Happy and Content Pets - It's As Simple As ABC

Is your backyard a dull area of dismal confinement, boredom city, or pooch purgatory? Perhaps you may like to discover how to make your yard a Happy Hound’s Playground, A Mutt’s Mind-Enriching Expanse, or a Dog’s Arena of Delight? It’s based on the ABC's of a rich lifestyle - that is - Aerobic Exercise, Brain work and Cuddles.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise, especially when it involves their owners, is a delight for dogs. Just look at the joy a well-trained competition Agility Dog shows.

For a start, throwing a ball or Frisbee is excellent exercise.

The best 'balls' are Kong Toys or Roller Balls. The Kong is shaped like a rounded, three level cone - like the Michelin man - and bounces unpredictably. This adds to the fun of the game.

It is made of hard rubber and withstands chewing but also has a hole through the centre in which you can place peanut butter or vegemite. This is useful when leaving your dog alone.

Consider playing football with your dog, some like basketball, others think Croquet is a real hoot and an inflated balloon drifting over the back yard is a puzzle for many - especially when it bursts!

Be sure to introduce the brain work when you exercise your dog. You should get your dog to stay before it fetches the ball and should aim to get it to fetch the ball to you.

Super SNAPO's (Sensitive New Age Pet Owners) teach their dog agility work at their local obedience centre or compete their dogs in Lure Coursing (live animals are not used in this sport).

You should involve your dog in aerobic exercise at least once daily for 15 minutes. For working dogs, or dogs with destructive or excessive barking behaviours, this should be increased to twice daily.

Brain work

Brain work means that you teach your dog new things constantly to give it mental challenges. This helps to relieve boredom.

Here are some ideas to try:-

1. Agility work

  • Walking over a see-saw - use a wide plank first, close to the ground then narrow it down and make it higher as your dog learns
  • Jumping hurdles (dowelling between pine uprights) and progressing to your dog jumping over the swings in a play set (if you have one).
  • Obtain some old tyres, fix them together so they form a tunnel and get your dog to climb through the tunnel and/or jump over the tunnel.
  • Walking a balance beam. Start with a wide plank first then narrow it down as your dog learns to balance.

2. Novelty training

  • the 'Bed' command - train your dog to go to a 'bed' in its den, on your patio or elsewhere, by placing it in a Sit/Stay position next to the bed. Now throw a food reward onto the bed and, using its collar and saying 'BED' move it onto the bed. Once on the bed, command your dog to lie 'DOWN'. Praise any success. As your dog learns, progress by moving away from the bed and them by giving the food reward only intermittently (the best rewards are intermittent).
  • the 'Seek' command - train your dog to 'seek' titbits of food. Initially, place the food about one metre in front of the dog and encourage it to eat the food using the word 'seek’. When doing this, drag the food along the ground to leave a ‘scent trail’ of food for your dog to follow with its nose. Kabana works well for this. Progress with the food getting further and further away from your dog and eventually, hide the food under a rock or brick or in a garden bed. The next step is to hide titbits of food around the garden in various areas and to get your dog to find them.

If you have children you can involve them too by getting your dog to ‘seek’ your children as they hide. Don’t let your dog peak when your children hide! A food reward may help to reinforce your dog’s interest when it finds them too.

Cuddles

Cuddles are self-explanatory, but very important - a lot of dog owners neglect it. At the end of the A's and B's sit with your dog in the garden, cuddle it and whisper sweet nothings into its ear. Talk about the state of the Aussie Dollar, or the effect of Asian industrialisation on the Australian Current Account Deficit or something else of Canine Cerebral Importance.

Boredom is the major problem facing the 21st Century dog. Get into your back yard and exercise your dog’s brain and its body, and you’ll have a happy content pooch.

By Dr Cam Day BVSc - Last updated 16 November 2012

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