxes outside and shredding them, carrying wood from the woodpile — all attempts to get some interaction and exercise.
I asked how much exercise the dog got and the owner enthusiastically said "He gets at least two walks a day!" For an 8-month old dog bred to work hard all day, two walks a day wasn't going to come close to giving this dog the exercise he needed.
I suggested a few things to help meet this dog's needs:
- No more food out of a bowl. This dog needs a job. Getting his breakfast and dinner out of a food toy would be one way to put him to work. There are a lot of food toys on the market these days for dogs. One of my favorites is called a Squirrel Dude and it's made by Premier.
- Hire someone to run this dog hard every day. OR, take the dog to doggy daycare at least 2 times a week. (Although three times might even be better.)
- Manage the situation until the training takes place. The dog loved to rip up boxes delivered to the house. (It gave him something to do, it made good sense to the dog!). I asked the owners to check the front porch for packages before they let the dog out. This simple step would eliminate one problem quickly and easily.
- Teach the dog what you'd like him to do. This is very different than teaching a dog what NOT to do. It's really hard to teach a dog (or anyone, for that matter) what NOT to do. But simple to teach them what TO DO. So I asked the owners to focus on what they wanted the dog to START doing.
I created a chart to help them see if their dog was getting enough attention, training, exercise, and stimulation. The chart had three main headings: (1) Training, (2) Exercise, and (3) Enrichment. I asked them to record how many times per day they trained the dog, how hard the exercise was and how long it lasted, and finally how often per day they were feeding their dog out of the Busy Buddy.
Armed with the chart, they are now able to see how good of a job they are doing to help their dog succeed. This is a smart dog. He picked up concepts really quickly. I had him coming when called (with distractions, even!), running to his "settle mat" in no time, and he really was quite the Einstein when it came to learning.
The dog has done his part: he's learned what to do. Now it's up to the owners to do their part: give this dog a job to do and a way to entertain himself.