The exasperated caller complained that his dog was escaping his yard, digging and fence running. The dog was becoming a neighborhood nuisance and driving him crazy. I pressed a bit and asked about the environment the dog lived in. All I got was the dog had a yard to play in. I asked about toys, attention, opportunity to get out with other dogs if he had dogs he liked to play with, etc. The owner grew silent. He thought all a dog needed was a yard to run in. Sadly, this is a common misconception.
Dogs are not lawn ornaments. Dogs without stimulation become bored. Boredom leads to undesired behaviors. The dogs are not bad! They are not vindictive. They are trying to fill a void and may do so in ways we do not want.
Dogs are thinking creatures with natural instincts such as digging, chasing, sniffing, and tearing. Dogs are also social creatures. This does not mean they will want to hang out at a dog park. In fact, dog parks can be stressing for many dogs and have dangers humans may not realize.
This dog was escaping the yard because he was bored. He had no toys, little interaction with his people. Outside the fence was a world of possibilities. I explained to the owner what a dog should have to help enrich his yard and life.
Again, silence and then: “Well, the dog is too much work, maybe I should get rid of him.” Obviously even simple steps to helping his dog was too much for this owner. But recognizing boredom and working to prevent it are part of responsible dog owning. In zoos, creating a stimulating environment is called “Enrichment.” And at home, we must enrich.
Part of enriching our dogs’ lives is proper socialization based on the needs of the dog. Please watch this video:
Living in the suburbs is great as we have the best of both worlds. Yards and open space but the luxury of having shopping and other amenities nearby! I can get dogs who need it to quieter areas as well as areas with more activity as the dog is ready.
Many suburban and rural dogs lack in adequate socializing as owners have the luxury of a yard. There is no need seen to walk the dogs. Personally, my dogs have about 5,000 square feet fenced for their use. Why should my dogs get out?
Walks are vital for learning opportunities. How else can the dog learn that the world does not have to be feared? It is amazing what dogs will view as a threat and either shy from or snap at trying to escape that threat. Often, I get calls from people who will not walk their dogs as the dogs lunge at bikes, other dogs, etc. By denying the walks, the owner is denying a great training and socializing opportunity. The owner develops a cycle – dog lunges, owner stops walks, dog does not learn to ignore bikes, owner tried again in a few months hoping dog grew out of it, dog lunges, owner stops walks…
Dogs also need to get out and sniff. This is important for dogs.
Dogs who are bored tend to develop destructive and annoying behaviors such as barking, chewing, and digging. The dogs are not getting back at humans; they are just trying to entertain themselves. Dogs who spend all day alone and isolated from the family may develop barking problems as well as become escape artists. The owner views the dog as hard to handle, trying to “get back at me” and refuses to take him out even more as a form of punishment for not behaving. This does nothing but exacerbate the situation.
Let’s look at some enrichment ideas.
A toilet paper or paper towel tube with some kibble put in it and the ends crumpled allow the dog to tear into a toy. A clean milk jug with the top off and kibble dropped in lets the dog throw and tear and tackle.
Buster Cubes and similar toys have various compartments inside that kibbles rolls about in. Sometimes the kibble comes out. Feed your dog one of his daily meals or even both in this fashion.
Find the kibble games are great.
Games of hide and seek are wonderful! One person hides and another gets the dog to go find. Once the hiding person is found, a toy gets tossed for the dog. Or hide a toy for the dog to find. This is also a great way to improve coming when called. Start simple (behind a chair in the same room) and build up the complexity (up the stairs and down the hall and under a box in your room).
Take a bunch of plastic or paper cups and lay them out mouth down. Put a treat under just one cup and encourage the dog to find the treat.
Play with flirt poles instead of fetch.
How about enriching our yards for our dogs? A strong rope tied to a tree with heavy bungee cords lets the dog pull and tug. Big boxes make great tunnels and many dogs will fit through the play tunnels sold at many human toy stores. Small logs and lengths of PVC pipe (4″ and 5″ diameter) can be laid down for the dog to walk and jump over while playing. (For safety, dogs under 12 – 18 months of age should have all jumps very low).
Do some backyard agility!
Make a digging area for your dog! Lay down a 4’x4′ box and fill it with a soft sand and dirt mix. Encourage your dog to dig here and not in your garden. Use landscaping timbers to mark off the dog’s digging box.
A toy buried or some kibble sprinkled over the area can help redirect his digging from your Azaleas to his personal digging spot! Build a couple platforms for your dog to jump on and crawl under (just keep away from fences as some dogs will learn to use these as means to escape). Get out and play fetch with various toys to allow your dog to engage in chasing behaviors.
Take a box, hide treats in it and drag it through the yard on a rope (you stay still, just drag the box). This allows the dog to chase and tackle! These are all things that we can do to help enrich our dogs’ lives.
And if you have a higher- to high-energy breed, these games are wonderful for burning off that energy! Get creative. However, monitor toy use and if you suspect a toy is not suited for your dog, do not use it. There is no toy ideal for all dogs and safety with toys is essential!
Boredom in dogs leads to undesired behaviors. However, enriching their environment, getting them socialized and understanding that we make our dogs what they are goes a long way in making our lives together happy and healthy.
- Karen Peak – West Wind Dog Training