How stimulating is your dogs walk?
Is it round the block or the same park once a day?
Do you always take the same route?
Has your walks become predictable and stagnant?
The best way to know if your walk has become stagnant is by looking at your dog, does he avoid being put back on the lead, when you reach the car or a certain point on the walk? Along with predictable walks often comes poor recall. Does your dog on the walk, stick there heels in and want to go in a different direction. Does your dog know the route off by heart. If your dog pulls you all the way to the park, again the walk has become predictable as your dog knows you always go there.
Our dogs lives are very much dictated by us humans, we decide when they eat, play, at worse; when they have to sit and lie down and of course when they get the privilege to leave the confinement of the house and garden, and go for “their” walk. You may have a lovely big house with a large garden but it is vital that dogs as well as us get out the house and get stimulation from many different environments too. When we think of walking the dog, the main thing we often think about is exercise. For our dog however it is much more than that. It’s a chance to finally get out of the house, no matter how big or small your home is, it is still the same four walls your dog sees day in and day out, they cannot decide to leave, its all dictated by us, when and if we decide to take them. Think about it from a human perspective, when you are stuck in the house for one reason or another you can end up getting cabin fever. A walk for a dog means a chance to explore, take in new sights, smells, meet people, other dogs and much more. When you walk your dog try and keep one thing in mind “The walk is for your dog and he/she might need it more than you”. How we walk our dogs can have a huge impact on there mood state and can cause all-sorts of on lead problems, lead frustration, reactivity to other dogs, people and more.
When you start taking your dog just on round the block walks, you make the walk boring for your self, in turn the walk then becomes a chore “I have to walk the dog” exercise is important for dogs but so is the quality of walks, if your dog is not allowed to sniff, it’s not being naturally stimulated, studies have revealed that dogs get a lot of information from scent, such as when the last dog was about, what sex they were and more. If we constantly interrupt the sniffing, this makes the walk unpleasant and could make your dog anxious as its is not getting full information about the dogs that are around. Let the walk be about them. Variety is the spice of life, keep your walks interesting go to different places, woods, fields, canals, parks, lidos, journey in the car to different places, go in different directions. Walking in the same direction round in a circle in a park two or three times can be frustrating too, you walk round the path meet a dog, you walk on again then repeatedly meet the same dog, this can be frustrating for both dogs.
Now some of you may have a dog that does not like walks, they are fearful of cars, novelty, busy places, you may have a dog that is reactive to other dogs or people, these behaviours must be addressed for the health and well being of your dog, so please seek professional modern advice. These are behaviours that can be changed with the right person helping you, they should work with you at your dogs pace and help you both enjoy getting out again. If you don’t like the idea of letting your dog sniff because you have a dog that constantly picks things up of the floor, this may be because you have accidentally reinforced the behaviour, by making everything they picked up from a pup a big deal or they are not getting the opportunity to forage naturally see my Banish the Food Bowl blog for some ideas. If your dog is a puller find a good trainer to help you teach them to walk loosely on lead. If your dog has a condition which means it cannot walk for long, drive it to different places, if you also have a condition which means you cannot go far again either drive to new places or hire a dog walker
Don’t make your walk all about throwing a toy/ball for your dog either, this can actually keep their arousal levels high, which I typically hear from owners who says they have played for an hour and the dog comes home with as much energy as they went with. This kind of exercise is like going to the gym, when you have finished your work out, you are full of endorphins, which make you feel good and gives you more energy. Ball throwing can make some dogs obsessive and can stop them doing natural behaviours like sniffing and exploring. This in turn can also make them so obsessed that they pull all the way to the park rather than enjoying the journey too. This can then be a dog that is highly stressed out on the lead and can trigger other unwanted behaviour. Although it is vital to play with our dogs, throwing a ball is overused by us and is generally for our own convenience, to “exercise” the dog by us standing still, it is not a natural behaviour for them to be solely focused on a ball or toy of any sort. It often causes conflict/fights with other dogs in the park when your dog becomes possessive of it. It is normal for a dog to resource guard however it is not normal for your dog to resource aggress. I have spoken to a lot of physiotherapists and they say if they had their way they would ban ball play altogether, as it causes many injuries in dogs, sometimes that their owners are not even aware of, dogs are good at hiding pain. Dogs that are injured can act out of character and be more reactive generally. Now as mentioned it is crucial you still play with your dog, but you can play hide and seek with the ball instead, or hide and seek yourself so your dog has to find you as well, this game is a good way of strengthening recall.
Walks also where you take your dog for a jog/run with you or on a bike ride, also can be unpleasant for dogs, especially if this is the main way you walk them. On these kind of walks they are forced to run with you and can only generally stop when you decide, their arousal levels will also be high from this type of endurance exercise, it’s not particularly relaxing or stimulating, again make sure your dog is getting something out of this kind of walk.
A walk where your dog gets to investigate and explore is much more rewarding than a dog that is marched from A to B in a strict heel, when your dog is looking at you the whole time on the walk, who’s the walk benefiting, this is not the only way to stop your dog pulling their are other techniques out there, in fact in my time working with dogs, just changing the equipment the dog is walked on and allowing them to sniff has made a significant improvement to dogs that usually pull and ones that are reactive on lead. Those of you that know me, will know that for many years I have not taught heel walking and instead have taught loose lead walking, the dog still learns that pulling on the lead gets them no where and they are taught to correct their own behaviour. The compromise is that if they do not pull, they get to sniff what they like pretty much when they like. More about my lead walking technique in my later blog!
Now you can teach two different walks, as I am aware that some times you need to get to places with your dogs, you can teach one where you want there nose off the floor and one where they can sniff until there hearts content however make the no sniffing walk the exception rather than the rule!! Try not to take your dog out when you do not have much time or if you do, make the walk shorter but allowing them to sniff more, they will get more out of this kind of walk than a rushed stressful one.
You may feel you have no time for the kind of walks I am describing but you need to make time for the health and wellbeing of your dog, so miss that episode of Eastenders and make your dogs walk interesting.
Of course for those of you that already provide variety for you dogs, keep up the good work!
There are many behaviour problems that can be resolved in our dogs by just providing them with mental and environmental stimulation. One way of doing this is by Interactive feeding. For many years we have fed our dogs out of food bowls, as this is the way we eat ourselves off a nice clean plate. Many dogs don’t enjoy eating this way, some may take the food from the bowl and then eat it off the floor, others may regularly go off there food, especially the ones that have one large meal once a day (not good for many reasons) or ones that have their food left down all day, imagine me leaving your roast dinner on a plate all day and expect you to eat it, you might pick at it because you are hungry, but would you really enjoy it! Now if you look back in history at how dogs evolved, you will find that they are natural foragers, eating small quantities up to 12 times a day or more and of course hunting is a strong instinct that we have bred into them too although most dogs no longer consume prey. Although a large number of dogs are now bred to be family pets, they still have these instincts hard wired into them. You see this when they raid the bin, when they watch the floor like a hawk when you are preparing food, just incase you drop a bit, when they pick up everything that looks like food on their walks. Dogs have natural instincts and needs to but we are so busy making them conform to our lifestyle dictating how, when and where they do things, they can often get frustrated as they have no job to do. When dogs are lacking mental stimulation they often go what we like to term as “Self Employed”. Your dog may hunt socks, the remote control, chase shadows or reflections, pace the house looking for something to do, chew, start barking at things and more. Now I don’t recommend exactly encouraging them to use the hunting skills they were bred for i.e. hunting birds, local vermin or the neighbours cat but we can provide them an equivalent.
It’s time to change the way we feed our dogs!
At the very minimum dogs should be fed their daily recommended allowance twice a day, this helps sustain their energy levels, but splitting it down to 3, 4 or more meals is even better. After all how often do we eat if we include snacks.
Use every meal time, everyday for the rest of there lives, as an opportunity to mentally stimulate your dog, there are many ideas out there nowadays and the good thing about this type of stimulation, is you can do it no matter how old your dog is. Here are a few suggestions:
Please note: It’s important that your dog enjoys it, feed differently at different meal times to keep it interesting and make sure it is not so hard that it’s almost impossible to get the food out
- The simplest way to start off with (if your dog is on a dry complete food, wet food could get messy!) is by scatter feeding, which literally means throwing the food all over the kitchen floor, out in the garden or even on your walk, just make sure other dogs are not around, alternatively use a snuffle mat you can make your own too see here.
- Hide some portions of the meal around the house or in the garden in small piles, at first let your dog see where you put it and say “find it” once your dog understands what you are doing make the game more challenging by hiding it whilst they are out of sight.
- There are obviously the classics like the Kong or the cheaper version Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude, which are so versatile you can put the dry food loose in them to start off with making it easy, then if you have multiple ones you can then hide them in different places around the house. You can soak their dry food, stuff them with it and then freeze them, making a popcicle for hot days or just use feed wet complete food stuffed in it. These are good for when visitors arrive too.
- There are plenty of other Interactive feeding toys on the market now, like the Kong Wobbler or the Buster Activity Mat, just ensure they are not too over exciting or frustrating. see the following link for many more ideas www.johinds.com/dogentertainment
Of course the cheaper alternative is to make your own. If your dog likes to chew and consume then some of these ideas are not for them, always supervise your dog and remove the item when empty, and completely if you have any concerns of them choking on or swallowing bits. Again there are some innovative homemade ideas out there:
- Snuffle mat
- Refill old marrow bones
- Fill up Plastic bottles (with lid and ring round neck removed) with there dry food
- Old slightly split tennis balls can be filled and dotted round the house or garden to hunt and find
- For your diggers out there; take 1 cardboard box and hide the meal between layers of fleece, towels, plastic milk cartons, toys etc
- Wrap the food in an old blanket or towel
- Take one juice carton, remove any plastic, rinse, dry and fill
- Buy a cheap kids ball pit, scatter the food in with the balls
With some of the interactive toys you might need to help them to start off with, showing them how it comes out. You must then leave them to try and work it out themselves, this is how it becomes stimulating for them. Always make sure the toys are not left down after they have finished with them, to keep them novel and interested the next time. Ensure your dog has opportunities to rest, there should be a balance between mental stimulation which includes sniffy walks as well as ample opportunities to rest and sleep.
Be inventive and share your ideas in the comments below.
Lets make our dogs lives even more interesting.
Thats me for now, will blog again real soon…