I hope you had a pawesome weekend!
As you all probably know by now, DOGTV is a great tool for environmental enrichment. When your dog is home by himself for so many hours each day, anything that can lift up his spirit and make him feel better at this lonely situation, can benefit your dog and make him cope better with loneliness, boredom and anxiety.
Prof Nicholas Dodman, DOGTV’s Chief Scientist, has some wise words to say about dogs – and home enrichment.
Domestic dogs need things to do to keep them occupied and happy. In the old days, when they were farm dogs and worked in the fields or kept rodents out of the grain, all was well. But those days are behind us now and the majority of dogs have morphed into beloved family members who spend as much if not more time in the home than we do. Add to that that most people work – often both members of the family – and children are at school or college, and you have a recipe for boredom and stress for the dog. Let’s face it, most homes are not set up for dogs. They have no interest in the computer, phone or microwave and they do not appreciate elegant furniture, plush carpets or fancy drapes. Dogs like what dogs like, and their taste is often miles away from our own. To properly provide for a dog when you are at home or away, you need to think like a dog. What would you like to do while your owners were watching television or were in a huddle around the dining table, chatting among themselves? What would you like to do when they were away and you were home alone? Not be shut in crate, I suppose.
Okay, so where do we go from here? What are dogs’ likes and natural behaviors that we can cater to? They like to eat, sniff things, interact with other animals (where possible), and be entertained by novel stimuli. Basically, they like to have – need to have – all their senses engaged from time to time; those are taste, touch, smell, vision, and hearing. They don’t need all their senses occupied all the time, but do need to opportunity to engage in interesting things as the need or desire arises. They also need to relax for some of the time, catching a few zzzs to recharge their batteries.
Here are few things you can do to make dogs’ lives more interesting and engaging when they are at home:
As a form of occupational therapy, you can give your dog food in the form of food puzzles to keep them occupied and happy for a time. Don’t overdo it though, we don’t want overweight dogs on our hands. A rule of thumb is that treats should comprise no more than 10% of dogs’ daily calorie intake, so be careful about what and how much you feed them for entertainment. Dogs who are motivated by food often enjoy hollow toys – like Kongs – laced with peanut butter, spray cheese or liver paste. The contents will take longer to extract if you freeze the food-filled receptacle first providing lengthy “occupational therapy.” A “Buster Cube” (a hard plastic cube that can be filled with dry kibble) may work for some dogs, too. It must be rolled a few times for food to be released. Then there’s “Squirrel Dude,” a squirrel shaped toy in which you can hide a delicious treat. “Boomer Balls” are available as food puzzles (with holes drilled in them). You can even feed your dog his daily rations from a Kong but make kibble tacky first by spritzing it with water first so that it clumps together and is trickier to extricate from the Kong. Kibble-filled Kongs may take more than an hour for the dog to empty if they are frozen. There is nothing wrong with having a dog work for his treats, or spend a couple of hours working to obtain his food, as dogs in the wild have to work for their food. It’s a natural thing for them to do. During the time they are emptying the Kong or Buster Cube, they will be absorbed in that activity and will be happy at their work! Food puzzles are best put down at strategic times, for example, as you are about the leave or when you are busy. It’s the equivalent of giving a child a puzzle or book to read.
Smell (olfaction) and touch:
Non-food chew toys, like Kong’s Wubba or lamb’s wool, may not be intrinsically appealing to all dogs but their appeal can be enhanced by adding various scents. Vanilla is a favorite of many dogs or anise (licorice-type odor) may work. Both are probably in your spice rack or they can be picked up at the store. Failing that, hunting lures hold appeal for many dogs, especially terriers, hunting breeds, scent hounds and sporting breeds. Such scents can be ordered online or are available in some stores. Deer scent is on the shelf at Walmart and fox urine can be obtained from gardening stores (don’t use much of that or you won’t have many guests). A large Boomer Ball can be made more interesting with rabbit scent (available to train hunting dogs). Your dog may enjoy pushing it around the house or yard while following his nose.
Vision and hearing:
Dogs not only need food puzzles to push around and grapple with, they also need interesting things to look at. I have always advised a room with a view; perhaps a sofa next to a picture window or a comfy bed next to a glass slider. They love to watch the goings-on outside, whether that is traffic, people passing by, or wild animals. Why not push the boat out and by a bird feeder to attract some action? Remember, where there’s bird food there’s squirrels, and they’re wicked fun! Another really good alternative is DOGTV. Designed especially for dogs, with their needs front and center, DOGTV provides not only visual stimulation but also auditory amusement. Dogs like to watch other dogs at play. That’s why DOGTV features dogs chasing Frisbees, balls, dogs surfing and interacting, and so much more. In one study we did, dogs spent about 13% of the owners’ time away watching DOGTV but there was other times that they seemed tuned in though not directly watching the set (as we might while cooking breakfast with one of the morning shows on the “tube.” Occasionally we stop to watch something really interesting, and that’s the way it seemed to be with the dogs. There is also a relaxation phase to DOGTV because the designers know that dogs need a little R&R time, too. The latter is to the backdrop of bioaccoustically-engineered music designed to sooth and relax. Finally there is an educational section referred to as “Exposure,” in which dogs can learn about things in the world around them. All good grist for the mill of attenuating boredom and frustration.
It is important to remember that dogs are pack animals and as such are inherently social. Like people, dogs suffer emotionally, and sometimes physically, when they do not receive sufficient and appropriate social interaction. The optimum treatment strategy is to spend as much quality time with your dog as he needs, though the hustle and bustle of modern life does not always permit this luxury. Failing your ability to provide a rich and diversified life of interesting and entertaining experiences for your dog, you should consider engaging the services of others who have more time on their hands. You might hire a professional dog walker or a neighbor to visit your dog when you are away for long hours. Also, doggie day-care can provide an otherwise lonely dog with company and entertainment.
A job for (a psychologically healthy) life:
Many of the modern-day canine psychoses seem to stem from or be aggravated by an inappropriate lifestyle that is unstimulating. It benefits dogs to be gainfully employed in something, to have a job to do. In the process of designing a job for your dog, make sure you incorporate breed-specific needs, such as herding-type activities for herding breeds, lure coursing for terriers and sight hounds, and retrieving games for sporting dogs. The take home message is that dogs are living creatures and need something to occupy their time, just as we do.