Dogs have evolved with humans over hundreds of thousands of years. And, as pack animals, it is not natural for a dog to be left home alone all day with no mental or physical stimulation, or to be kept exclusively outdoors with little family play time. Environmental enrichment is vital.
Of course it is not always possible to avoid leaving your dog at home alone all day and, unfortunately, 20% of Australian dogs still live exclusively outside.
So what can we do to help ensure these dogs receive the stimulation and exercise they need in order to keep them happy, healthy and to endeavour to prevent behaviour problems such as separation anxiety, barking, destructive chewing, digging and more?
Whilst different dogs require various levels of exercise, ALL dogs require a degree of physical and mental stimulation. A bored/frustrated dog is much more likely to suffer from problem behaviours, so if we do not supply our dogs with adequate stimulation, then they will look for it within their environment.
For dogs that are kept exclusively outdoors, if there is no way they can be allowed inside to join the family at least some of the time (where they absolutely want to be with their pack/owner), then it is imperative that their family/owner spends a lot of time outside playing interactive games with them, and spending time in their ‘home’ so they don’t feel excluded from their pack, distressed and lonely.
Depending on how your dog likes to play, this might be a morning and evening game of ball, frisbee or tug of war. Aussie Dog Products have some great toy options for interactive play that are non-toxic and durable.
Whilst you are at work, or if they are left alone for long periods, both indoor and outdoor dogs should be left with ‘home alone’ toys that require problem solving and /or effort (ie: slow release treat dispensing toys), as this provides dogs with both the mental and physical stimulation and exercise they require.
When dealing with many common behaviour problems in dogs, ‘environmental enrichment’ is key to providing the stimulation or exercise that they are missing. This includes:
Interactive Toys: food balls, Aussie Dog ‘home alone’ products.
Exercise: must be appropriate for breed, age and temperament. A dog walker is a great option for people who don’t have the time.
Family Playtime: games requiring exercise are great; tug of war, fetching balls, frisbee etc.
Raw meat bones: appropriate for size of dog; incorporate as part of diet.
Human contact: let dog inside or owner/family spends goes outside to spend time with the dog.
Trips/activities outside of home: go to shops, travel in car (even if they don’t get out), visit family/friends, park, Doggy Day Care.
Obedience training: gives dog something to think about and also provides physical and mental exercise.
If your dog is still experiencing behaviour problems that the above environmental enrichment solutions don’t seem to relieve then then seek the assistance of an experienced trainer to help you and your dog find the right balance and happiness you BOTH deserve.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog walking, dog minding and dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.