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This Dog IS one Stimulus Package!

Joan Hunter Mayer on October 02, 2012

Dear Poncho,

I’m a female 10–month-old puppy with a curious heritage that may be a Lab/Chow mix, although I look like an Australian Shepherd. I have TONS of energy, and my favorite games are digging holes, destroying plant life, eating the laundry off the line, chewing up the arms of the sofa and other fun tricks that drive my humans crazy.

In fact, my humans have gotten so desperate to keep me out of trouble that they went out and got me a small friend, Shadow, who’s another strange mix-maybe Lab/Boxer. At first I was distracted and loved playing with the puppy. Now I’m back to digging holes, and managed to chew through the water lines to the vegetable garden and trees. I even dug up the main water source for all these functions, disconnecting the water system for good!

I get to go for long runs out in the desert every morning and play with my favorite red ball as I love to retrieve things. I also go for walks every afternoon to the mailbox so I can torture the other dogs in the neighborhood who are cooped up behind fences. I’ve learned a lot of tricks for treats-it’s my favorite time of day. If the humans aren’t home at that specific time, I get impatient and destroy something until they get home.

I figure I’ll outgrow all this someday, but my humans are getting very impatient. Is there hope for me?

"Miss Energy"

Dear Miss Energy

Wow, it’s like you’ve created your own amusement park! As a dog myself, I feel compelled to commend you for being such a clever and resourceful inquisitive canine! Too bad your humans can’t capture this enthusiasm of yours to use as "alternative energy"...maybe someday.

From what you’ve described, it sounds like your favorite activities are: digging, chewing, hunting and scavenging, running, chasing, fetching and retrieving, going for walks, greeting the neighbor dogs, and finding your own entertainment if it’s not provided for you. Hmm…if I’m not mistaken, I’d say you are pretty much a normal dog.

Okay, so this is what you need to tell them since they don’t seem to appreciate your curiosity: "Please give me some legal outlets for all of my energy!" As you may know, my mom is a certified professional dog trainer and I think she’d agree that you need to get all of your dogginess out in a healthy manner, but in a way that makes everyone at home happy.

A few training tips your humans will want to consider are:

  • Rewarding the behaviors they like! A few I would recommend are the times when you’re quiet and calm in the house and backyard, ignoring plants, sofas, and water lines, and when you and Shadow play together. Then you’re more likely to perform those behaviors than the ones you don’t get rewarded extra for.
  • Managing your environment! During those times when they can’t monitor your behavior, they should keep you confined to your own special area. Sort of like a doggy den - either a crate or separate room. They can give you stuffed food toys and chew bones that will keep you comfortable, mentally stimulated, and away from enticing things like sofas and plant life.
  • Teaching you the behaviors they want! You sound like you enjoy being busy. How about getting them to take you to a dog training class? Or agility? Flyball? Rally-O? Treiball? Nose-work? They’ll learn all about teaching you the behaviors they want you to have, including walking nicely to the mailbox. Plus you get to use your brain and problem solve, while burning off some of this excess energy of yours.
  • Provide you with a "Stimulus Package!" Enrichment, both physical and mental, are great for dogs in general, but really important for busy-bodies like yourself. These are a few suggestions geared towards your favorite activities:
    • Digging: Have your humans create a digging pit for you in the yard. It’s kind of like a huge sandbox, but just for you to play in. They can fill it with dirt, sand, and other ground cover that feels good on your doggy feet, then bury bones, treats, interactive food toys, and all sorts of other goodies that you like. Finding the buried treasure keeps you focused and busy in one area, while tapping into your innate doggy behaviors. The special items themselves will continue to keep you busy. You end up making the better choice of playing in the legal area… the other areas never "pay off" so why dig there?
    • Chewing: Your humans need to provide legal chew items that YOU like - not items they think you should like. We all have our preferences. Then, when you choose these legal items they can reward you with an extra yummy treat. This communicates to you that your choice was correct! Why choose the sofa when you get extra treats for chewing your own chew bones and toys?
    • Exercise: Okay, so what by definition is a "long run"? Is the distance and time spent by your standards or theirs? Sure some runs and walks are great, but sometimes they’re just more "fun" than tiring. They should make sure you’ve gotten your yah-yah’s out with plenty of mental and physical stimulation, especially before expecting you to be relaxed in the back yard or inside the home.

Is there "hope" for you? Of course! But your humans need to think about teaching you what they want in a way you’ll understand, that is both fun and rewarding. As for "growing out of it"? Sure, but again it’s probably best to teach you what they want themselves versus depending on time, old age, or another dog to do it for them.

Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho the dog. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and dog behavior coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple, common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please email them directly.


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