Dog Dish

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Keep them active and social

Stephanie O'Brien

He's chewing up everything."

"She's barking constantly."

"He's digging holes in the backyard." Your dog is not being naughty, he's bored. He needs to get rid of some excess energy.

Imagine if every day were a snow day. You're cooped up in the house with nothing to do and you can't go after day. How do your kids act after a couple days of being confined to the indoors? They become rambunctious, whining, loud, and sometimes even out of control. As parents, we can't get them outside fast enough to burn off some of that energy.

Your dog is probably home alone for up to eight hours a day, maybe even more. I crate my dogs when I'm away during the day to keep them out of trouble and to save me from coming home to a mess.

One of my favorite times of the day is when I walk in the door and I hear their wagging tails thumping against their crates and a happy "help" bark. They're ready to get out and release some energy! For them, it's a snow day every time I leave for work. I owe it to my dog to let him release some of that energy he's been bottling up for most of the day.

But exercise is so much more than just putting your dog outside to run around the backyard a couple of times. It's a good start, but depending on the size and age of your dog, as well as the area your yard covers, just like little kids they want you playing with them, not watching from the doorway. You can provide exercise for your dog in so many ways. Surely you can find the time for one or two of these ways, even on poor weather days.

There's always the good old-fashioned walk, taking your dog around the block or around your town. Just please, be sure to have them on a leash and to clean up any messes they make along the way. Many dogs like to play Frisbee or fetch. They'll let you know when they've had enough.

In the winter or on rainy days my dogs and I work on commands within the house. There's no safer place to work on "come" than in your house.

You can get right on the floor with your dog, and a favorite treat and teach him the "wait" command. How long would you be able to sit and stare at a hot fudge sundae before someone said it was okay for you to eat? Food puzzles make your dog work those mental skills as well. Take some pieces of hot dog and place them under a Styrofoam cup or individual yogurt containers and watch your dog figure out what he has to do to get the treat. And even for dogs, mental exercise can be just as tiring as physical. Have you ever come home from work completely drained and said, "I didn't do a thing today, but I'm exhausted"? Brain drain.

Teach him "on" and "off" the furniture. How many times can you sit, lie down, sit, lie down, over and over before you're tired. A tired dog makes for a good dog and a happy owner!

If you're filling out an adoption application for a dog, one question you may come across is if you will be taking your dog to obedience training. Many people respond to the question by saying they plan on training the new dog on their own. While that's certainly good to hear, by training your dog strictly by yourself, you and your dog are missing out on one very key factor: the socialization part. By this I mean giving your dog the opportunity to get used to having strangers and other dogs in his presence. An obedience training class is a safe and controlled place for him to learn to accept new people and animals. In the Spencer area we have the Iowa Great Lakes Kennel Club as well as Heartland Kennels that both provide obedience training.

Having a well-socialized dog usually means you have a well-behaved dog. Early socialization for pups is a major factor in their success in learning acceptable behaviors. Puppies should never be separated from mom or their litter mates until after eight weeks of age. Mom doesn't allow any funny business and siblings let one another know when play has gotten too rough. If your dog isn't taught these lessons from the beginning, you may need to work a bit harder to help him develop these skills.

Another useful method of socialization is to take your dog with you when you know you'll be encountering other people. I purposefully walk my dogs on Grand Ave. because I know we will meet people along the way. I respect other people's space while I'm walking, will alert them if we are going to pass them, and I do not allow my dog to come in contact with anyone else.

My furry pals also love to go in the car with me. They might never get out of the car the entire time I'm running errands, but they are exposed to other people, places, pets, and modes of transportation while they're looking out of the windows. To them it's still a fun outing.

Dogs are social animals. They want to be a part of a pack. Make them feel like a part of your family, and they'll be a pleasant addition to your household.

Stephanie O'Brien is a regular blogger on the Spencer Daily Reporter website. You can also read and respond to her at

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  • Well said, Stephanie.

    -- Posted by JTennant on Tue, May 14, 2013, at 11:17 AM
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