Five quick & easy indoor enrichment activities with everyday objects

1: The Tea-Towel Roll

Grab an old tea-towel, sprinkle some treats, roll it up and let the dog enjoy

Or make it slightly more challenging

 

2: Chucking Kibble

Chuck one piece at a time

 

3: Toilet Roll Tubes

Place them on the floor, place a piece of kibble (or whatever you are using) in every other tube (half of them) and let the dog find them all.  It takes a while to save so many tubes (patience is a virtue), but you could ask friends to save them for you too or you could use your imagination and substitute the tubes with something else.

 

4: Box Recycling

Use an old food box (dog-biscuit box, cereal box, burger box), place some dog food inside and give it to the dog.  NOTE: There have been some reports of the glue on boxes causing problems so I advise that you ensure the dog is not spending time chewing on the cardboard rather than merely ripping it to get the treats out.

 

5: Tea-Towel Layers

Sprinkle kibble (or whatever) over a tea-towel, lay another tea-towel on top, sprinkle more kibble and add a third tea-towel.

When we’re using food to give our dogs something interesting to do we should ensure we are not overfeeding them.  I always use the dog’s daily food allowance for such activities to protect against overfeeding.

Don’t let frustration ruin the dog-human relationship

Animals prefer calm humans. With a calm human, they can feel safe. Volatile, unpredictable people may cause anxiety in dogs and anxiety isn’t conducive to a good learning environment.   When we’re training (especially a new behaviour) it’s really easy to become frustrated; we might not get the exact behaviour that we were hoping for, we might not even get close or we might think the dog knows it, only to find he suddenly doesn’t.  We might feel let down or a little embarrassed.

Reacting to our disappointment by reprimanding the dog (yanking, giving a harsh ‘NO’ or showing frustration in other ways) is the exact opposite of what is needed because the dog may become anxious, either right away or next time they are put in a similar situation.  Of course, this makes the job of getting that behaviour even more difficult and prevents the dog from enjoying the process.

We are, however, human, and it’s extremely difficult to never show frustration, even if we know the problems it can cause.  But recognising that we slipped up is a good thing, it’s a very good thing.  It’s what allows us to learn.  If we don’t recognise the frustration or the fact that it might be counterproductive then how can we ever improve?

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So how can we deal with it when our canine friend isn’t acting as we expected them to?

  • We can treat it as information.  The dog is doing a great thing; he is showing us that in this situation he may sometimes respond in this way.  It’s just information and we get to enjoy working on changing how he responds.

 

  • If we recognise that we are experiencing frustration or acting in a way we don’t like then we can take a break, think about it when we’re in a calmer state and try again another time.

 

  • We can recognise and celebrate that this is a living, breathing, animal that we’re dealing with, not a machine.

 

  • We can try to recognise that it really isn’t the dog’s fault.  How many times do we hear dogs called stupid when, in fact, in the cold light of day we might better understand that the error is more likely to be ours. Maybe we asked too much, didn’t recognise the dog’s stress, didn’t proof the behaviour or didn’t recognise something in the environment affecting the dog.

 

  • We can say to ourselves, wow, I wasn’t expecting that behaviour, how can I best respond?  I’m pretty sure your answer will not be, ‘with frustration’.  It is actually a great opportunity to think about how to deal with such situations in future.

 

  • Mindfulness can also be of great benefit. This is the ability to be aware of what is happening right now, without judging it as good or bad.  It’s the ability not to be blown around by our emotions.   Daily meditation helps us to develop mindfulness.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact, it shouldn’t be complicated.  Just set aside 15 minutes per day, to sit, concentrate the mind on your breathing and notice as the air comes in and goes out.  Each time you find your mind wandering onto other things, you simply bring your focus back to your breathing.  Each time you return your focus to breathing, you’re teaching the mind to more easily return to a mindful state.  I couldn’t hope to do justice to the subject of mindfulness and/or meditation here, so it’s just a brief mention for those who may want to find out more.  Audio Dharma is a great resource if you would like to know more.

 

  • Is what you’re teaching really worth the stress?  What’s the worst that’s going to happen if you don’t nail it today?  Wouldn’t you prefer a happy dog who feels safe and trusts you not to be reactive and unpredictable?  Move on to another (no pressure) activity so you can both end training on a positive note; you can always return to the original task another time.

10 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR DOG’S LIFE

1)  Increase interaction. We may live busy lives but we can add interaction into our daily routines.  Each time you are waiting for the kettle to boil, have a short training session. Each time you put something in the bin, have a quick play on the way back. Build small interactions into your day; the dog wants to be part of your life.

2) Never use force, fear, pain or intimidation.  For an animal to be happy or content, they must first feel safe.  They will not feel safe if their best friend in the world behaves unpredictably or acts aggressively towards them.

3) Let them stop and sniff, rather than dragging them away.  They love to sniff, it’s incredibly good for their mental health and it’s how they make sense of the world.

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4) Rather than feeding all their food from a bowl, consider using enrichment toys (such as a Kong or K9 Connectable).  You can also recycle your old food boxes for enrichment.  Chuck some food in your old cereal or egg box and give it to the dog for some awesome fun. Ensure the dog doesn’t try to eat the cardboard. For more ideas visit the canine enrichment facebook group.

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5) Teach some basic scent work (tutorial here).  Dogs love love love love love to use their nose.

6) Take them to the woods, through the streams, and in the mud.  Let them get a little messy exploring the great outdoors.

 

 

 

7) Take a look at the quality of the food you feed. It can be mindboggling trying to decipher all the contrasting information but the website allaboutdogfood simplifies the process somewhat.

8) Find some appropriate dog friends for canine play sessions, or just a sniff if they prefer.

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9) Allow 15 minutes for just you and the dog each evening.  Playing, grooming, just sitting with them, giving a massage. Do whichever they prefer or mix it up a bit. Of course, you may do more sessions if you like. Just you and the dog, so give them your full attention.

10) Keep them at a healthy weight.  Weigh their food. Whenever I’ve checked the quantity, I’ve found that people are feeding much more than they think.  Keep track of the dog’s weight.  Most vets will allow you to use their scales free of charge.  Keeping track allows early warning of other health problems too. If in doubt contact a veterinarian.

11) Yes, I said 10 ways, but there are always more things we can do.  Buy them a harness.  In the throat, just where the collar sits, lies the trachea (windpipe), thyroid gland, oesophagus (food-pipe) and the main artery supplying the head and brain.  Pulling and yanking of these vital structures is not a good idea medically and is something we should consider ethically too.

Thank you for reading, now go enjoy your dog.

How to prevent dogs from throwing themselves at other dogs and people

This is a question sent to me by a lady in Australia (Anne).

How do you control strong pups who literally throw themselves at any people and dogs reasonably close and are totally focussed on that activity so treats do not work.

Anne goes on to say her dog is a Labrador.  I’m not sure if the dog is literally a pup because many people seem to use the term pup just to mean dog these days.

It is difficult to advise without a full picture of a dog’s life. Their daily routine and activities can be important pointers as to what’s going on.  No behaviour happens in a vacuum. It is usually influenced by many factors outside of the immediate situation.  However,   I can give some ideas and pointers.

 

Systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning

We would need to ensure that the dog remains far enough away from other dogs that the reaction (throwing themselves at the other dog) doesn’t happen. This may be as far as the length of a football field.  We work with the dog at this distance, maybe giving a few treats, doing some easy training or playing a game.  This is known as keeping the dog under threshold (not reacting and not concerned).  Over time (a few months) we can reduce the distance, step by step.  This is a very brief description so read up on it if you would like to know more.  In reality, this method can prove difficult as we are usually not able to control the environment to the degree we would like.

 

 

Wait it Out

We can stand firm, hold the lead with both hands against our body (for a firm hold which doesn’t involve pulling the dog back) and just wait it out.  Sooner or later, the dog will realise that his behaviour of pulling forward isn’t working.  We wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. What are we waiting for? We are waiting for the dog to look at us for a fraction of a second, at which point we will say “YES” and give them a fantastic treat.  Not a piece of dry kibble, but a piece of cheese, chicken, or whatever is his favourite kind of treat.  He will not learn in one lesson (far from it) but over time he will come to realise that lunging forward is fruitless and looking at us is a highly worthwhile thing to do.

 

It’s raining treats

It’s common for dogs to want to go say hello to everyone.  However, not everyone likes a wet nose in their hand (I don’t know why).  Whenever you see a person approaching, start giving the dog treats, one after another until the person has passed.  The dog will soon learn that people approaching mean treats from you, will rain down.  When he’s learned this and his focus is on you, you may start to reduce the number of treats so that he waits 2 seconds, then 3 then 4. Before long you may only need 1 treat.   If he is looking at you for the treat, he is not throwing himself at other people.  As with the desensitisation, it will work better if you start at a distance where the dog doesn’t react and reduce the distance over time. So give people a wide berth at the start of training.

 

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Photo courtesy of Teresa Umbelino

 

 

The U-Turn

Teach the dog to turn and walk in the other direction. Firstly without the distractions of other dogs, give the cue “Let’s Go” (or whatever you like), turn and walk the other way (don’t yank the dog though). As soon as he is moving with you in the opposite direction, it’s “YES” (cheese time).  Once he gets the hang of this you can use it to quickly avoid any unwanted encounters.

 

Food Treats?

Now I realise I’m banging on about treats although Anne stated that her dog isn’t interested in them in the given situation, so let me explain.  It’s not about trying to give a treat whilst the dog is reacting to the other dog or in full ‘I’m gonna jump on you’ mode. We are waiting until the dog’s focus is with us, we are reinforcing the choice that the dog made, we are reinforcing the preferred behaviour.  Secondly, we can stop feeding the dog from a food bowl on the floor and give all his daily diet via enrichment toys, training, interactions and hand feeding.  The dog learns that his behaviour and actions earn the food. I believe that dogs become far more interested and attuned to our actions in this way.

 

Meeting Their Needs

Of course, the behaviour may be (and probably is) friendly, rather than aggression of any kind.  Dogs are highly sociable animals and many greatly enjoy meeting others and having a play.  It may benefit us and the dog if we can allow them to meet-up with other appropriate play-mates and have a good play session (some are happy with just a sniff). Ensuring we meet their needs may prevent problematic behaviour developing.

 

Reduce the Stimuli

Imagine a dog who lives (as many do) in a house where he’s alone for long periods and only leaves the house once each day for a 30-minute walk.  Of course, the majority of dogs will be excited at the chance to go say hello to another dog or person.  If you can manage it (I know many can’t) get the dog out for a walk 4 times per day.  This will decrease the intensity and allow him to take the exhilaration of the great outdoors, in his stride.  This is normalising it and preventing overstimulation.

 

Just Enjoy It

Never get angry or show your frustration. This will not work, it has never worked, it can never work. Just Enjoy It!  Enjoy the dog’s issues! Now you’re starting to wonder if I’m a little crazy, aren’t you? But what is the point of getting all stressed when you can enjoy yourself?  The dog isn’t being bad, he is giving you information.  He’s saying, “in this situation, this is what I do” and you then say “Thank you for telling me that, you fantastically amazing dog” (you can just think it if you want).  We then get to consider what we can do in this situation. How can we best respond? That’s fantastic, we get to use our great big brain to help out our canine friend.