the curious case of the dog in the daytime

I am NOT the best dog owner. I have had dogs all my life but I have never really spoken dog very well. When my dog barks at what I think it is nothing or just sits and stares waiting for me to DO something, my response is to holler: “What?!?”” What do you want?” “Why are you following me into the bathroom!?” I guess after ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘stop doing that!’ and ‘get off of there!’, I called it a day when it came to training my dogs. I figured they would pick things up as we went along, like a new employee. So, it has always been my own fault, when I came home to shredded paper products. Sometimes they were just another inconsiderate roommate.

Dogs don’t do boredom well. Bored humans don’t really exist, we just don’t want to do any of the things we already know about, we want new stimulation, more entertainment. Bored cats don’t exist, when they have nothing to do, they plot world domination, but dog’s aren’t that ambitious. Doggy brains need a lot more outside stimulation. Otherwise they invent a game like what does this dress shoe taste like? We are responsible for providing entertainment, we just can’t hand them the remote. I know this because I have had three different dogs eat them, after realizing they required thumbs.

Just like zoo animals, dogs need environmental enrichment; think viral videos of tigers in refrigerator boxes, polar bears with 5 gallon popsicles or gorillas with luggage. Put yourself in your dog’s shoes, sometimes barking at fictional burglars or distant migrating geese is the highlight of the day. If they are lucky enough to have a day job like chasing geese off a putting green or sniffing out cheese at the airport, the rest of the time they are pretty content to just BE dogs. But unemployed or underemployed dogs, need to be needed every day, not just on the weekends. Because if they weren’t warning him off, one day that suspicious looking letter carrier is going to bring that mail all the way INTO the HOUSE.

Walking my dog in my neighborhood or the dog park is really just me waiting around while she smells things. A sniff is worth 1000 words. When we go for our constitutional, I vary the direction. That way I get a slightly different view and she gets a different library of odorgrams. On woodland hiking trails we move faster, as wildlife odors don’t interest her as much as the dogs she just missed.

I feel awful when I don’t have time to walk with her or drive to the dog park and just put her out on a tether. After she’s done what she went out to do, and sniffed all the new smells, there isn’t much for her to do out there EXCEPT announced her presence to all the other dogs in the world. I really don’t want to be the neighbor with the barking dog, but if she’s barking after the first 30 seconds, it’s because someone is walking THEIR dog by our house, making it their fault.

Dogs that don’t play enough may turn excess energy into stress or aggressive behaviors. Besides traditional battery draining activities like catch the Frisbee, tug the knotted t-shirt and hours of fetch the soggy tennis ball. Try adding some new tricks to your dog’s bag of tricks. Building a few dog agility obstacles is as easy as putting 2 x 4’s over a couple of cinder blocks, or using some corrugated culvert that you just happened to find someplace. A little PVC pipe goes a long way to building a weave pole frame.

A dog’s favorite toy is the one they associate with YOU. The one you toss and they retrieve, the one you hide and they find, the one you play tug of war and nearly tear the legs off. I have been in houses with a mountain of dog toys. I can’t imagine how a dog deals with this sort of decision overload. It’s like a toddler in a toy store. A few well-loved toys on rotation is all your dog really wants. At the end of the day a stuffed squirrel and a stuffed chipmunk accumulate the same amount of drool and debris.

When you don’t have the time to play an endless game of “where’s the ” treat dispensing toys like rubber Kongs, work great. Even an empty box with a honeycomb of toilet paper tubes and a handful of dog treats will easily eat up a couple of hours. Then your dog can help you shred the rest of your recyclables. I once had a terrier someone had disciplined with rolled up newspaper, giving me the most determined paper shredder ever. Anything on the floor was considered fair game in our house.

Dogs love to hunt for things and once you start hiding treats and toys in the yard, they remember it, making every day a new egg hunt. Flavored broth frozen into shapes, using a plastic bag or silicon mold can keep a dog busy outside for a least as long as it lasts.

Wading pools aren’t just for people. Set it into the ground if your pets are older or short. In summer add floating toys or vegetables to attract them to play. In cool weather, fill it with mounds of crunchy leave, to bury hide the toys and treats. The leaf thing works great for kittens too, I once put it in the living room, it was hysterical while it lasted. The debris clean up was totally worth it.

With this latest dog, I think I have been pretty successful dog parent. But to be fair she’s a pretty great dog. We go hiking when the weather is good and are couch potatoes when it isn’t. She beats me to the car whenever we’re heading to dog friendly destinations, and she rides in a backpack when they aren’t. She still doubles as a doggy doorbell, but I have yet to come home to anything shredded that wasn’t supposed to be.  

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