Playing with your dog is incredibly important in terms of developing and maintaining your relationship and there has been a little bit of work looking at dog-human play; here’s a covering of recent work in this area highlighting some of the best ways to play!
Feeding time is an exciting and important part of your dog’s daily routine but just because it’s routine doesn’t mean it needs to be boring.
The key is enrichment; protocols that you can put in place, simply, to provide your dog more appropriate outlets for natural, doggie behaviour.
Why enrichment for pet dogs?
The “wild”, that idyllic place that’s considered the model we should mimic even though in actuality it is a dangerous, dog-eat-dog place, has nonetheless caused the evolution of a wide range of feeding behaviours that take up plenty of an animal’s energy and keep them busy.
Animals will naturally work for their food, with or without your help (or knowledge!):
Dogs also appear to experience that ‘eureka’ feeling when working on challenges – working on a puzzle is rewarding to dogs, even if they don’t solve the puzzle successfully (i.e. get the tangible reward such as a food treat).
Dogs are natural-born-puzzle-addicts!
Ian & Irene work on puzzles for the first time, in puppy class; they work harder relative to the value of the food reward – they are in it just for the fun:
When animals don’t get the opportunity to engage in enrichment and are lacking outlets of natural behaviour, they can develop all sorts of difficulties.
At the very least, those behaviours that dogs are compelled to carry out will become a problem for us – dogs need to chew, dogs need to chase, dogs need to sniff and track.
And you might not like the outlets they choose for those behaviours.
All the puppies learn to settle themselves in a busy class with the help of a food puzzle and lapping & chewing, which helps dogs to chill:
Think of all the things your pup can’t do if he is chilling out, working on a food toy?!
Dogs that are unemployed, become self-employed…
With all that free time on his paws, your dog may also engage in other behaviours that become a problem for you such as barking, digging, escaping, jumping up, being obnoxious.
It is not easy to live with a self-employed dog because the jobs they choose for themselves are usually not particularly preferred by humans…
First step, ditch the food bowls.
Why do we HATE food bowls?
food bowls do very little to encourage interaction between dog and owner
food bowls do little to teach the dog that good things come through their owner
feeding from a food bowl wastes hundreds of reward opportunities by presenting them for free all in one go
your dog would probably prefer to work for his food than get it for free
modern pet feeding practices encourage a sedentary way of life for our pets
there is a limited range of behaviours demonstrated so dogs will need to display them in other ways (which may cause problems for people)
chasing, chewing, tracking and using their brains are important for dogs and modern feeding practices often don’t encourage any or much of that
Food bowls are human convenience devices – toss food in bowl, leave on floor, dog eats….dog is fed and my job is done.
But feeding your pet can be soooo much more…
Dogs come with predatory behaviour, built-in
Dave Mech, the wolf guru, outlines canid predatory behaviour in a sequence of behaviours called, not-surprisingly, a predatory sequence. These are behaviours that are innate in all dogs and to greater or lesser extents in different types of dogs and individuals.
The dog predatory sequence might look something like this:
These are the behaviours that your predatory pet needs to do – provide acceptable outlets otherwise he will find his own, and you might not like that.
Watching dogs play with pals gives you an insight into just how relevant these behaviours are for even modern, pet dogs. A good proportion of normal play behaviour will be feeding related with games of stalking, chasing, take downs, neck biting, and of course enjoying being chased too!
You will see your dog practicing these behaviours in other non-real-life scenarios too – give your dog a tissue or soft toy and watch him chew and dissect it, throw a tennis ball or play tug and flip the switch, turning on those in-built behaviours.
But feeding behaviour isn’t just about feeding…
Dogs engage in all sorts of feeding related behaviour, and many activities revolve around feeding.
Dogs enjoy actively scavenging for food and, let’s face it, non-food items – they will devote plenty of time to this sort of activity and often learn to do it when their owners are not watching…!
Although dogs prefer their own space when eating (not big on sharing!) they have evolved plenty of behaviour for negotiating social contact around food.
For the most part, this can cause trouble for us living with modern dogs, but it can be easily managed, with the right guidance.
Competitive interactions, that may lead to resource guarding and even social facilitation have been shaped over millions of years and generations, and despite a few hundred years of pretty intense selective breeding modern dogs still show these behaviours strongly today.
Digging/burying and hoarding behaviour may be employed by many dogs, often much to their owner’s disgust (especially the green-fingered owners). Some dogs appear really bothered when they get something quite special, carrying it from place to place, vocalising, difficulty settling…
This may be frustration related at not having a safe place to work on their treat or indeed at not being able to stash it away for a rainy day.
Grass and plant eating can cause concern for many owners. But for the most part where this behaviour isn’t excessive or too intense, it’s probably nothing to worry about and a normal part of canine behaviour.
However, where dogs do this a lot, or try to, and/or where there has been any changes to this behaviour have a chat with your vet as soon as possible.
Intense eating of grass, plants or other non-food items (behaviour called pica) may be linked with gastrointestinal upset and stress.
And you thought feeding was just about putting- food-in-a-bowl…
In Part 2 we will be looking at things to get started enriching your dog’s life!
Still catching up on all the great dog stuff from around the web!
It’s pretty cold out there right now and although many dogs don’t enjoy the cold weather, dogs have actually developed many adaptations to become pretty efficient in colder temperatures: Dogs and Cold Weather
Don’t worry about trying to analyse dog behaviour too much; if you are relying on popular understanding of dog behaviour, it’s probably mythic anyway: Dog Myths About Rank & Dominance
IAABC have started a Dog Park Project with the production of some really nice posters, with cute Lili Chin illustrations here. We are not a fan of dog parks, certainly the sort of facilities provided here in Ireland, but these posters are relevant to anywhere you take your dog, where he meets other dogs.
Here are some tips for dog-dog introductions.
Nobody signs up for a project dog – it’s hard living with a dog whose behaviour you must constantly monitor, whose environment you must constantly manage – it’s tiring. If you are living with a dog who may not be living up your original expectations of life-with-dog, maybe this piece will resonate with you: My life with an aggressive dog
I can’t remember what I used to do when there was any sort of lull in the action before I had a smartphone.
Anything other than constant stimulation and I am reaching for my iPhone…
The movie Bolt struck a cord when I saw it a few years ago.
It’s about a canine star of a TV show, Bolt, who plays a dog with super-powers saving his person Penny from the Green Eyed Man, week in, week out.
Except, that nobody told Bolt it was just a work of fiction and that he isn’t really a super-dog.
When the cameras stop rolling Bolt is kept in a permanent state of readiness, to fend off attacks by his enemies.
What about pet dogs?
We certainly invest lots in teaching them to do lots of stuff, to increase their responsiveness, to build their love of learning and interaction.
And we put lots of energy into keeping them active, getting them moving, in the hope that a tired dog is a good dog (but is it?).
When do they get to just be?
‘Just being’ doesn’t necessarily come easily
Pretty much every type of dog was developed for some sort of job and in modern pet-dom most dogs are unemployed.
Our efforts in guiding dogs from wild to pet, whether intentional or not, selected for characteristics such as wariness, reactivity, inquisitiveness, attachment and activity.
Our pets’ lives, just like our’s, continue to become more and more sedentary with us substituting real-life pursuits for those that are easier to participate from a seated position – even sport is a less serious outlet for pretty serious behaviour.
Without outlets for our behaviour, it is channelled somewhere else – I have a Smartphone but what do our dogs have?
Would we know a dog ‘just being’ if we saw one?
It can be tricky to spot a calm, chilled out dog.
With great access to knowledge you might think we have a better handle on canine signalling, but unfortunately our awareness (or lack thereof) is affected by popular media’s interpretation of “calmness”.
Shutdown is not the same as calmness
A dog who is overwhelmed by a situation and can’t use behaviour to escape something they find unpleasant, will often show signs of ‘shutting down’.
This happens because the dog is unable to escape and his requests for relief have gone unheard/unanswered. This is typified by a very still dog – the absence of behaviour is not calmness.
Shut down dogs interact minimally with their environment, their body may be still and tense, if they are moving their posture may be low slung, they will often be frozen, you may see them yawn, lick their lips, and squint and blink (outside of normal contexts for these behaviours).
Eileen Anderson’s clip gives you a run down of some examples, mistaken for calmness:
Less behaviour is not necessarily better than more behaviour
What does a ‘just being’ dog look like?
A chilled dog is loose, breathing deeply, he may still be monitoring the environment but not really on his tip-toes, he may still be responsive but not in an overly enthusiastic way – but the biggest difference?
The chilled out, calm, ‘just being’ dog is choosing to chill, be calm and be.
Back to Eileen Anderson for her ying to the yang clip:
This dog needs help learning that they don’t need to be ‘on’ all the time – good things happen when you’re doing nothing too.
Both in training sessions, and in life, mark and reward doing nothing – even if it’s only a split second – the more you reinforce nothing, the less frantic behaviour you will see.
make sure to put behaviours on stimulus control – this means that the dog learns to offer behaviours when you cue them only, rather than as soon as he thinks there might be a reward or he thinks it might be time to work
When we might only have limited time with a dog, whether that be because we are visiting, working long hours or the dog is in a rescue/kennel environment, of course we want to make the most of our time together.
But, a dog who hasn’t been getting too much human attention will be pretty wound up and anticipatory waiting for it. Sometimes, it’s better just to hang out with them – this gives them the opportunity to calm down, bond and be.
Do you, your dog and your training a favour and teach your dog to work for, to love and to get excited about more boring rewards.
Many pet owners describe how they ask their dog to wait for their food, before putting the bowl on the floor.
Take that a step further – don’t be uncomfortable with the idea of having your dog offer desired behaviours for each piece of that food rather than the whole meal in one go.
One major benefit to teaching your dog to work for their food, is that their regular food takes on extra significance and extra value.
When it’s harder to get, all of a sudden we want it more…just like these dogs:
This means that your dog is learning to use behaviours to get things that he wants, even though this stuff may not be steak or roast chicken.
Now transfer that to when you want and need behaviours from your dog, when you need your dog to reign it in, when you need your dog to pay attention, you want to teach him a new behaviour or you just want to divert your dog for a couple of minutes.
If we use our big guns for the most mundane situations, what happens when we really need better ammo?
Here’s Decker and I playing with kibble when out and about – in the first bit there are other dogs, walkers, joggers around us in the park and in the second bit we are walking near the wild deer – not too close because I don’t want them to approach us either!
The most boring of boring kibble is what has his attention here – it’s fun to hang out with me and cardboard-kibble!
Catching and searching are favourite games – by pairing this fun with kibble, the kibble gains more value.
If I wanted to do something really special or tricky or use food to help Decker better cope with a fear or concern I have lots of bigger and better guns in my arsenal such as cheese, chicken, salami, tug toys or tennis balls.
pair other more valuable rewards with lower value rewards
This works by teaching your dog that every time they accept a boring reward, something they love even more is coming. With enough pairings, in the right sequence, the more boring reward takes on greater value to your dog.
Here Lottie learns that eating kibble makes a tug game happen:
Up & Down – pacifying and energising activities for dogs
To really benefit from enrichment and entertainment, dogs need both pacifying and energising activities – if we bring them up (energising) we also need to bring them down (pacifying) again.
This can be applied in real life too, and not just in games. If your dog gets particularly excited by something such as the doorbell or seeing another dog, make sure to give him the opportunity to engage in a pacifying activity afterwards to help him calm again.
Use your dog’s regular food for pacifying and energising activities in fun kibble games:
We have a training challenge for you today (and tomorrow)!
Each game will take 30 seconds to 10 minutes depending on which games you choose.
Your dog will be doing lots of the work!
Children will enjoy preparing some of these games but please take care – it’s not recommended that your dog associate high activity and excitement with children so best choose games that the kids can participate in carefully.
Just ask us if you need help!
Today choose at least one energising activity and one pacifying activity that you and your dog will enjoy.
Play with your dog:
1-2 minute pacifying activity
30 second energising activity
1-2 minute pacifying activity
Have a few rounds of that sequence today (always beginning and ending with pacifying activities) – be creative, mix and match activities and time it so that pacifying activities coincide with your natural settling routines e.g. family dinner time, watching TV.
Beginner Level ideas:
repeat Thursday’s game (I play this one with my dog every day!)
bring a yummy lined (frozen) Kong toy or chew on your walk today and give to your dog about halfway through in a calm and low-distraction place; settle for about ten minutes (check your phone, bring a book…) – take a break!
It’s a good idea to provide your dog with a pacifying activity after your walk too.
Advanced Level ideas:
teach your dog to start and stop your favourite game on cue – have an obedience break of at least two behaviours
play jazz up/settle down:
Get your dog all excited and wound up for a five count.
Ask your dog to lie down or settle and be quiet.
Once your dog is quiet, get him all wound up again.
Have an assistant (the kids might love this job!) time how long it takes for the dog to settle.
Repeat – record your improving times.
When working on pacifying activities use your dog’s regular food to avoid too much excitement.
Lapping & chewing are calming for dogs and a great (and more acceptable) outlet for destructive behaviours.
Providing your dog with a stuffed or lined chew toy can encourage him to settle, lap and chew so helping him to relax too.
Of course we are big fans of Kong toys!
Simply lining a Kong toy with something yummy and freezing it can be a great way of keeping your dog busy and chilled, easily.
Make a homemade pacifier for your dog; and it makes a great summer treat too:
line a lunchbox with a plastic bag or film
add some food, treats, chews to the lunchbox
add water or low-salt stock
turn it out but don’t give to your dog if he is already hot or cold
Choose chews for your dog carefully and know your dog’s chewing style. Your dog chewing anything may be potentially harmful in a particular situation so be aware of ways to reduce the risks.
It’s never a good idea to give your dog cooked bones or very hard bone (e.g. weight bearing bone, heavy antlers etc.) as these can cause damage either when ingested or during chewing to teeth.
Natural chews are generally best but always check and monitor their condition. Look for signs of splitting or splintering, and keep an eye on their size appropriate to your dog.
Chews such as gullets, ‘pizzles’ and scalp have become more widely available.
Cheaper rawhide type chews can be dangerous if swallowed so if choosing rawhide look for chews that are constructed from one piece of hide, that are not bleached or coloured and keep a close eye on your dog as he chews them.
If in doubt, ask your qualified veterinary healthcare team before allowing your pet to chew!
Settle exercises will help to teach our dogs to take up a more relaxed position on cue, so as to help him chill out while you relax too.
Don’t worry, we will be working on settling and calming exercises during our program so you will have lots of practice.
Self-control exercises help to boost your dog’s frustration tolerance and patience. Asking your dog to think first before acting will help him to calm himself in exciting situations.
We will be working on lots of these exercises during our program too.
These are the easy ones – dogs are very good at getting excited! That means we have to work harder at teaching our dogs calming behaviours.
So, we will use these energising activities to help teach our dogs to calm too.
Chasing and catching food rewards is a great way of getting your dog activated and is perfect for rainy days when outdoor exercise may be limited.
Always work within your dog’s physical capabilities and take care of the sorts of surfaces you ask your dog to run, jump and turn on.
Games like Chase the Kibble, Catch the Kibble or Goalkeeping are simple and require very little activity on your part so are perfect if you are feeling under the weather.
If you have a fit dog, having them chase kibble or food rewards up and down the stairs can tire them quickly.
Practicing training exercises such as tricks and manners in short sessions each day gets valuable practice in while providing both physical and mental challenges.
And of course you will get lots of practice during this program!
You can also introduce energising activities with toys. Games such as tug and fetch are great fun for both dogs and humans BUT if we are going to play games, there must be rules.
Rules help prevent some of the problems that can be associated with too much high-arousal, repetitive activity (see Tuesday’s post).
Teach your dog the rules of these games first, so that the fun stays fun:
the game starts on cue only
Use a cue word or action that lets your dog know the game is going to start.
Rules that may be in place in ‘real life’ may not be in play during a game and other rules may be enforced so letting your dog know it’s time to play will reduce confusion.
This can also help to prevent your dog being frustrated or nagging at you to play.
the game ends on cue
Teach your dog to give up his toy on cue and end the game so life can go back to normal. This is a good time to provide your dog with a pacifying activity to reward him for ending the game and to help bring him back down from his excitement.
Teaching a ball-addict to give up a ball on cue can require some training:
When you first start teaching the rules of the game, have an obedience break after every ball-throw or 3-5 – count of tug.
Ask your dog for two or three obedience behaviours and then reward him with the opportunity to play again.
Teaching Tug (with rules) is an excellent way of improving your dog’s self control, responsiveness and having fun!
Because play is exciting dogs can lose a little control so may grab at clothing or your hands, for example, they may jump up more than usual or bump into their human companion.
To keep excitement under control as much as possible it’s a good idea to be pretty strict early on and relax as appropriate as your dog improves.
Generally, it’s a good idea to end the game if your dog’s mouth catches your clothing or skin. Just stop playing, put the toy away and be very boring and still. Wait for your dog to calm a little, ask them for an obedience break and then start the game again.
Play for a shorter time and keep the action a little more low-key this time to help prevent your dog losing control again. As you practice more games-with-rules you will be able to increase the length of the fun part!
Remember, you are always training your dog – even when playing: