Do You Have Time For Your Dogs?

SHAPING_FeaturedToday 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.


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  • http://victoriastilwellfans.webs.com DeLinda

    Playing and walking my dog is not only enjoyable and enriching for her, but for me as well. As a person that lives alone, my dog and I take care of each other - the cats take care of us too, lol.

    It's SO important, I agree, to give your dogs time - because if you don't take time for your dogs, you have no one else to blame for their behavior.

    You are so right, right, right!!

  • Nancy

    I have tried to walk my almost 1 year old but she pulls alot. I am trying different leashes and hope to find one that works. It is winter and real cold here right now so I am not going walkind but... she loves the snow so we play fetch a few times a day. Not too long because I don't want her or myself to get sick. When I leave the house, I hind things for her. What kind of toys would be good for her when she is alone? She chews alot and hard. Any thoughts would help.

    thank you,
    Nancy

  • Kim Capehart

    I am very fortunate to work from home. My dogs provide me great company throughout the day, but there are times when I have conference calls that I need for my dogs to entertain themselves quietly. What types of puzzles, games, etc do you recommend. The Hide and Find game; how do I teach them this?

    My pack consists of a Lily, year old Toy Aussie (product of a puppy mill and used for breeding until I got her in 2011), Sami who is a 10 month old Aussie Mix, and Jake a 5 month old Miniature Aussie. They are not high energy dogs. Lily is low energy and the two pups are medium energy with Jake being more energetic than Sami. Sami is in Intermediate obedience class and Jake is in beginning. They actually both knew enough to skip basics, but I wanted them to get the socialization.

    During the day, I'll take a few minutes here and there and work on their manners and obedience. I am so very lucky to have them in my life.

    Thank you!

    Kim

  • Kim Capehart

    Sorry Lily is 7 years old.

  • Natalie Durack

    Hi there,
    I do dogwalking and one of the dogs I walk is a Siberian Husky aged 1.He is very active,always trying to bite your hands when walking him and jumping.I go round each day and give him half an hours walk. I know that the problem for the issues I have provided above are because he requires more exercise and love.How much exercise do you reecommend he should be getting?
    Once you have told me,I will promote this to the dogs owners and see if I can get to walk him or longer.

    Thanks

  • SUE BRYAN

    I agree, I have 2 rotweillers although we live on a 4 acre block I still make sure they get out for a walk or should I say they take me for a walk every day. As it is very hot here at the moment I walk them at 8 or 9 at night as it is still light and they come back exhausted but happy. During the day they have the run of the property and like to chase the throw ball. One of our dogs is a rescue rotti who spent the day tied up on concrete and came to us with sores,fleas etc. you were lucky to get your hand back in tact if you went to pat her, slowly but surely she is realizing that the hand does not punish nor is the broom a weapon that will beat her. Now she comes and places her head on your lap when you sit and she now knows that when you walk up to her she can expect a rub on the ear or a pat. Our other Rotti we got as a pup and is now a year old but very bossy. I call her a work in progress and find that getting her to do as she is asked
    is working with treats and repetition. Angel the younger Rotti is shocking at jumping up on you and I have tried all methods that I have been advised to do by the breeder and the dog guru to no avail, but now I find that every time she jumps up I say NO DOWN! walk inside shut the door wait then go back out and try again - but Angel being Angel still has a go at jumping up if she thinks she can get away with it. I and my husband throughly enjoy your program.

  • Carla

    I so wish this note could be sent to each and every person who has a dog and who is thinking of getting a dog. They require so much more than just food and shelter. When they get the love, attention, exercise, training and interaction required, what you get back is love and a bond beyond description. I would discourage people to get a dog, unless they really understand what is needed to be a dog owner. Thank you again Victoria. God bless you

  • David

    I am guilty! Thanks for the reminder Victoria.

  • Arlene Moody

    Thank you for this beautiful and meaningful message. When we are open to examining our dogs' needs it really leads to the development of an enriching relationship.

  • Marti

    I have 4 Pomeranians, I make time for daily walks and weekly nose work training for each one. They love having a job and look forward to their classes. I have realized the importance of giving each one , special time.

  • sharon

    that is like any animal a person has. one must have time for them. I had 2 cats and I worked it was hard, made as much time for them as I could. And at times just stayed home with them because I was at work during the day and some times at night. but with cats they can use a litter box. Dogs cannot. I would love to have a dog. But I would have to crate it. I cannot take the chance that the dog would tear up my apartment yes I am allowed to have animals.
    Same now for a cat too. With Birds and one guinea pig I have to think of them too. I had a cat that I had adopted and well that cat must have been bipolar. he one minute was fine and the next was attacking me. And bite men clawed me and more. And my other pets it was horrible. I gave him back. Dogs a person has to also kennel when they go on Vacation too. And walking them. One must have time for the dog. Like me I work 8 hours a day. And it would be hard for me. Like I said above the dog would be crated. So I am very unsure If I should get one or not. I feel if one is going to have a dog they should be home to look at it. Not working. The cat would be crated too. And one must take into account there live style. first before getting a dog.

  • Jayne

    I would've passed an interview with my dog in theory, but as time went on we'd have failed. I discovered my husband is a fairweather dog owner. If it's even slightly raining he won't walk them - he doesn''t want to get wet. He tried getting up early in the morning top walk them before work, it didn't last long. I was walking them early in the morning for a while or in the evening, but stopped because he wasn't doing his share of things to help me out. When he walked them, I tended to the children & the house. When I walked them he's too busy because he needs to rest after working all day (too damn lazy more like!). I tried walking them during the day, but found it too difficult with my pre-school child in tow. My husband's active life didn't allow me much time to walk them on my own because he's hardly here. Both dogs' behaviour was worsening because they were bored, we were frustrated & angry with them. I felt awful because it was down to us. My youngest child is now in afternoon school. That frees up 2 hours a day. They're going to the beach, to the woods or a long walk around the streets. Not only are they loving it, but I am too. Their behaviour has drastically improved too.

  • Heidi

    I have two Tibetan terriers, other one is one and the other three years old. I do my best to keep them happy. Usually they get about 1-1,5 hours walk in the morning (they get to run free in the fields during that also) and two shorter, 20-30 minutes walks during the day. They have chew bones every day and they've got lots of toys to play with. And of course they play with each other too.
    We train HTM freestyle and discdogging and many other things too. We play activity games together. We also spend quiet quality time together. They seem happy to me and I hope they really are.

  • Jan

    I am lucky like Kim and work from home. We have two greyhounds and even though we have a decent-sized fenced back yard I walk them every day at lunch time. Now that it's winter and can get extremely cold like these last few days, the walks may be shorter (with winter coats), but we still go! I play some hide and seek type of games with them inside to make up the time. We are also lucky to have friends who live close with two greyhounds and a nice, long fenced back yard so they can get come play time, social time and running time once in a while. I never did understand why people get a dog and then ignore it. That's no fun!!

  • Tara

    My day starts at 4:30 AM and doesn't end until typically around 10:30 PM. It's long, somewhat chaotic and always crammed full of things that need to get done. Thankfully I am a very organized person and that helps a great deal. That being said, my dogs are absolutely a high priority. Taking them for a good long wog (walk/run/jog :)) is not just a responsibility, but it's also one of my greatest daily pleasures & a tremendous stress reliever! I have a 5 1/2 yo redbone coonhoud/Cur dog mix and a "lost & found" ~3 yo Beagle that both start their days with a mini-massage. Quick & easy, for a minute or 2 each they get a total body rub down & stretch which -- aside from being a great way to be woken up :) -- promotes healthy blood flow, and keeps me in-tune with their physical well-being. A brisk 10-15 minute walk in the AM is enough to keep their noses happy for the day and a good hour of physical & mental exercise in the afternoons is a must. Any additional time of running, playing & generally goofing around is a bonus during the week (weekends it's a given), but at least with this "schedule" I know that they've had good, healthy attention throughout the day. I also believe in additional formal training every now & then to keep them sharp. For instance, I've started an agility class with the beagle which he is becoming a rock star in!

    It upsets me greatly to hear/read about people that don't take the full needs of a dog into consideration. You can't just leave a bowl of food & water down & say "good boy" now & then.

    Thank you for addressing this issue and bringing to to the forefront of people's attention, it is SO important when considering welcoming a new furry family member!

  • amyfaith

    agreeing with david above, i am guilty but thankfully the dogs remind! excellent post thank you!

  • http://www.thedogtrainer.weebly.com Vicci

    Sooooooo true Victoria. I work with clients who are amazed that I don't have a dog. The irony is that I spend so much time with other peoples dogs and horses (I work with horses too) and my two other jobs (to pay the bills!) and I live on my own that I don't feel it is fair for me to own a dog. The two phrases I seem to say most are (1) Your dog is very anxious and insecure (is it? really? I never noticed!) and (2) Your dog is bored brainless (similar responses to 1!!!). Looking forward to the conference in UK.

  • Summer

    @Nancy- try a Gentle Leader or a an Easy Walk harness, they can be lifesavers when you are training them not to pull. http://www.premier.com/View.aspx?page=dogs/products/collars

    Also if you have a young dog that easily destroys toys, try a Kong toy, but don't get the red one (most popular) get the black one. It is stronger than the regular one. But obviously watch her with it at first to make sure she will use it as a treat dispenser and not destroy or eat it.

  • Alex Susman

    "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".

    This is why it important for people to learn how to be the moose. The thinking that led to this idea is distorted. This person doesn't understand how to ground the dog. This is really important stuff right here.

  • Fiona

    Firstly, I want to thank you Mrs. Stilwell. Giving a dog adequate exercise is MUCH easier without having a choking, hacking, coughing, pulling, embarrassing dog dragging one about. Perhaps due to my own maturity, and burgeoning patience, and definitely due to using your techniques, for the first time in my life, I have a dog that it a pleasure to walk. It make us both happier to get out for a stroll!

  • Amy

    I have three longhair dachshunds, ages 3, 7, and 11. People seem to think because they are "small dogs" that they can just run around the house or backyard and that is all they need. I think that is a narrow minded assumption. My dogs love getting out and going on walks, or being allowed off lead in a field to explore. If they do not get enough exercise they get bored and pester me, plus I would feel so guilty if I did not exercise them. I work, so they are alone together from 8-12 and then from 1-6, so on my days off I am sure to devote time to getting them outside in the world for exercise and stimulation. Their need for exercise and stimulation also get ME outside and moving, especially on days I would rather hide in my house and ignore the world. My small dogs get more exercise and stimulation that some large dogs that I know, which is sad. My motto is a tired dog is a happy dog....and happy owner!

  • http://petpsych.webs.com/ Susan

    I see your point about whether or not an owner would have been selected had the dog been able to interview them first. However, I think any dog in a loving home is a lucky dog, given the millions that are sitting terrified in shelters, just waiting to be euthanised. No it's not always possible to give your dog everything he/she needs on a daily basis, but if we care about them, we do our very best. Our five dogs are all very difficult rescues, the rejects, the 'unadoptables'. They have a great life but I know they would love longer walks, but it's just not always feasible. But they have a huge yard to run in, squirrels to chase, activity toys and a lot of love, which is a whole lot better than the alternative.

  • Evelyn Haskins

    Dogs need walks not for exercise but for mental stimulations -- they should be able to set their own pace as well as pause and smell the roses ;-)

    Other than that I feel that training and teachg the dog fun tiricks is mre impirtant that 'onlead' walks.

  • Melissa

    Enrichment is so important, but where I currently live getting outside for walks with my dog isn't always an option. In southern New Mexico it is often too hot during the summer, and walks during the early morning or late evening aren't always an option due to coyotes. To compensate for inconsistencies with walks I have spent time teaching my dog nose work. Nose work has allowed for an excellent outlet for my dog that keeps her both happy and tired. Before I lived in New Mexico I spent time in Alaska where extreme cold and bears were issues that occasionally kept us indoors.

  • Emma

    I'm curious and wanted to ask. When you say you take your dog a walk like once a day are meaning that you don't take you dog out to do their poopoos and pee-pees than just that one time for a whole day? And if so where your dog is doing it's things? To a litterbox? To backyard? Or nowhere? Or are you meaning that you're taking a long walk with them that once a day plus those another shorter times when the nature calls?

    To me it sounds so weird if someone says that is taking his dog out just once or even twice a day. I've been teached that you should take your dog out at least three times a day or otherwise it dosen't do good for a dog's bladder. And it's almost impossible to housebreak your dog.

    Also b/c I imagine that when your dog is inside your house is like you're in the place where is very dim. And then when the dog is taking to out to sniff all the millions interesting smells is like someone take you to a place where you're able to see brightly all the beautiful colors and shapes. Dogs are living by their nose like we are (most of us) living by eyes and they get bored inside b/c the smells are always the same.

    That's why I think it's very important to take a dog out as often as possible even for a shorter times. Who wanna lives in the dark if you have an ability to see the light?

  • http://nil stella pearce

    i have a labrador that i rehomed 4 months ago .his retraining has gone welland his obedience is spot on TILL we encounter another dog be it big orsmall female or dog.he tries to get at the other dog alltraining is forgotten.we love our dog and are prepared to live with it as he is good kids and most people,but feel if we could stop this he would be a happier dog STELLA.

  • Maggie

    I try to play with my dog, Uzi the Italian Mastiff, age 8, at least a couple of times a day. Walking him is now my husband's part of caring for Uzi, as I currently suffer from acute morning sickness and dizziness - I am 3 months pregnant :). Uzini is walked only once a day (about 40 mins) on weekdays and twice a day on weekends, that's until I feel good enough to go for walks myself. Uzi has all day access to our back garden where his kennel is (I should rather say: his Wendy house) and he looks happy. He is even happier now when he can play in the snow! His walks regime seems to suit him and he spends most of his time during the day asleep.
    I knew that we would not have plenty of time to stay with our dog, this is why I decided for a quite low level of activity breed. Uzini is a re-homed dog, he was brought to the animal shelter by the police and he had a lot of issues when we got him over five years ago, but as I studied animal care (including animal behaviour) I was able to help him change into a fantastic, loving and relaxed pet.

  • Kathy

    I love playing and being with my dog Oreo. she is my whole life. we go everywhere together. I love just being home with her, laying on the couch on the porch and snoozing together. we go to the park alot for picnic's. I just love her so much.

  • Kris

    Nancy, check out the Freedom harness.

    Highly recommend it to anyone. It may seem expensive, but it is very well built and they will even replace up to two straps free of charge if they are chewed or ruin.

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  • Jon B

    I put aside the last two hours of my day to take my dogs out in the woods and walk and let them run free,365 days a year rain or shine.they know when its time,and adjust our schedule to the time of year and daylight availible.in the winter they wear bicycle head lights so i can keep track of them. I return business calls from the day as we walk..This helps to make sure that there always is time for there exercise.I think that if I just left them to play in the back yard they would be as calm and well behaved like they are know. the daily exercise helps keep our bond.

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