The NUMBER ONE STRATEGY to a Well Behaved Dog
Do you know the number one strategy to a well behaved dog? It's not a special type of training tool, it's not a special training technique, it's not impulse control training, it's not going through doors first or making sure your dog knows you're the boss. It's this:
What is enrichment? Enrichment is the process of fulfilling all of an animal's species typical and species appropriate behaviors. Our pet dogs are technically captive animals; that's not to say that they don't enjoy living with us, BUT our normal, average human environment rarely offers enough enrichment opportunities for our dogs on it's own. It takes special thought and effort to arrange our dog's world to be more enriching.
And when we don't make that extra effort? We end up with dogs who are bored, destructive, overly vocal, pushy, "demanding", "obnoxious", and any other number of negative labels. If you do not meet your dog's basic needs for mental and physical enrichment no amount of training will help. Many, many of our dog's problem behaviors are caused by under stimulated, bored dogs who are not having their needs met. And that's a problem that needs fixing!
When it comes to enrichment, dogs often enjoy doing things like chewing, sniffing, rolling, digging, chasing toys, playing tug, playing chase me games with their humans or other dogs, exploring new environments, swimming, running. Basically anything your dog ENJOYS doing can be turned into purposeful enrichment (as long as it's safe!)
A day in the life of one of my dogs tends to look like this:
- First thing in the morning we go for a walk that is at least 1.5 miles, often times 2-3 miles long. This walk usually takes at least an hour, and when my dogs sniff on the walks I allow them to do so and rarely interrupt them to make them keep moving (hint: a human led walk isn't really physical exercise, it's more like mental stimulation, so don't worry too much about them not walking fast enough!) Both of my dogs have 8 or 10 foot leashes for this so that they get a little extra room to stretch their legs without wanting to pull me.
- When we get home they are fed their breakfast from a slow feeder bowl; this is a mix of bone broth, kibble, a little wet food, pumpkin, fish oil, and other supplements that they get. I rotate in new foods occasionally to provide them with some novelty (I am very fortunate in that my dogs do not have sensitive stomachs, so I can do this easily!) Novelty is enriching!
- Throughout the day when we're home the dogs get frequent breaks in the yard. For Regis that looks like running through the yard smelling and treeing squirrels (those are his Beagle genes telling him what to do), and for Phoebe that means sniffing a bit but often times just laying in the sun and smelling the breeze (this is likely the Great Pyrenees genes in the driver's seat). I supervise them in the yard, and I do try to leave them out as long as my schedule allows and the weather is good.
- If I'm around for dinner we train using their meal times. If I'm out at work they get their meals out of a food dispensing toy; this might be a stuffed kong or toppl toy, it might be the kong wobbler or tricky treat ball, or a snuffle mat. I try not to do the same toy two days in a row and rotate in new toys often. (See this page for my favorite food dispensing toys)
- Regis and Phoebe typically play with each other around dinner time or in the evenings; they'll get the roomies for 5-10 minutes. Phoebe also gets occasional play dates with dog friends (Regis is not interested in making new friends, so he stays home with a yummy snack to occupy his time).
- Right before bed both Regis and Phoebe enjoy chewing on a benebone for 20-30 minutes until they get sleepy, and then they crash.
Your day does NOT have to look exactly like this to have a well enriched dog. Do you have kids and an hour morning walk simply isn't an option? THAT'S OKAY! Let's pack some food dispensing toys for breakfast instead and have a longer walk at your lunch break! Have a dog that is afraid of other dogs? Then dog play may not be an option, but a long line walk at your local park is a great enrichment opportunity!
Some great enrichment activities to add to your day to day life include:
- Tack 10 extra minutes onto your walks and commit to letting your dog sniff as much as they want during that extra time
- Grab your dog's kibble and for a few meals a week throw the kibble into your back yard; let your dog sniff out every little piece of kibble, working their nose and practicing their foraging skills
- Purchase a long line, go to a wide open field, and go on a "dog led walk" letting your dog lead the way and following behind
- If your dog loves fetch or tug commit to at least 10 extra minutes a few times a week
- Buy a trick training book (I like this one) and vow to tackle one or two new tricks a month
- Sign your dog up for a nose work class or other dog sport class (I do Rally Free with my dogs!) and commit to one hour a week of just you and your dog!
- Commit to buying or creating one new food dispensing activity a week. Enrichment doesn't have to be expensive! Do you have an old liter soda bottle? Drill some holes in it and toss their kibble inside for your dog to knock around. Grab an old towel, roll it out, sprinkle your dog's meal inside of it, then roll it back up so your dog has to unroll the towel to find all of their kibbles. Grab a dozen boxes, place them throughout the house, sprinkle a little bit of your dog's kibble in each box, and have them "find it". The only thing limiting you is your own creativity!
And here are some excellent resources for you to check out if you're not sure where to start are: - Canine Enrichment for the Real World
I PROMISE it doesn't have to be hard to increase your dog's daily enrichment, but it will take thinking and planning! Remember: a well enriched dog is going to be a better behaved dog, a
nd it's SO WORTH IT to provide these opportunities! Give your dog the life they deserve!