Today I have a hundred and one things to do. As well as filming for the various shows I have, I run a business that takes up a lot of my time. I am also a mother, and when I am not on the road, my daughter and her needs take precedence over everything else. Yes, there is a team that works with me, but like a lot of people, my workload is still vast and it’s hard to find the time to get everything done. I’m not complaining, but I think that sometimes my dogs might.
I have never been comfortable with having dogs that just fit into my day. I fully admit that there are some times when I don’t want to take them for a walk or play with them – there are so many other things I need to get done and it would be a lot easier if I had those extra hours each day to do them. However, I just don’t feel right until my dogs have had daily exercise and all their needs have been attended to. I personally cannot concentrate until I know they are fulfilled, which means I make sure a certain portion of the day is set aside just for them. I am responsible for making my dogs’ lives the best they can be and I encourage all my clients to try and do the same with theirs – making time for the animals in your life is essential for their physical and mental health.
Almost all of the dogs I work with that demonstrate negative behaviour, do so because they have little to no daily outlet. Many people bring dogs into their lives for selfish reasons and don’t make the time to fulfill their dogs’ needs. Consequently, these dogs spend long hours by themselves with nothing to do, forcing them to find their own ways to cope with boredom. All too often, this means chewing on household items, barking uncontrollably, or becoming reactive and anxious. Ultimately the prescription for problem behaviours like these is an easy one – a simple modification protocol that includes more physical and mental enrichment. Advising my clients to utilize the tools I give them is the easy part, but the follow through can be a lot harder.
If you’ve watched my show, you will, on many occasions, have seen me shake my head in despair, when after advising a family on the importance of enrichment and having given them a plethora of ideas, I return to a myriad of excuses as to why they couldn’t follow the plan. This is sometimes coupled with an irritation that their dog is still behaving badly, as if it is somehow my fault. I’m sure there will be many trainers and other animal professionals reading this who have had similar experiences. And when I think I’ve heard every excuse, another one always comes along that is more far-fetched than the last.
Why am I writing this now? Because just the other day I had a client tell me they did not want to give their border collie too much exercise because she would only build up more strength and stamina and then require more exercise if they did. I suppose they had a point, but I had been called in because this was a dog that was already climbing the walls in her urban household, and without more outlets for her boundless energy and super canine intelligence, the poor thing would go out of her mind and become even more of an irritant for her lazy owners.
If you and your family were interviewed by your dog before she came into your home, how would you have convinced her that you were the right home and family to spend the rest of her life with? Would you have passed the interview process? Could you offer her everything she needed? How do you think you measure up now to the promises you made then and her expectations of you? I love asking my clients these questions because it really makes them think about what they have to offer and what they could improve. I know many dogs that could have avoided lives of interminable boredom if they had had the chance to interview a family before going to live with them. If my dogs sat me down and told me how they felt about me I’m sure they would fail me in certain areas, but I know they would also give me a high score for trying. They would tell me that they love their walks, but not the way I stop them from indulging in their favourite pastime, rolling in fox or coyote poo. They would probably ask if I could spend a little less time on my computer and more time curling up with them. My lab Sadie would definitely demand more food and both would appreciate a standing invitation to the dinner table. Jasmine would tell me how much she loves playing with the chase it toy and both would thank me for loving them as much as I do and for giving them a safe and comfortable home.
Enrichment positively changes lives. Walking, playing and socializing. Problem solving, chewing and eating. Team activities, games and quiet together time. Finding the right balance can help modify or in some cases completely eliminate problem behaviour, dramatically changing a dog and a person’s life for the better. And the beauty of enrichment is that it can be so simple and easy to do, it just requires a little thought and good management of your time.
So throughout a busy workday my dogs get a morning and afternoon walk, or one long walk a day if I can’t get to both. They have quiet time to recharge and then game time, which might involve vigorous play or problem solving exercises like hide and go find. They have a daily activity/chew toy that is filled with part of their daily food allowance and the rest of their food is fed at mealtimes through a different and more complex puzzle/activity toy. In the evening they enjoy the simple yet much loved pleasure of just being close and cuddling up together.
I’m lucky, because in my household there is always someone around who can make sure that my dogs get what they need if I’m not there, but even if your dogs spend more time by themselves, there are still ways to give them appropriate outlets throughout the day. Dog walkers, day care, durable chew toys, calming music, (and in America, a new and wonderful invention called DogTV) to mention but a few. For those of you who work out of the house all day, getting up a little earlier in the morning to exercise your dog and then hiding toys and treats around the house for your dog to hunt for while you are at work is part of the prescription. (Care should be taken with the hunt and go find it game if you have a multi dog household that has disagreements over resources such as food and toys). A combination of these two activities can tire a dog out for hours and is a lot cheaper than hiring a dog walker or dropping a dog off at day care.
I am not a very organized person but I work hard at being the kind of person I think my dogs want and need me to be. I certainly seem to be on the right track, as my dogs appear very happy and content. I know I don’t always hit the mark for them, but where enrichment is concerned, I do my best to make sure they have as many outlets as they need. That is why I waited so long before I had dogs of my own, because I wanted to give them the best life possible. Sure, my dogs complete me and make my life better, but I work as hard as I can to do the same for them.