The rave these days is for dogs to have about the same amount of extra-curriculum activities as kids of affluent families. Don’t get me wrong, providing engagement to our dog is a very good thing. However, this is where one size does not fit all.
I am discussing with some folks their dog’s daily schedule. They tell me that both their dogs are sent to daycare daily for the whole day. Wow, I tell them, let’s start by looking at that.
You see, stimulation is not all the same. I can be very happy and appropriately stimulated after reading a good article, working out, chatting with a friend etc. Or I can be really stimulated in a way that does not conduce to well-being and growth. An example that comes to mind is being in a car accident. Talk about the wrong kind of stimulation! This is a type of stimulation we don’t want.
Doggy daycare can be really a fantastic alternative to leaving Fido at home for long stretches of time. Especially so, if the dog truly enjoys the company of other friendly dogs in a fast-paced environment. Now, can you count the qualifiers above? That is my point exactly.
While most dogs are really social, not all are. When they are, their level of desire for off-the charts stimulation is an important consideration. I would argue that the dogs that fall under the” I Luuuvvv other dogs” and LOTS of stimulation are dogs that have been exquisitely socialized to other dogs and people etc. Also to consider is the age of the dog. Most of the dogs that thrive in day cares are adolescent. That is between the ages of 5 months to 2 years of age- when for most breeds adulthood begins. See, already we have a very narrow number of candidates for doggie-daycare.
Of course there are always exceptions. However, if your dog visits daycare daily you must ask yourself if the stimulation is way too much! Okay, I am going to let you in in a little (dark) secret: Some folks think of daycare as the solution to dealing with behavior problems. Out of mind out of sight- not my problem!
When this is the case, the problems are really not being resolved. Instead, folks end up with a dog that is barely behaving at all because he is so tired of the ongoing stimulation. Dogs like this are so exhausted that he/she comes home and crash until next day…. And around and around we go…
The other qualifier has to do with the fact that some dogs are dropped at daycare when they truly could not care less about other dogs or worse they are afraid of them. Yes, I have seen this too.
Perhaps added reasons behind this trend is that trainers have done a really good job in telling folks that their dogs need something to do each day. Point for the trainers! But wait! Now, what we lack is imagination. Yes, daycare can be a really good alternative but it is for sure not the only one.
Ideally your over-the-top friendly pup gets to go to daycare once or twice a week and hopefully not for all day- just a couple of hours at the most. Think about how lovely it is to have overnight guests. But oh, much more lovely when they leave (LOL). Not that we are not social or love our friends or family but just plain and simple too much stimulation that does not feel good anymore and our wanting to get back to our routines etc.
This post then is an invitation: An invitation in really assessing if we are doing good on the dog, your dog.
It is also an invitation to look outside the one option for engagement. A good option is for sure a walk! A walk that doubles as sniffing as much as possible- for the dog, in combination with much needed basic obedience drills such as sit, sit/stays, down, down/stays, walking on a loose leash and add a trick or two for good measure. Not only will your dog be appropriately stimulated from engaging in the world- with all its variety but also because of the extra attention you give your dog during your walk.
I have seen this over and over again. A few minutes of mindful training (that is training with a plan, not just willy-nilly) will really tire your dog. I see this with my dogs everyday! I am referring here to 1 or 2, 3 minutes of training (once you have gathered all you need for the training and have a plan in mind) a day!
Another great alternative: Provide daily chewies to your dog! Chewing is such a doggie-activity and for good reason. Dogs use their mouth a lot for a variety of purposes but one of them is enjoyment. Test-drive what your dog prefers and then commit to making this part of a daily dose of excellent stimulation. One of my favorites activities for dogs: a working to eat program. Again, two important components for dogs here: eating (who does not like to eat? Raise your hand?) And the search component stimulating their predatory brains.
If your dog is friendly enough and has a stellar recall (he comes when you call him) hiking is another awesome way to spend some time with your pup. Perhaps this activity will occupy you both during the weekend or whenever you have the time off.
When you are at work and thus unable to engage with your pup to mentally stimulate him follow the steps below:
1. Make a daily schedule for your dog: Answer the following: What? Where? With whom?
2. Follow your schedule. Make necessary arrangements.
3. Think combos: For example: A pro walker will come and give your dog a break mid-morning so that your dog has some company, elimination time and some engagement. However, before you left for work, you did a 3-min. training session with your pup AND before you left, you left his breakfast in puzzle toys. As you are getting ready to step of the front door, your dog is beaming with glee. He now has some precious time to do something really fun and eat his meal. Then comes snooze time and then… the walk!
4. Think variety but always checking for too much of one type or too much stimulation. If your dog is good candidate for daycare (the: I LUVs dogs and hanging around lots of them) send him to daycare.
5. If option 4 is a good match for you and your guy (or gal), make sure the daycare is a reputable one (I have written about this so go back to the archives and look for that post). Also, make sure your dog gets to spend some time alone (in a crate, an office etc.) with a chew toy or just snoozing away from all activity at the daycare. If you hear that that is not needed or not possible, look for another place where the establishment will help you with your goals for your dog.
Consider the following: There are many reasons why people choose to live with a dog. I would argue that one of them is because of how much fun, relaxation and just happy stuff they bring to us. But why are we not spending more time with them in equally fun activities? The choice is ours to make.