By Sally Bushwaller, CPDT-KSA, CSAT, CNWI
Most people pay more attention to their dogs when they are doing something wrong rather than when they are doing something right! That is a great way to get a dog who is what we perceive to be “naughty,” when in fact you have taught your dog that in order to get attention he/she must be “naughty”. Naughty is in quotes because your dog does not know he was naughty, only that whatever he did worked to get attention.
It is easy to become complacent about working with your dog, especially senior dogs who are not as demanding. But senior dogs need attention too and can become depressed when not receiving adequate attention.
My current dog, Nova, will not allow me to become complacent or I would not have an intact house anymore!
If your dog steals things in order to get your attention, don’t blame it on your dog! It’s probably your fault because you’ve become complacent.
Here is a tip: each time your dog picks up a dog toy, spend one full minute paying attention to your dog. You will be amazed at how quickly stealing your personal items decreases.
Also, note the time of day when your dog steals or gets into trouble. You will probably find that your dog is needier in late afternoon or early evening. If that is the case, 15-30 minutes before that attention seeking normally starts, work through the ZOOMIE procedure:
1. Do 3-5 minutes of training.
2. Do 3-5 minutes of play.
3. Do 3-5 minutes of MENTAL ENRICHMENT focusing on scent work. Something like Find It or Nose Work®.
4. Give your dog an interactive food toy or chew toy
All dogs have different attention needs at different ages.
Winter can be especially challenging for dog owners.
Get your dog involved in K9 Nose Work®. Nose Work is great for dogs of any age and my dog plays this sport on an almost daily basis.
Here are a variety of ideas of ways to mentally and physically stimulate your dog.
With all these ideas, please monitor your dog initially to make sure your dog is not ingesting cardboard or plastic.
1. Prepare a bunch of tiny (not crumbly) treats. Walk around and hide these treats all over the house, allowing your dog to use her nose to hunt for and find the treats. This gets an older dog moving and having fun. Adjust the difficulty of the hides to fit your dog’s skill level.
2. Dogs like to shred paper and cardboard. Give your dog an outlet for this passion! Create some box puzzles for your dog. Save small empty boxes of all sizes, from empty frozen pizza boxes, egg cartons, regular boxes, empty Pringles containers, paper towel cores, etc.
Make it easy at first by putting a treat inside the box and giving to your dog. Lots of dogs are afraid of moving boxes, so don’t be surprised if your dog initially is reluctant to eat the treat out of the box. But your dog will quickly get over this reticence. For paper towel cores, pinch the end shut, stuff ends with balled up paper, load with treats, stuff with more paper and pinch the other end shut.
When your dog can solve the problem of getting the treat out of one container, you can up the difficulty by putting a small treat filled box into another larger box and shutting the flaps.
3. Put some holes in the lid of an old yogurt or margarine container. Put a couple stinky treats in it and hide in your back yard or around your house. Take your dog out and walk him around the yard. When he finds the container, make a big deal about it, praising him and telling him how smart he is, and open the container and let him have the treat inside.
In a different version of this exercise, put unique scents in the yogurt containers and let your dog hunt for and find the containers, praising and treating him when he finds them. Scent ideas include vanilla, mint, any kind of food extract you would use in baking/cooking, Liquid Smoke, orange peel, bird scent (available at a sporting goods store such as Cabela’s).
4. Save some old peanut butter jar lids. Smear PB on the inside of the lid and place on the ground with inside facing down. Your dog has to figure out how to turn it over to get to the PB. Some dogs will be able to pick the lid up with their mouths. If that’s the case for your dog, try to find a larger lid that your dog can’t pick up in that manner.
5. Does your dog like empty water bottles? Save a bunch of them. Put kibble or treats in a couple bottles and put all the bottles in a large, low box. Let your dog find the correct bottles and get the treats out.
6. Throw your dog’s kibble into your yard and let your dog forage for his food.
7. Purchase lots of interactive food toys. Here are links for some of my favorite toys:
Outward Hound Tail Teaser, https://goo.gl/4bhpAz
Pickle Pocket, https://www.chewy.com/starmark-treat-dispensing-pickle/dp/50538
West Paw Qwizl,
Kong Wishbone (for puppies or mild chewers only!!!)
8. Walking your dog in the same area all the time is boring. Let your dog explore a new environment. Once or twice a week take your dog to a different area to walk so he/she gets to sniff new things. I highly suggest the forest preserve.
9. Do trick training with your dog. Get tons of ideas at:
10. Here is a great video from trainer Donna Hill showing a variety of activities to do with a dog that is “bed ridden”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfL99xcEpXc
As you can see, most of these exercises are done with you sitting next to your dog.
I’ve given you many great enrichment ideas for both the healthy and recovering dog. Please plan on teaching your dog something fun and DIFFERENT each day. Don’t get into the habit of doing the same old thing all the time. Challenge them and yourself. Step out of your comfort zone and teach your dog a new skill.