Dogs can be an absolute joy, and there are all too many reasons why they remain one of the most popular pets. But many dogs develop poor habits which make it difficult for you to leave them alone at home when you go to work. What can you do to make it easier for them to behave the way you want them to?
Something many people don’t understand is that dogs behave a lot better if they are appropriately exercised. But telling you that much isn’t really helpful unless you know how to give your dog that appropriate exercise. You see, many people think that leashed walks are adequate for dogs of any stripe, and that is simply untrue. Generally speaking, leashed walks represent a fraction of the exercise level your dog needs to be physically exercised to the right degree. So what else can you do?
Off-leash exercise is a wonderful way for your dog to burn off excess energy that could otherwise go to wrecking the house, obsessive behaviour and even aggression caused by frustration. Games of fetch, or just letting your dog play chase with other, friendly dogs can be an amazing way to ensure all that energy doesn’t go to waste and you’ll go home with a dog whose frustration levels are low. But not all areas provide places where your dog can run off-leash, and not all dogs are able to be allowed off-leash due to inappropriate behaviour such as aggression or even just rudeness that can cause aggression in others. For such dogs, finding a wide-open space where you can let your dog run on a long lead such as a 20- or even 50-foot line is a good idea. They are still able to run around quite a lot without being completely out of your control (but, if your dog does react poorly to other dogs, bicycles or other things that may come by, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out and call him or her back – with the aid of the line if required – ahead of time. This will also allow you to turn the appearance of these triggers into something positive with treats and games such as Look At This).
Another aspect many people unwittingly ignore is the mental stimulation your dog requires. Especially working dogs such as the ubiquitous collie or the Jack Russell terrier need a lot of mental stimulation – they were, after all, bred to do a job, and a job that requires a keen intellect at that. For these dogs, mere running around is probably not enough to keep them calm during the times when you need them to behave. There are dog toys available on the market that allow your dog to use logic to find treats or food, and simple training – working your way up to more complex tricks – can do a great deal to help, too.
The dog crate can be a helpful tool, as well. Many people consider it cruel, but if you condition your dog to enjoy his or her crate by, for example, providing him or her with a bone (uncooked, as cooked bones are prone to splintering which can cause dangerous blockages and internal injuries) when you leave him or her in there, you can turn it into a place of safety and good fun. By filling a Kong toy with dog food, you can also provide your dog with that much-needed mental stimulation whilst in the crate as he or she works at getting all the food out. Try freezing it once filled if it gets too easy!
Finally, don’t be tempted to think that smaller dogs need less exercise. The level of exercise and stimulation required has nothing to do with your dog’s size and everything to do with his or her energy levels. You can take some guidance from your dog’s breed if he or she is a pure-bred, but even with the most diligently bred dog you can’t always be sure. Take your cues, instead, from your dog’s behaviour. Providing him or her with the correct amount of stimulation on both a mental and a physical level will allow you to bond with him or her to a greater degree, and is sure to facilitate your relationship when it comes to leaving your dog alone or expecting him or her to behave in any situation!