I caught an episode of the Simpson’s the other day. Bart was displaying some rather inappropriate behaviours at school and getting into trouble. Homer and Marge decided to put him on a somewhat magical pill called ‘Focusyn’ (boom, boom) to help him stop mis-behaving. The doctor’s commented that the only other known cure for Bart’s mis-behaviour was regular exercise! (NB This is not a comment about medicating dogs, I believe medication can be enormously beneficial is some situations.)
The episode made me think about our focus on the specific problems we have with our dogs and how to ‘fix’ them. But here’s the thing, if we aren’t giving our dogs opportunities to be dogs and do the things they love, they become frustrated and unable to settle. The behaviour we don't like is a symptom of a life lacking in appropriate mental and physical outlets for natural dog behaviour. In these cases, training alone is unlikely to solve a behaviour issue.
So what are appropriate outlets for natural behaviour? Well it depends on your dog…active dogs need more than a 40 minute, on-lead walk. If you have a terrier then you might include some hunting activities. Spaniels should definitely be doing some Nosework. Labs need at least one swim a week, and if you have a smart cookie then you should have a trick title to your name!
Here’s a fun exercise: write your dog’s dating profile! What is your dog into? What do they look forward to doing? Are they social or independent? Do they like to work or are they happy to chill out? What do they like to eat? What is their favourite toy?
Jack’s (my foxy) would be…
‘Sensitive bloke who prefers the attention of a selected few. Can chill out, but not for too long. I love hunting for rabbits and possums, or running in the forest, too much on-lead time is boring! I have a favourite ball, but don’t like to share, I like to chew on it instead. Toy deconstruction is my hobby. Will do anything for food, good learner, but can get frustrated when I don’t get it right.’
As dog guardians our first job is to make sure we are fulfilling our pet’s needs as much as possible, before we ask them to change the way they behave. Sometimes a small change in the outlets we give our dogs is all the ‘fix’ they need! I guarantee this will help your dog’s behaviour…and it will definitely add an extra sparkle to their eye!