Help! My dog is jumping, barking, chewing & digging!
One of the factors underlying dog behaviours that humans find problematic is insufficient enrichment in the dog’s life. Adjusting the amount and type of enrichment a dog receives daily can go part of the way to addressing behaviours like unnecessary barking, digging, chewing and “over the top” greetings.
In this article we offer simple tips for enriching your dog’s daily life.
What is enrichment?
To enrich means to increase the quality of something. So, when we use the term enrichment in relation to our dog, we are talking about adding or increasing something to improve the quality of the dog’s life.
Tips for designing enrichment activities for your dog
If you have a multi-animal household, please consider if any of the animals have issues with resource guarding. If so, please set up your home so all the animals feel safe. Remember, resources are not just food. Toys and enrichment games can also become highly valued and worth guarding.
Ensure that your enrichment items are safe and non-toxic for your dog. If you are using plastic bottles remove any lids or other small pieces which may cause obstructions, if swallowed. For dogs that chew, ensure the materials are safe if the dog eats them, particularly if you are planning to leave the dog alone with them.
Play to your dog’s strengths
Set up enrichment games that align with your dog’s preferences. It is more likely your dog will find these games engaging. Here are some ideas.
For puppies that are still teething and for older dogs that love to chew, consider feeding them their meals from a Kong or other “stuffable” chew toy. To keep dogs engaged in “stuffable” chew toys here are some tips:
- Ensure the food is easy to access but requires some time for the dog to get the food out of the toy. Typically, soft “mushy” fillers are best for this.
- Have a variety of different shape and sizes of chew toys and cycle them daily. Different shapes offer the dog different challenges to get the food.
- For convenience, prepare “stuffable” toys for several days and freeze them. Frozen stuffed toys last longer and are cooling in hot weather.
- Increase the enrichment value by hiding stuffed toys around the house or yard.
Another option for chewers, particularly those that like chewing shoes is to purchase some leather from a craft store and make different shaped leather chews for your dog. For extra value make them stuffable!
For dogs that love to shred things, make treat bon bons! Keep your cardboard boxes and toilet roll inserts. Add a few tasty treats to the box or roll. Wrap them in newspaper or junk mail and hide them around the house or yard. You will have a papery mess to clean up, but a pretty happy dog.
Most dogs love to sniff and use their nose. For these dogs, consider snuffle rugs, scattered food, and “find the treat” games.
Make your own “find the treat” game by cutting small treat size holes in plastic containers like milk or juice bottles. Drop some treats in and let your dog figure out how to get the treats out. Initially make the holes quite large so your dog wins early and frequently. As they get the hang of it, decrease the size of the holes to increase the challenge.
If you are available to play with your dog, then set up some scent games to play with you. You can hide food or a specific scent (like a tea bag or a smear of vegemite on an ear bud) in a box or under an object, and ask your dog to find it. Reward them lavishly when they find the scent.
For dogs that like to run and chase, tie balls in old towels or sheets or simply knot towels along their length. Tie the towels together at odd angles to make a chain. When the dog picks up one end, the whole chain moves and flops about in random ways.
If you have a sturdy tree or post, you can even tie the towel chain to it for some tugging action too.
Consider setting up a digging pit or dedicated digging area in your yard for dogs that love to dig. For small breed dogs, the digging area may be a children’s sand pit or wading pool filled with soil or sand. For larger breed dogs, a bigger area will be required so they can dig to a depth equal to approximately their shoulder.
Here are some tips to add value to the digging area so the dog will want to play in it:
- Make the area easy to access for the dog. It may be great to have the digging pit out of sight, behind the wheelie bins but if the dog can’t easily get to the area, they won’t want to use it.
- Make it easy to dig by removing any obstructions like grass, rubble, roots and other debris. Turn the soil over so it is loose and readying for digging fun!
- Add interest to the area by burying toys and treats for your dog to “find”. If you are with your dog, join in the digging fun with them.
When the dog has finished digging, remove the toys, cover the hole and smooth the soil ready for the next digging session.
Some dogs love playing in water. Some like digging in water – for these fill a children’s wading pool and let them amuse themselves.
Some dogs like playing with moving water. Dog water play toys are available or just grab the hose or a water pistol for some watery fun with your dog.
Design enrichment activities to support your training goals
For young dogs, consider activities that support your home alone training. For instance, you may leave the puppy in their exercise pen with a snuffle mat while they practise being “alone” for ten minutes or so.
For dogs learning to settle on their bed while the family is eating dinner or relaxing, you may feed the dog their dinner in a stuffable toy like a Kong.
If you are working on “four on the floor” when you come home, consider adding a treat scatter, scent game “find it” activity or a crazy ball in a towel to help your dog be successful.
Training is enrichment
Grab a handful of tasty dog treats and schedule two to three short training sessions each day to increase the quality of your dog’s life. The benefits of training are numerous. Not only does your dog develop some great skills which helps them live more harmoniously in your house, your relationship with a dog that is your training partner grows enormously too.
Teaching your dog fun tricks are a great way to incorporate training into your day and exercise your dog’s brain.
While providing enrichment opportunities is just one strategy for addressing “problem” behaviours in dogs, it also makes all dogs’ lives more rewarding and meets their basic need to have worthwhile activities to perform each day.
For more great enrichment ideas, please speak to your Teamwork Dogs trainer. Teamwork Dogs provides puppy school and good manners obedience training for dogs of all ages. We offer classes at Taigum (northern suburb of Brisbane), Redcliffe, and Caboolture on Saturday and Sundays, so the whole family can join in.
For more information about our courses is available here
Categories: Teamwork News