Many family dogs are left alone during the day whilst their human family are at work or at school, which means they are left to their own devices for hours each day. This excess time can result in under-stimulation, boredom and problem behaviours e.g. digging, barking and destructiveness.
As owners, we need to provide our dogs with both physical and mental stimulation to keep them happy and to improve their wellbeing.
Dogs are social animals and it’s essential for dogs to have quality interaction with their human family every day including going for walks, playing, training, grooming or just sitting and patting, enjoying the company of your companion.
“But my dog has a big backyard to play in…” is a very common comment made by owners. A big backyard without proper enrichment and stimulation is just an opportunity for a dog to create their own stimulation through digging, chewing, barking and other undesirable behaviours. Imagine staying at home every day with nothing to do or keep you amused. Most would find that very boring after a while.
Toys and Food-Dispensing Challenges
There are many extraordinary dog toys available on the market suitable for all types of breeds and jaw strength, a great one being the Kong. Be creative with these wonderful tools. Give their meal in them, freeze food in them, hide them in different places and check when you get home, did they find them? Rotate your dog’s favourite toys regularly so they don’t become bored with them.
Food-Dispensing Toys are a fantastic invention and are a great way to provide mental stimulation. Don’t waste the opportunity of putting your dog’s food allowance in a bowl, place it in a Buster cube, kong or treat ball, or sprinkle your dog’s biscuits across the yard for them to find. Dogs really enjoy working for their food!
Here are a few ideas to make some toys out of items you already have around your home. Using milk cartons, cereal boxes, egg cartons, plastic milk or juice bottles and old t-shirts.
- A plastic milk or juice bottle (with lids and plastic rings removed) wrapped in a t-shirt. Do not use PET plastic (thin plastic used for water bottles etc as they can splinter)
- Placing treats in egg cartons to rip and destroy
- Hiding treats in cereal boxes, then tape the box closed with masking tape.
- Fold in the ends of toilet roles and place treats in the middle like a parcel for them to destroy.
Important note – always supervise your dog if there is a chance they could pull apart and ingest plastic or potential hazards.
A Digging Pit/Sand Pit
HELP! My dog is landscaping the backyard!
Why do dogs dig? For several reasons – burying bones, keeping cool, escaping confinement and to dig for odours and sounds that attract them beneath the ground. It is a natural behaviour and providing an area where they can dig, using a child’s wading pool or clamshell filled with sand will help to give your dog an appropriate place to dig instead of landscaping your backyard.
A Little Tip: On hot days water down the sand or dirt to help keep them cool. Also, try burying treats and toys under the sand to encourage them to dig in this particular spot.
A Wading Pool
A wading pool is a great idea for dogs who adore water to keep them cool and entertained on those hot days. Remember not to fill it deeply, but just enough for your dog to be able to get their belly and paws wet. Putting toys and treats into the pool, freezing their favourite toy into an ice block and throwing it into the pool to push around until it melts will keep them entertained for hours!
Don’t underestimate how important a dog’s nose is to them, that is one reason why dogs like sniffing on their walks (all those new smells). We can provide various stimulation around the home too; use safe items with different smells to hide around the yard or scatter their dry food over the lawn or leave a scent trail with food to their toys at the end.
Delicious ideas for hours of enjoyment! Place treats, toys, liver treats and vegetables in an ice cream container filled with water or chicken stock and freeze. As the ice melts many wonderful surprises will appear. Another idea is to cut the hook off one end of a bungee cord, make a frozen treat in a plastic cup and place the non-hook end in the treat and freeze, once frozen remove the cup and attach the bungee cord to a tree, pole or under the veranda for them to enjoy.