Unfortunately, many people don’t play with their dogs, they believe if they take their dog for a walk once or twice a day that’s all the dog needs. Some people don’t even take their dog for a walk every day. Cue behaviour problems – or at least behaviour the human perceives to be a problem. There are a number of reasons why some inappropriate behaviours develop such as stress, pain, anxiety, frustration but this blog is going to look at boredom. The dog is bored and has found something to do to relieve that boredom through practicing an innate behaviour.
Imagine being in the same space all the time with no enrichment – so, no TV, no radio, no books or magazines. If you’re lucky you get a bowl of food morning and night and hopefully access to fresh water. This is the life many dogs have, they are probably dragged round the block a couple of times a day (sometimes not even once a day), not being allowed even to sniff the ground and get some enrichment that way by picking up information about their surroundings.
Another reason behaviour problems develop is through inconsistency. One day the dog is allowed to do something they find rewarding, the next day they’re not allowed. Very confusing and potentially frustrating for the dog. Can they or can’t they? Well, they may as well have a go as sometimes they can.
Alternatively, every time the dog does something and gets attention they are likely to repeat this behaviour. Remember, any attention to a dog is attention! So they pick up a slipper, the owner comes to remove the slipper, the dog runs away, the owner follows shouting. Great fun for the dog! They have just initiated a game of chase, and guess what, dogs can run faster than humans so they are not likely to be caught so the game is prolonged while they dodge around each other – even more fun!
So, how can we stop behaviour problems from starting?
Easy when you have a puppy – or is it?
Puppies are a clean sheet – or are they?
Puppies have natural (innate) behaviours or skills that are species and breed specific. These are honed whilst they are with their littermates and parent(s). Chase, tug, chew, play fight, hump for example. If they are bored they will begin to entertain themselves as already mentioned in an earlier paragraph. Providing puppies with enrichment activities that can be practiced either on their own or with others, either humans or other species, will help to relieve boredom and provide mental stimulation. It will also develop their cognitive skills teaching them how to make decisions on their own which we can then develop to ensure they make the right decisions as they mature.
Enrichment activities should be different to needs. Food is a need although it can also be used as an enrichment activity. However, the puppy should be able to easily access a portion of the meal ration to prevent hunger which could lead to frustration. For example, part of the ration could be given in a bowl the remainder could be used as enrichment, hidden in a box or food dispenser perhaps.
A walk in a bag is another way to enrich your puppy. The amount of exercise a puppy gets should be limited to avoid musculoskeletal issues but there’s no reason why you can’t bring a walk to them. This can be done by collecting sticks and leaves on your walk and keeping them sealed in a plastic bag. You can then either spread them about the garden or put them in boxes for your puppy to sniff.
If you have a puppy that is a thief, think about why they are doing this – have you inadvertently set up a game as described earlier? If so one way to stop it is to leave some decoy items about that don’t have any value to you. Then if your puppy picks them up you can ignore and the game suddenly stops being so exciting, in fact its pretty boring. If you then walk away from your puppy and start playing with something else your puppy will probably come to find you and leave the stolen article.
If your puppy has developed a habit that you really don’t like think about why it has happened, have you caused it to develop by inadvertently reinforcing the behaviour. It would be great if you could share some of your experiences in the chat below, you will probably find that you’re not the only one to have this problem.
Warning! Please ensure that anything you use as enrichment is safe for your puppy.
Image taken from iStock photos