Just as children get bored when they have too much free time, so do our dogs -- particularly when the weather is hot and we walk and play less, the dogs spend too much time sleeping. This not only leads to obesity, but it provides no stimulation for the brain.
Think about a child who is idle all day and not provided any stimulation. There is no opportunity for challenge to the brain and therefore, the brain stagnates. Dogs' brains also need stimulation. Dogs, wolves and coyotes in the wild spend their days finding food, protecting and taking care of young ones, playing and running around the countryside. Our dogs that are penned up in the back yard or the house all day have no opportunity for brain stimulation. This can lead to lethargy or destructive behavior. Dogs who are destructive are usually bored.
What is there to do about it? We need to spend maybe 10 minutes a day devoted entirely to our dog or dogs. Going for a walk is a great joy for any dog, but it is important to talk with the dog so he knows this time is special. This daily 10 minutes must be filled with interaction and communication between you and the dog.
What dogs really love is to be taught a trick or new behavior. They know your total attention is devoted to them and they have the opportunity to please you. Hopefully it is fun for both of you. If your dog does not know "sit," "down" and "stay," that is the place to begin. But from there, your imagination should be your guide.
Recently on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a bulldog was riding a skateboard. He was having the time of his life. When he got too close to the edge of the stage or a wall, he picked the board up in his teeth and turned it around. It was hysterical. It was particularly amusing to see the dog having such a wonderful time. His owner took the time to expose him to that activity.
Teaching a dog to retrieve leads to a lot of fun and games. Once he knows to go get something and return it to you, you can teach him to bring in the newspaper, go get your slippers, play hide and seek (which dogs love) and many other games. Try making the dog sit and wait while you lay a trail of treats through the house and then tell him to find them.
Dogs love to jump through hoops or over sticks. They can be taught to spin, back away from you and weave through your legs. Once a dog knows the heel position, he can be taught to heel backward, sideways, on either side of you as well as forward.
Toss a piece of popcorn or small treat to the dog and say "get it" and hopefully he will learn to catch it in his mouth.
Some dogs learn this easily and some have a terrible time, but once the trick is learned, you can teach him to balance a treat on his nose and then tell him to "hold it" until you say, "get it." Then he throws up his head and catches it in his mouth. You can also teach him to balance a dowel or long stick on his nose. Hold his muzzle while you place the dowel on his nose and say, "hold it." He can then be taught to "get it."
Teaching tricks may seem silly, but your dog will love his time with you, and you will find that you also enjoy it. The bonding will grow and the attention that your dog pays to you will increase. You will notice that as you talk with him, he is more responsive and attentive. You will find yourself dreaming up silly new tricks to teach him and he will be ever ready to learn.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by snail-mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.