When a dog is left home while the human caretakers leave for hours at a time, the dog's life can get pretty dull. And a bored dog can be a destructive dog. "A major reason for destructive behavior in dogs may be a lack of sufficient stimulation," says Gary Landsberg, DVM, a veterinarian in private practice who specializes in animal behavior and has co-authored several books on the subject. "In an effort to amuse themselves, dogs with no other options may begin to explore areas and items that their human roommates don't appreciate."
It doesn't have to be that way, though, says Landsberg. Dog lovers can take various steps to ensure that Spot is stimulated. Here are some ideas:
Chew Toys: Safety First
Always leave a few chew toys around, but not too many; rotate the offerings every few days to keep the toys more interesting. Good choices are dental toys, hard rubber or flexible nylon bones and other toys that dogs can "sink their teeth into," but don't get consumed too quickly; rawhide-type products are tasty, but don't last very long.
Don't leave the dog alone with a toy that has a squeaker, however, as some dogs may tear the toy apart and swallow the squeaker. "In fact, be sure to supervise your dog when it first plays with a new toy to make sure that toy is safe for him," advises Landsberg.
Some dogs, for example, can play safely with a rope toy; others will shred and ingest it. Don't leave shoes, towels, stuffed animals or scrap wood for play either; they're either too dangerous or confusing to dogs because they can't distinguish between an old pair of loafers and a new pair of Italian designer pumps. If your dog ignores a particular toy, try coating it with a bit of cheese spread or peanut butter, or play fetch with it several times a day to leave an appealing scent on the toy.
Food such as kibble or low-fat cheese squares can be stuffed into many dog toys. These include Kongs, Tuffy toys, Plant Pet Goodie Toys, the Buster Cube and Roll-a-Treats, to name a few. Some dogs can spent hours pawing at such toys to get at their contents. If you offer a lot of food in this way, though, be sure to cut back on your dog's next meal to compensate for the extra calories. In fact, some people give a dog's entire meal in a "manipulative" food device to give the dog something fun - and satisfying - to do after they leave.
Video and Audio
Some dogs love TV - try leaving the TV on and tuned to a pet, animal or nature channel. Or try one of the many videos available that are designed specially to entertain dogs. The voices on the radio can soothe many dogs. An alternative is to purchase audio tapes that are designed with the canine in mind. This might be particularly practical if the dog gets used to listening to the radio or tapes while relaxing with their family. A continuous loop tape of your voice is still another option.
Windows to the World
Some dogs enjoy looking out a window or glass door to watch the world go by. Hanging a bird feeder outside a window may attract some avian entertainment. On the other hand, if your dog is highly aroused or anxious when it sees people or animals on its properly, this might not be a good option.
If you are inclined to get another pet, a cat or another dog can provide hours of entertainment; but remember the time and effort involved in caring for and training an additional pet - so only get another pet if you really want one and can handle the added responsibilities - not just as company for your dog.
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
By far, one of the most effective strategies to prevent boredom in a dog is fatigue: "A well-exercised dog is a more contented dog," says Landsberg. Twenty to 30 minutes of hearty exercise and social companionship early in the day can go a long way in promoting the chance that the dog will peacefully nap most of the day away.
Copyright 2003 DogWatch.
Reprinted with permission, Englander Communications, LLC.
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