Why does Rover bark all day at the wind? Why does Sparky chew up the couch? And why does Spot dig up the garden in an attempt to deliver your socks to China?
Here is a clue: they’re not misbehaving. So what’s going on with Rex who keeps killing the sprinkler system?
It’s simple. While his owner has been at work all day, Rex has given himself a job. A very important one: sprinkler systems hiss ominously, and have to be destroyed. The sprinklers, however, are just the start. In a bored dogs world, there’s much to be done. Today the sprinklers, tomorrow the world.
Most behavioural problems of dogs are caused by a lack of exercise. Dogs have lots of energy, and it has to go somewhere. So we’re left with a basic equation: either Sparky gets a chance to run at full speed twice a day, leaving him pooped and satisfied, or else he may well decide that the treasure of the Sierra Madre is hidden inside your sofa.
Too many dogs are forced to spend all day alone at home without proper exercise to look forward to. Owners of working dogs (like German Shepherds, Border Collies and Pit Bulls) have a responsibility to channel their intelligence and focus. The precise qualities that people admire in these dogs, like stamina, mean that a ten-minute stroll around the block is far from adequate. In fact, it’s tantamount to cruelty.
Lack of exercise can also lead to obesity and general poor health. Dogs that are too heavy can have problems with their joints and liver, or get diabetes. Dogs who don’t get out enough aren’t able to wear down their toenails, tend to have poor muscle tone, and develop digestive troubles.
If you have a puppy, some good advice is to establish a routine which includes a late afternoon or early evening walk, as well as (ideally) an early morning runabout. That way your dog will learn that he or she can always be assured of a satisfying jaunt during the cool parts of the day. And then there’s no need to get rid of their energy by destroying your house, or barking incessantly.
It’s a myth that having a big yard will provide enough exercise for your dog. Sometimes it’s kinder to have a dog in an apartment if the owner is committed to giving him or her enough strenuous exercise.
A word of warning, though: Large breed dogs (like Mastiffs, Bullmastiffs, Great Danes and St Bernards) must not be over-exercised until they reach physical maturity (18 months). Letting these big dogs run and jump too much too early can lead to elbow or hip dysplasia and weak joints.
However, this is no excuse not to socialize your pup. Take them for short walks on the lead so they learn to respect traffic and to follow you outside. Find a good puppy class that allows for plenty of social interaction as well as time-outs if the pups get too rough. Take them to coffee shops, sit outside and let strangers pet them and tell you how adorable your pup is. Being in different environments provides mental simulation and teaches your pup to be relaxed when out in public. Always make sure your puppy is current on all his vaccinations!
Second word of warning: Deep-chested breeds (like German Shepherds, Boxers and Great Danes) must not exercise directly after meals! These breeds can easily get torsion in their intestines.
But if nothing else, keep in mind that working dogs are precisely that. They need a job. And you don’t need a sheep farm. Throwing a Frisbee will suffice. Let your dog play with other canines. Do some obedience training. The bottom line is, if your dog is misbehaving, there’s a real good chance he’s just very bored.
by Karis Bryen aka Rogz Wrangler
(Article also available on www.happydogs.co.za)