Most dogs spend a large part of the day at home, alone (although with the current "situation" lots of lucky doggos have their parents at home with them now, trying to have Zoom meetings in peace!).
Imagine yourself trapped in a room with only an i-phone that has 1 hour battery life left, a television that doesn't work and a squeaky duck toy. How are you feeling 8 hours later? Have you pulled apart the i-phone, shredded the toy and knocked over the telly? Probably. Really think about it- yeah 8 hours at home doing nothing sounds lovely, but imagine when theres no Game of Thrones ep's back to back to fill the hours.....Not so enjoyable.
This is your dogs day; even when you leave them with a bone, or a toy, or both.
Problem behaviours like excessive barking, digging or general destructiveness usually occur out of boredom. So lack of enrichment is the problem, not your dog. And I'm going to help you solve it with these boredom busters.... (NB: keeping your dog free of boredom will require some effort from you- your dog, and your couch, are worth it!).
1. Get them a sand pit worth digging in! It can be as simple as a shell pool with a little sand in the bottom plus a few favourite toys, to a big old bath tub with toys and treats buried deep daily. If your dog likes water, and its a relatively nice day, swap out sand for water.
2. Get them out of the house when you can. A daily walk minimum, twice a day if you can manage (even just around the block in the morning will help as they're more likely to have a nap when they get home). If you don't have time for a walk, pop them in the car and go for a drive- any mental stimulation is good. Open the windows a little so they can do some sniffing, drive through a place they've never been before- guaranteed good time. Aim to get them out of the house at least once a day. Every day. If your dog has problem behaviours and you rarely walk them- this is a you problem, not a them problem.
4. Dogs don't sit with us at the dinner table and dogs don't need to eat their dinner from a bowl. Feeding time is a perfect opportunity for enrichment, Instead of just a bowl of food in the evening, split their daily meal in two and hide the morning meal around the yard. If you're time poor, scatter a handful of food or treats before you leave in the morning. (a Snufflematt is great for this also). Got some old shoe boxes lying around? Put some food in a few different ones and hide them around the yard (leave the lids off and start with something smelly until they get a bit better at hide and seek). You'll never see your dog have so much fun!
5. Build an obstacle course! 20 bucks at your local tip shop will get you an old coffee table, some milk crates, a tyre and some rope. Get creative. Think jumps, weave poles and tunnels. Walk your dog through it with treats before you leave them alone in their new adventure park, and be sure its safe for them to play in unsupervised. This is a great thing to have in the yard for daily training exercises also, which will also help to keep naughtiness at bay.
6. Organise a play date with another dog. Does your dog have a best mate at the dog park they play well with? Suggest a play date, once or twice a week, alternating at each others house. Supervise for long enough to ensure there's no issues, and always leave food and treats out of it to avoid blues- most dog fights occur when food is involved- even from "friendly" dogs who "never do that". They're dogs, they do that.
EDIT: There are plenty of Doggy Day Care centres around now that can help you with socialising your dog, we are currently working on a blog that can help you pick a decent dog day care centre in Melbourne- stay tuned!).
7. Four words: Long. Lasting. Chew. Treats. This is most effective if you can pop home on your lunch break and leave a treat that will get them through til the afternoon (read: nap time #4). We're talking pigs ears, fish twists, roo ribs, beef trachea and furry roo ears. Mix it up. Keep it interesting. Fresh raw meaty bones are also a great treat that you can give regularly.
8. We all love a room with a view. If your dog has a big, tall fence they can't see over or through they are more likely to bark at every noise they hear behind it. Get them a view. It can be as simple as this....
or as snazzy as this...
Again, a little creativity on your part can make a huge difference in their day to day life. Keep in mind the potential for dog fights through fences with this one, and err on the side of caution with the size of the hole- a little goes a long way. Safety first!
9. Freezing is your friend. The easiest way to keep your dog occupied for hours. Cake dish. Add treats, toys, water. Freeze. FUN and YUM. (Remember, if using peanut butter always ensure its all natural and free from xylitol which is toxic to dogs). This bone broth concentrate is excellent for this.
10. Leave the radio on. Leave a piece of worn clothing that smells like you. Get them a second hand couch and put it in a spot where they can bask in the sun. Hang things from trees. Get another dog. Tyre tower. Stuffed trachea. The possibilities are endless!
Just like humans, dogs can suffer from mental health problems too. If behavioural problems persist, it could be a sign that your dog suffers from anxiety and would benefit from a chat with a vet or behavioural specialist, like these guys.