The worst day of the year for kids is often the very best day for parents—the first day back to school. Adults veritably kick up their heels with glee at the prospect of having a quiet, clean house and time to themselves. Until they discover Fido has chewed a hole in the rug while they attended a yoga class.
So, why aren’t our pets as enthusiastic as we are to see their sweet little companions board the school bus?
They are bored.
After a summer filled with constant stimulation from trips to the lake, endless games of fetch or just watching the neighborhood children buzz around the block, they miss the companionship and activity.
High-energy dogs benefit from creative enrichment; it improves their quality of life, strengthens the human-animal bond and prevents unwanted behaviors. To avoid any mishaps from your family’s best friend, try these 5 tricks to keep the stimulation going throughout the school year.
1. Ignore unwanted behaviors and reward good ones
Be very careful not to reinforce bad manners. While your enthusiastic dog may want to jump, nudge, bark and whine for extra attention, ignore those behaviors and cultivate good ones. Give them the attention they want only when they are behaving properly. Offering a calm pet or a treat when they are on their bed or relaxed in a crate reinforces desirable behavior.
For dogs that need to learn basic skills such as sitting, staying, “down” and “settle”, enroll in an obedience class to acquire a solid foundation of commands that you can build on. A group social setting can be enriching for dogs and is an investment in quality time spent together. Practicing commands several times a day in short bursts is perfect for younger pets or those with short attention spans. If an in-person class isn’t for you, there’s an abundance of online training courses you can reference.
2. Turn meals into play
Feeding time is another opportunity to turn on your pet’s brain and use that extra energy! Treat or kibble-dispensing toys require your dog to work on how to get the trapped food out of the device and into their mouths. Rolling toys, such as Kongs or Busy Buddies, those with flaps or snuffle mats are options to hide kibble out of sight to test your dog’s mental and olfactory skills. Expending mental energy, whether it be using a food puzzle or in a scent work class where dogs must sniff out a certain scent cue and alert their owner, is the good kind of exhausting!
For home-based training, Amazon sells a starter scent work kit (Leerburg Nosework Training Scent Kit) containing United Kennel Club-approved target odors and containers. You can also find The Nose Work Handler: Foundation to Finesse online.
Remember—a tired pet means a happy pet and happy owner.
3. Enlist in recreational activities
Other activities that are breed- or dog-class-specific can be found. These include dock diving for retrievers and other water-loving dogs, agility and flyball for the highly intelligent and nimble border collie and field trials which require dogs to compete in four components based on hunting breed characteristics. The components are pointing, flushing, retrieving, and scent trailing.
Through these elite activities, the dogs are not only harnessing instinct and brainpower but also performing physical exercise, which releases calming chemicals and promotes better rest.
4. Opt for simple outings for older dogs
For older pets, a simple nature walk or a car ride to the local coffee shop (for a pup cup, of course!) can be all the stimulation they need. By varying the route or activity, you are providing them with enrichment and preventing boredom.
Keep in mind that not all dogs enjoy the car and some may get anxious in loud, unfamiliar settings. Watch for signs like avoiding eye contact, tucking the tail, shaking, yawning or lip licking to indicate they are uncomfortable with an activity.
For social pets, arranging a doggie playdate with a friend or visiting a dog park can be a fun way to interact with others and get the zoomies out. A game of fetch, hide and seek for kibble (or hide the human so the dog needs to find you) can be fun at any age.
5. Leverage a helping hand
If your dog’s energy level knows no limits, you may consider hiring a dog walker or researching local doggie daycares. Having a mid-day pet sitter or one who can come intermittently throughout the week, can prevent your pet from getting stir crazy. Reputable doggie daycares will check vaccination history and temperament of their charges to ensure compatible pets play together. Hiring a helping hand can provide the missing companionship your pet requires.
The extra effort you put in to meet your pet’s mental and physical needs means more downtime for both you and your furry friend.
At Pet Butler, we strive to help you create a schedule that allows you to spend quality time with your pet. While you’re out for a walk, playing a game of fetch or snuggling on the couch, let us take care of the dirty work, like cleaning up your pet’s waste. In the meantime, learn more about the services we provide, like pet sitting and dog walking!