Category: dog

Boredom

Dogs, just like people, can get bored if they do not get enough mental stimulation. In the modern world pet dogs are often left alone at home for longer periods of time and in some animals this can cause significant problems.

A lack of mental stimulation can result in boredom but it is often related to a sense of frustration. For example, if your dog does not expect there to be any activity at a certain time of day it may take the opportunity to relax. Conversely if it expects to go out and this doesn’t happen your dog may become frustrated and start to display other behaviours which may be interpreted as signs of boredom. Similarly if your dog doesn’t get enough physical exercise it may become over active in inappropriate situations. Of course, physical exercise and mental stimulation are often linked and if you provide one you may also be providing the other.

There are lots of things you can do to reduce the chance of your dog becoming bored. If you interact with a dog more often you may increase its interest in its day to day routine. Training in its various forms at home and during walks, including teaching your dogs tricks, will provide mental stimulation. Dog training classes can be beneficial and many dogs get a lot of mental stimulation from doing activities, such as agility. Whatever you do, the important things are that it is fun and your dog enjoys it.

Asking your dog to search for things when at home and during walks will give it mental stimulation whilst searching and a sense of satisfaction when it finds what you have asked it to look for. You could ask your dog to look for a family member who has hidden, or for toys you have sneakily dropped. If your dog does not have any interest in toys then you can hide food treats which may provide more reward when these are found. Whatever your dog has been asked to look for, reward it when it finds it so that he will be keen to search for it again.

There are toys specifically designed to provide mental stimulation, such as mental puzzles and balls or cubes your dog has to manipulate to get food out of. A search on the internet for dog activity toys will provide lots of options. Some breed types are likely to be more interested in certain types of toy but you will get to know what your own dog likes and dislikes.

If you continually provide the same things to do your dog may get bored with these. There are a number of things you can try to provide variety. Firstly, interest can be maintained by changing what your dog does or has access to. Rotating its toys may help to maintain your dog’s interest in them, as will changing the types of game you play.

In the same way changing the types of training and the training exercises and introducing new ones will help to provide variety. Your dog’s long term interest is also likely to be maintained if you always stop the game or other activity while it still wants to do more, in other words before it becomes bored.

Another way to provide variety is to provide play or other activities in different locations and situations. Exercising your dog in different locations and varying the routes you use will also add to the richness of its environment and provide some extra stimulation.

Most of the time dogs have an expectation of what will happen next. Sometimes it can help to provide specific clues for your dog. One way of doing this is to put out an object, which is normally kept hidden away, when you are going to do something with your dog. When the play period is over you should put the item away. Through repetition your dog should learn not to expect play at other times and the chances of it becoming frustrated should be reduced.

There are many reasons why a dog may seem to be over or under active. These include physiological issues and emotional disorders. If you are concerned that your dog is not behaving normally you should consult your veterinary surgeon who can assess what underlying causes there may be and what help may be needed.

What your dog chews when it is left on its own is a clue as to whether it is a sign of boredom. If your dog chews movable objects, including items that are not strongly impregnated with the scent of family members, it is possible that it has done it for entertainment. This will be more likely if they are the same things your dog would like to chew when you are at home. If your dog has damaged doors, windows, furniture or only items impregnated with the scent of family members it is likely that the cause is an emotional disorder.

If you think your dog is chewing because it is looking for something to do you can provide activity toys or things to chew when you leave. If your dog does not touch these until you are home again but continues to chew other things it is another indication that there may be an emotional disorder. If you think your dog is suffering emotional disturbance you should seek advice from your veterinary surgeon who can first ensure there are no medical issues contributing a reduced capacity to cope when left alone.

Basic training for dogs

A dog owner is responsible for their pet in public places, so if your dog misbehaves you could be in trouble. A poorly trained dog can also be a danger to itself. Imagine the consequences if your dog ignores you and runs across a busy road. In order to have the perfect pet you will need to start training when your dog is very young. The rewards of this are clear – there is perhaps no greater pleasure than owning a well-behaved dog.

When your puppy is very young you will probably want to attend puppy socialisation classes. These classes are often run by veterinary practices and if you ask your vet they should be able to put you in touch with a local group. The main aim of socialisation classes is for your puppy to meet many other dogs and people; however most classes will offer some very basic training as well.

Basic obedience training is important for the well-being of your puppy. Training is about your dog learning to respect you as leader of the pack. If basically trained, a dog should respond to simple commands such as sit and stay and down and come back when called. It is a huge advantage if your dog learns to walk properly on a lead.

You can start simple training with your puppy as soon as you get it home, it is never too early. The sooner you start the easier it will be. The key to successful training is consistency. Initially training sessions should be very short. Puppies cannot concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time – integrate training into your daily routine and make them fun.

If training is done properly it will be as much a rewarding experience for your dog as for you. Most dogs are desperately keen to please their owners and there are few other opportunities for your dog to have your undivided attention.

Good training is all about reward. Dogs do not know the difference between good and bad. It’s humans that divide a dog’s behaviour into desirable and undesirable. Nearly all behaviour problems are perfectly normal canine activities that occur at the wrong time or place. Reward your dog, with food or praise, for behaviour that you would like repeated and they will be likely to remember. Many people make the mistake of ignoring their dog when quiet and paying them attention only when trying to stop them doing something.

It is important to be consistent in your training. A puppy needs to know what behaviour is allowed and what is unacceptable. It is unfair and confusing if you change the rules every day! Remember, your puppy cannot be expected to know the difference between chewing an old slipper (good behaviour) and your best shoes (bad).

Obedience classes are not really about teaching your puppy, they are about training you to handle your dog. The most important skill for successful dog training is reading your dog’s body language.

There are a number of more advanced options once your dog has social skills, such as:

  • agility
  • fly-ball
  • specialist training for gun dogs

Lifelong learning can be fun for both you and your dog.

Your vet will probably be able to recommend a local dog training group. Alternatively ask friends, neighbours or owners of well-behaved dogs that you meet out on a walk for recommendations. Always go along to a class for yourself and watch a whole lesson before signing up. Classes are all about teaching you how to train your dog – you will have to practice when you get home in order to have a well-behaved dog.

There are books and videos that can offer advice on training, however if you have not had a dog before you will learn more quickly and have more fun if you attend a class and mix with other people.

Barking

Dogs bark to communicate their emotions. Different barks can mean different things and variations in bark sounds are also caused by individual characteristics. A Great Dane’s bark sounds somewhat different to that of a Chihuahua even when they mean the same thing. All dogs bark at some time but if your dog is a persistent barker you should seek professional assistance before it becomes a nuisance to other people.

Barking is one of a number of sounds used by dogs to communicate with people and each other. Barking allows dogs to communicate over a large distance, even when they are out of sight. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons and variations in tone, how quickly the sound is repeated and the intensity give us a clue why the dog is barking and how it is feeling.

Reasons for barking include:

  • Attention seeking
  • Greeting
  • To invite play and during play
  • Defence
  • Threat
  • Distress
  • Contact seeking, for example when left alone
  • Frustration
  • When excited and as a group activity

Often dogs that bark when alone are just dogs that bark a lot even when someone is with them. However, there are a few specific reasons for barking when alone. Some common examples include:

  • Separation anxiety: this occurs when a dog is overly dependent upon one or more of the individuals it lives with as a way of staying in a positive emotional state. If such a dog is left on its own or is separated from them when they are at home the dog may bark to regain contact or to call them back.
  • Defensive reaction to sights or sounds outside or inside the home: this typically occurs because the dog is worried or frightened of what it barks at. It is common for a dog to bark at unfamiliar people or dogs passing its home. In most cases the object of bark attention normally goes away, rewarding the barking behaviour. Now this dog is more likely to bark next time the situation occurs, and with more confidence. The dog learns to be confident that barking is a way of making whatever is frightening them go away. This kind of behaviour often develops to barking at other animal when the dog is on the lead because they are unable to move away from whatever is worrying them instead.
  • Attention seeking: this can be directed towards someone the dog lives with when they are at home, towards people or dogs the dog sees or hears when it is on its own or just as a way of exploring whether it will get a response.
  • Social behaviour: such as calling to other dogs in the district.
  • Barking in play or aggression:  e.g. two or more dogs living together.
  • Predatory/chase behaviour: towards things that move fast, particularly if the dog is frustrated in its pursuit by a fence, window or door.
  • Frustration: if the dog is left by its owner when it expected to be able to go with them.
  • Old age: changes in normal patterns of behaviour or anxiety associated with old age.

Barking is only the symptom of the underlying motivation and the way to prevent or stop it is to alter the need to bark. For example, if your dog barks at unfamiliar dogs or people because it is frightened of them you must teach the dog that there is nothing to be frightened of; or if your dog barks to regain contact with you you can teach it to be more comfortable being left alone.

If the reason why your dog is barking is not obvious to you it is important to seek the help of a behaviour specialist, such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. They will be able to help you understand the motivation. A behaviour specialist will also be able to help you create a treatment plan to reduce the need to bark and introduce some training techniques to help you manage the behaviour.

There are a number of reasons why a dog may bark, so the first step must always be to understand why your dog is barking. If the barking occurs because your dog is anxious or fearful, bad experiences (like those created by these devices) are likely to increase fear and stress. Additionally, some methods, such as electric shock collars, are not good for the dog’s welfare, whatever the motivation, and some governments are or are considering banning or licensing their use.

Firstly, try to avoid putting your dog in the situations in which it is likely to bark. For example, if it barks at people when they pass your garden it makes sense to keep your dog indoors if there are times when the area outside your property is likely to be busy (when people are likely to be going to and from school and work). If your dog is already indoors at these times but still barks it may be helpful to cover the window or prevent it from standing on furniture so that it can’t see out.

Training your dog to do something else at times when it would normally bark may help in some cases. For example, if you give your dog a signal to do a different behaviour, such as to look at you or change direction if you are walking, it can help. If you are at home sending your dog to its bed or to go into the house from the garden could be used. When your dog does whatever you asked you should reward it. Each time it is rewarded for not barking but doing something else instead the more likely it is that it will repeat that behaviour next time the same situation arises.

It is easy to train some dogs to hold a toy in their mouth and carry it past what it would normally bark at. Once they have passed the cause of their barking they are asked to give the toy back to the handler. Through repetition the dog learns that it gets the chance to carry the toy that it likes in this situation and starts to look for the toy to be given to it when it sees the situation coming.

Many owners inadvertently reward their barking dogs by giving them attention when they bark and in some cases this becomes the reason why they bark. To help avoid this it is important only to give your dog attention and reward it on those occasions when it would normally have barked but chooses not to. For example, if it does not bark when someone passes your home or does not bark to get your attention when you use the telephone or talk to a visitor.

If your dog barks for attention you can teach it that this behaviour will be ignored. It is important to be aware that the barking will get worse before it stops. You must not give in otherwise you will accidently reward the extra effort and train your dog to bark more instead of less. It is important to give your dog another way of getting attention. At home you can do this by having some identical toys that you leave lying on the floor but never allow the dog to play with. However, every time your dog picks up one of these toys and holds it in its mouth you give it attention. Gradually your dog will learn that barking gets no attention but holding the toy does.

Another approach involves a clue that tells the dog not to expect attention but that something nice will happen. You can achieve this by putting an object that is normally hidden to a position where your dog can see it or introducing a sound before you start a period of ignoring it. After you have put out the signal give your dog something nice to chew on or an activity toy to get food rewards from. Before you give your dog attention again take down the special object and put it and any unfinished chews or activity toys away.

When you know you are going to be in such a situation you can give your dog something else to do. Try giving your dog a large chew or an activity toy that it has to work at. If your dog is very aroused or anxious in this situation, however, it may not want to eat. If you are away from home try to distract your dog by playing a game with a toy or initiating search games for toys or small food rewards.