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Doggie Boredom Busters: Part One

Many dogs spend several hours a day laying around with nothing to do other than to “play” with the toys left lying on the floor for them. These toys are not as enticing as they might have been when they were new or when you were playing with them too! This day-to-day boredom is one of the most common reasons for several different types of negative behaviors that dogs may display. But, how do you know that your dog has a serious behavioral problem or is simply just bored?

Ask a Professional Trainer.
Behavioral problems can be mild to severe and most dogs need to be worked with on a case-by-case basis to help them cope and function in a safe and healthy way. A professional trainer will be able to assess your dog to see if your concerns should be addressed with specific training.

There are several different ways to tell if your dog may need more enrichment in their everyday life. Enrichment helps your dog enjoy life and battle boredom on their own. As well, it can help you have fun with them from time to time too! Bored dogs may chew on things they are not supposed to; these items can be your kitchen chairs, the sofa, the baseboards, drywall, or many other items around the house. Some dogs may even go out of their way to do this while you are around to get a reaction from you, aka your attention! Other symptoms of boredom may show themselves through jumping, attempts to ‘escape’ the house or the yard, destruction, or trying to initiate a game of chase by stealing something from you.

How do we combat Doggie Boredom?
Exercise! But did you know there are different types of exercise for your dog? Both Physical and Mental exercise help fight boredom in dogs.

Physical Exercise. It is important that dogs get out of the house and can get in at least some physical exercise every day. Dogs are active animals, and when they do not get out to walk and explore, they tend to give in to boredom behaviors. Daily exercise is not only important for your dog’s physical health but also their mental health as well! One of the main things that contributes to negative behaviors in dogs is a lack of exercise. If our dogs do not have a positive outlet for their energy, they often find not so positive ways to let it out instead. This is often when they chew on things, jump on people, and bark excessively.

  1. Fetch
  2. Scent Tracking
  3. Dancing
  4. Team Sports
  5. Swiming

Mental Exercise. Tiring out your dog’s brain is just as important as tiring out their body! When a dog’s mind is bored, but they are physically tired, they can still get into trouble. Fortunately, there are many ways to work the mind of your dog daily.

  1. Training!
  2. Puzzle Toys
  3. DIY Puzzles

Combining Physical and Mental Exercise. There are many ways to combine your dog’s physical and mental exercise into one activity. These exercises not only work their body but help them work their brain to tire them out and enrich their lives!

  1. Hiking
  2. Agility
  3. Trick Training
  4. Scent Tracking
  5. Hide and Seek

Overall there are many ways to help combat boredom in your dog. Exercising your dog both mentally and physically can not only help keep them entertained and enrich their lives, but it can also make training easier as well! Remember to have fun and make sure that your dog enjoys the games as well! And remember, training is important even for the most well-behaved dogs. Even adult pups can benefit from group classes and learning new things!

Check out our training options at https://www.springbrookanimalcarecenter.com/veterinary-services/training.html for information on our upcoming classes and private sessions.

Doggie Boredom Busters: Part Two

Physical Exercise
Why is physical exercise important? When a dog is full of energy, it makes it difficult for them to focus on things like self-control and patience. When a dog has excess energy, they often find ways to get rid of it on their own if we do not help them find more positive outlets. This is where exercise comes into play!

For most dogs, a walk or two every day is not enough to release all their energy. But what are some other ways to help your dog get more physical exercise?

Hachi

Activities

  • Swimming
  • Running
  • Skating/Biking
  • Hiking
  • Therapy
  • Tricks!

Canine Sports
Did you know there were sports for dogs? These range from obedience competition to water rescue and Dock Jumping. It is important to know your dog and what they enjoy as well as their physical limits. Never push a dog to do something that they are afraid to do. Canine sports are meant to help us have fun with our dogs while they get some much-needed exercise!

  • Agility
  • Canine Freestyle
  • Disc Dog
  • Dock Jumping
  • Herding
  • Tracking

There are even more canine sports than what I have listed above, and it is always important to research and find a trainer to help you work with your dog to maintain safety while still having fun. Many specialized dog training professionals also have facilities that cater to their sport and will often also offer classes for interested dog owners to learn how to play these sports with their dogs.

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Agility
This sport often brings dogs through a course of ramps, weave poles, teeter totters, and other obstacles that test them physically. Agility can be competitive or simply for fun, but it is important to work your dog safely and not push them past their limits on a course. Whether your dog is competing or not, the goal is for you both to have fun!

Canine Freestyle
Many dogs can learn to dance with their owners, regardless of their breed(s). Canine freestyle requires a close bond of trust between dog and handler and can be fun and exciting for both parties. Dogs can learn to spin, jump, climb, and more to a tune and dance right alongside you!

Disc Dog
Disc dogs love to chase and catch! These dogs burn energy running after a thrown disc and can even do tricks at the same time. There are no limits on size or breed here, and both dogs big and small can enjoy this sport with their owners!

Dock Jumping
This sport consists of a dog running and jumping off the edge of a dog, typically after a toy thrown into the water. It is important to make sure you play this sport safely, and dogs that are not completely confident in the water should wear lifejackets! These dogs love water and will often get excited simply at the sight of a lake or pool.

Herding
There are many breeds that can participate in herding, though some dogs just seem to be born to herd. Herding can take place with sheep, ducks, and other animals and requires a confident dog with great self-control. Herding dogs work at a distance from their handlers to control a herd and lead them into a specific location.

Tracking
This sport involves the nose! Dogs that are typically good trackers fall into the hound breeds, but many different types of dogs can enjoy tracking! Skilled tracking dogs can even work with search and rescue teams or simply enjoy exploring and finding hidden objects that their owners have placed for them.

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These are only some of the sports that you can play with your pup. In the end, whether you are playing a specialized sport or just enjoying a hike or a swim with your dog, physical exercise is important. It gives an outlet for energy, allowing your dog to relax without becoming over stimulated or bored. When your dog has a way to get rid of excess energy, they can focus more easily to make training and bonding with their family fun instead of frustration and boredom.

Interested in learning more about training and working with your dog? Check out our training page for more information on group and private training with Victoria at https://www.springbrookanimalcarecenter.com/veterinary-services/training.html

Doggie Boredom Busters: Part Three

Doggie Boredom Busters: Part Three

Most of the time, physical exercise alone is not enough for our pups. Adding mental exercise, or ‘enrichment’, not only helps exercise them but also improves their lives as well! There are many different types of mental exercise that you can provide for your dog, from walks and hikes to puzzle toys and scent training.

When looking for something to exercise your dog mentally, it is important to consider your dog and what interests them. A dog that is highly food motivated will likely do best with a puzzle toy or game that involves finding food. Alternatively, a dog that likes to explore and play with toys might enjoy a “find it” game or a hike to explore new places and smells. Either way, you can often find many different types of puzzle toys in stores and online and you can even make some DIY toys yourself!

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For toys that you can find in stores or online, there are a few things to keep in mind before purchasing:

  • Durability
  • Difficulty – match the difficulty to your pet’s interest and ability
  • Fun & Interactive
  • The Right Kind of Reward – most store-bought toys are focused on food
  • Reviews

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When it comes to making your own puzzle toys or enrichment games at home, there are many different things you can do. Here are some easy to make toys and games:

  • Toilet Paper roll
    • Take an empty toilet paper roll and poke holes in the sides big enough for treats to fall out of. Fold in one end of the roll to close it up and drop in treats. Then fold in the other end and let your dog do the rest! Make sure to supervise with this toy, as most dogs will rip up the roll to get to the treats and we do not want them eating the pieces!
  • Water Bottle
    • Empty out and rinse a sturdy plastic bottle and drill holes in the sides large enough for treats to fall out. Sand down any sharp edges carefully so that your dog does not get injured while playing with it. Then fill the bottle with dog food or treats and screw on the cap. Supervise your pet with this toy as once it is damaged it will need to be recycled so that it does not injure paws, noses, or tongues.
  • Cups on a String
    • Drill small holes on two opposite sides of a plastic cup a couple centimeters below the top rim. Repeat the process with three or four other cups. Thread a string through the cups so that they hang in a row and attach either side of the string to a wall, gate, board, or other sturdy object. Drop treats in the cups and watch your pup nudge and kick the cups to flip them over!
  • Find It
    • The “find it” game is one of the easiest games you can play with your pup and does not require you to build or make anything! Start with your dog watching you drop a treat onto the ground, then point to the treat and say “find it”. Praise your dog for finding the treat and repeat the process until your dog is looking down on the ground around you when you say “find it”. Once they do this, you can begin hiding treats and telling them to go find them both indoors and outside!
  • Scent Tracking
    • Scent tracking is like the “find it” game but is more specialized. This is often used for hunting or search and rescue. Introduce your dog to a scent that they find interesting and then cover an item (often a toy) in that scent and put it somewhere that is easy to find. Once your dog is actively sniffing out the item, you can start hiding it more and more until they are working to search for it.
  • Trick Training
    • There are hundreds of tricks and games that you can teach your dog, and trick training is a great way to work their brain and their body. You can teach your dog to roll over, crawl, even jump through hoops and dance!
  • The Box
    • The box game is a great way to build confidence in your dog. The goal of the game is for your dog to be able to get a treat out of a box without your assistance. You will need a box that is large enough that if it sits open with a treat in the middle of the box you dog cannot simply reach down and grab it. They will need to tip the box and put their head in it to retrieve their prize. Start with one side of the box completely open with the flaps of the box folded inside so they do not block the dog’s view of the treat. This may take your dog seconds or even hours, but it is important for them to learn that the box will not harm them while they build up confidence in themselves to get the treat without you doing the work for them.

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What are the goals of using Puzzles with your dog?
Puzzles work your dog mentally. This not only encourages your dog to find positive things to do with their extra energy, but it helps teach them to think more actively regarding their environment. Puzzles are enrichment, and both people and animals need them to live happy, safe, and healthy lives. Just remember, with most toys that your dog can chew or break apart, it is important to supervise so that they do not harm themselves, choke on broken pieces, or swallow things that they are not supposed to!

Barking

Barking

One of the most common concerns I hear from pet parents with their dogs revolves around barking. Although some people might prefer a dog to bark at home to alert them of potential intruders, that something has happened, or simply communicate that they need to go outside, others can find this behavior frustrating. Personally, I prefer my dogs do not bark in most instances and instead I like to have the ability to cue a bark from them instead. That being said, my dogs are not big “barkers” to begin with.

doodle-barking-2965983_1280

What can you do if your dog is naturally a ‘barker’?

Step one is to determine the trigger. Why are they barking? This behavior can come from many different things, so it is important to narrow down the reason it is happening before we can even begin to work on altering the behavior!

In my experience, most barking dogs come from one of two categories. (Though this is not exclusive, there can be other reasons a dog barks!)

Fear/Anxiety
Excitement/Attention Seeking

 Now, these are examples of underlying reasons why a dog might bark, but they are not specifically “triggers”. A trigger is the sight, scent, smell, etc. of something that makes elicits the above reactions in dogs (fear/anxiety or excitement/attention seeking).

First and foremost, it is important to know and understand your dog’s history and background. If you have had them since they were a young puppy, you should know what they have experienced almost from the start. If you adopted an adult dog, sometimes you might not know what happened to them early on in life. Some things to first consider:

  • Did they spend the first 8 weeks of their life with their mother and litter?
  • Were there any scary/bad experiences in their past?
  • Have you or anyone else that has handled your dog(s) used aversive training methods/tools in the past? (Shock collars, prong collars, choke chains, punishment, etc)
  • What experience do they have with other dogs and people?
  • What is your dog’s personality? Are they particularly social? Do they prefer to have one or two close friends? Do they dislike other dogs or are they uncomfortable being the ‘center of attention’?

First, let’s do away with the aversive tools and methods! We do not want to pair fear/anxiety or excitement with pain or discomfort. Instead, pull out that bag of yummy treats and we will work to teach our dogs that the “trigger” means good things instead of bad!

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Fear/Anxiety
One of the most common reasons for barking is fear or anxiety. This might come from any number of things, such as a bad experience, confusion, frustration, a lack of confidence, or simply feeling “trapped”. So, the first step is to watch your dog. Learn their body language and pay attention to how they look when they are relaxed, when they are unsure, and when they are scared/uncomfortable. Some common body language signs of stress are:

  • Pacing or Shaking
  • Whining or Barking
  • Yawning (when not tired), drooling, and licking (with no food)
  • Dilated pupils, “Whale Eye” (whites of eyes showing), Ears down/back
  • Lowered body posture, stiff body posture, weight shifted forward or back
  • Excessive Shedding
  • Excessive Panting
  • Uncontrollable Bladder/Bowels
  • Avoidance or Displacement Behavior (sniffing the ground, licking themselves, scratching (when not itchy), trying to escape, etc.)
  • Hiding or Escape Behavior

These signs of stress often appear when a dog is faced with something that makes them uncomfortable, confused, or makes them feel insecure. This can be another dog, other people, noises, storms, fireworks, etc. One of the biggest things to keep in mind is that we do not want to make this stress worse! We want to help our dogs become more confident and secure, and the best way to do that is to teach them that those things that trigger stress actually mean good things happen.

So, what is your dog fearful or anxious about? Some common reasons are:

  • They had a bad experience with other dogs. This experience has made them see other dogs as a threat to their safety or your safety. When they bark, they are telling other dogs to ‘go away’ because they are uncomfortable. It is pretty similar to how a person would tell someone scary that is approaching them “don’t come any closer!”
  • They don’t have much experience at all with other dogs. Sometimes, our dogs have not had the opportunity to learn how to be a dog. This is most common in puppies that have spent their early lives in pet stores or were taken away from their mother and litter too soon. In those first 3-12 weeks of life, puppies learn valuable life-lessons on how to be ‘dogs’. They learn bite-inhibition (how hard is too hard to bite when they play!), how to interpret the body language of other dogs, etc. When they don’t have this time with their litter and with early socialization, they simply do not know what to do when they encounter another dog. This confusion can lead to barking and stress, especially if their barking receives yelling or discomfort from their owner.
  • They are shy or lack self-esteem. Dogs have different personalities just like we do! There are naturally confident and naturally shy dogs. They are also very social dogs, and some dogs that prefer to keep to themselves and a few close ‘friends and family’. One important thing to keep in mind is, this is ok. I don’t always want to interact with every person I see, and there are some situations where I might not feel comfortable interacting with other people. Our dogs are the same way sometimes! It is important to know, understand, and value your dog’s wants/desires just as much as you do your own.
  • They feel trapped. Could you imagine seeing or hearing something that you knew nothing about coming towards you and not being able to run away or escape it? When we put our dogs on a leash or confine them to a yard, we are keeping them from following through on their ‘flight’ instinct if they get spooked or are stressed. For many dogs, this lack of escape on leash can often be a trigger to bark because they are instead telling the scary thing to go away because they cannot flee themselves.

Faith

Excitement/Attention Seeking
What if our dog is confident and is simply barking for attention or because they are excited? There can be many different things that might cause excitement and attention seeking behavior in dogs, such as:

  • They want to play! Some dogs are very social, and when they are confined to a leash or cannot interact with another dog, that excitement and desire to play comes out as a bark because they cannot control themselves. However, it is important to note that not every dog you see on the street wants to play with your pup! Always make sure to ask another dog’s owner if it is alright for your dog to meet theirs before approaching. I, personally, do not recommend allowing dogs to play on-leash. This can frequently lead to tangled leashes and escapees or fearful reactions if they cannot separate themselves or if one dog suddenly gets uncomfortable/wants to stop playing.
  • They are lacking exercise. A lot of the time, our dogs are not getting enough stimulation and regular exercise in their day to day routine. This excess energy can come out as frustration or confusion because they simply do not know what to do or are overwhelmed and over-stimulated. Most dogs need multiple walks a day, plus both mental and physical exercise on a regular basis. Agility, swimming, running, puzzle toys, hide and seek, scent work, etc. are all examples of ways to help your dog get more exercise daily!
  • This type of barking often comes when a dog is confined to a yard and has little or nothing to entertain themselves with. First, a dog should never be out in the yard (even fenced yards) unsupervised. Second, give them fun things to do in their yard. Sandboxes make good positive dig spaces. Play fetch or hide toys/treats for them to sniff out! If they have ways to occupy themselves in the yard, they will be less likely to run or pace along the fence looking for something outside the yard to entertain them.
  • Attention Seeking. When a dog barks, people naturally look at them. In this way, barking is a naturally rewarding behavior for dogs. They bark, and people look at them in response. Oftentimes their owners will also tell them to ‘be quiet’, or ‘stop barking’, etc. This is often adding to the barking! Most of the time when we yell at our dogs for barking, they have no idea what we are saying and most likely think that we are joining in. When we give them this “attention”, we are rewarding their barking behavior and teaching them that barking gets attention!

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What can we do?

When it comes to barking behaviors, how do we stop them? This is a common question, and because barking is such a loud and interruptive behavior, most owners get frustrated and embarrassed whenever they take their dog out of the house. Unfortunately, keeping our dogs home all the time or confined to a yard just makes the problem worse. They do not get the exercise they need and the behavior tends to escalate or get more problematic.

So, what are some steps we can take to teach our dogs that barking is not the reaction we want from them in these situations?

  1. Start learning at home. It is not healthy or reasonable to expect our dogs to learn new things or impulse control in a distracting environment. If we are surrounding them with things that overstimulate them or make them nervous, they cannot focus on learning or working for rewards.
  2. Set them up for success. No one likes to lose a game every time. How frustrating is it when you are learning something new and you fail or do something wrong? Our dogs are the same way. When they are learning, it is important to set them up for success and make it easy for them to succeed. When they are more confident with a behavior, then we can work on gradually increasing the difficulty for them. But when we start out, we want to make sure the game starts at Level 1!
  3. Use Positive Reinforcement. Just like we want to set our dogs up for success, we want to associate the things they bark at with good things. The best way to do this is to practice from a distance. It is important to make sure that your dog is not reacting when you practice and reward. So, find a comfortable distance from the ‘trigger’ (dog, person, etc.) and work there. They see the dog/person = reward and praise. The more you practice, the more likely your dog is to look to you for a reward or praise every time they see another dog/person. Also, we want them to learn that when they see a ‘trigger’, they get good things from you!
  4. Teach a strong “Watch” cue. This allows us to ask our dogs for their attention before they react to the sight of something. The easiest way to teach the ‘watch’ is to start in a quiet place and follow these steps:
    1. Say “watch!”
    2. Mark (with a clicker or a “yes!”) when your dog turns their head to look in your direction.
    3. Repeat until they are doing this 90-100% of the time before adding distractions.
  5. Emergency U-Turn. Sometimes you simply cannot set your dog up for success. As much as we might try to control our environments and set our dogs up to avoid failure, sometimes something unexpected happens. You walk around a corner and are confronted with another dog or a stranger. Someone walks up to you with their dog without asking permission first. Sometimes you just need to get out of the situation. Just like the Watch cue, teach this in a quiet place with no distractions to start.
    1. Start on-leash in a quiet place. Walk with your dog forward, then suddenly stop and turn around to walk in the other direction while offering a treat/reward to your dog and saying “let’s go!”
    2. When they follow you and reach the treat while walking beside you in the opposite direction, mark with a click or a yes and let them eat the treat!
    3. Gradually increase distractions. The goal here is a quick turn without having to pull the leash to guide them.
  6. Manage the behavior to keep them from practicing it. Management is key to keeping our dogs from practicing unwanted behaviors. Whenever possible control your environment. When your dog is in the yard, give them fun things to occupy them and supervise. When you are on leash, try to stick to quiet times of the day for walks and avoid busy streets and places where your dog might struggle to focus on you. Use an easy-walk harness or a head halter to prevent leash-pulling. Remember, we want to make sure we set our dogs up for success and increase the level of difficulty for them at their pace!
  7. Work with a positive reinforcement trainer! Barking can be an overwhelming struggle to work with on your own. As a positive reinforcement trainer, I can help with private training sessions and work with you and your pet to tackle problem behaviors together.

If you are interested in signing up for group classes or private sessions, email me at trainer@springbrookanimalcarecenter.com for more information!

Victoria Buhler
Professional Dog Trainer
Approved CGC Evaluator
Veterinary Assistant

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