The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon us. Somewhere between Halloween and New Year’s you will find your beloved dog hoping you will find time for a romp in the yard or a long walk in the park. The holidays are incredibly stressful for your dog because, let’s face it, between work and celebrating the holidays; you are unable to spend as much time as you usually do with your best friend. Just because you are busy, doesn’t mean your dog doesn’t require the same amount of exercise and mental stimulation that he is used to the rest of the year.
Get back to obedience class. If you pay your money and commit to one day per week, you’ll be forced to spend at least one hour with your dog a week. Obedience not only teaches your dog self-control but also allows him to think and respond, i.e. using his mind. Teaching your dog anything from tricks to simple obedience commands gives him an outlet and allows thought processes to over-ride negative behavior.
However, basic obedience and the understanding of basic commands cannot compare to keeping your dog ‘tuned up’ by doing advanced training. You do not necessarily have to compete with your dog in certain dog sports to participate in these classes. Some schools do trick training also, which can be fun for both you and your dog. Dogs are constantly thinking and trying to figure out what their next move should be, and if you don’t teach them good behavior you can believe they will entertain themselves with negative behavior.
Another great way to teach focus, communication and strengthen your bond with your dog is Agility Training. Agility classes are fun for both dogs and owners with enough physical and mental stimulation to keep the dog happy through the long winter. Again, it’s only a once per week commitment and once you are enrolled you’ll feel better about yourself at the end of each class.
Dogs are pack animals and are under a lot of stress when alone. Even if you leave him his favorite toy or treat, chances are he is going to ‘mope’ around and wait for you to return.
Find a daycare that allows your dog to relieve himself outdoors. I am getting more calls from people who have had house broken dogs and now their dogs are reverting to wetting or defecating indoors. It is only after an elongated conversation that I find out that they are bringing their dog to a daycare that does not have access outdoors or allows accidents to occur indoors.
A walk with a Friend and His Dog:
Make a commitment for a weekly walk with a friend or neighbor and his or her dog. This is a great way for your dogs to socialize and exercise together. If this neighbor or friend has trained his or her dog also, you can run both dogs through their paces while out on a walk.
This walk will stimulate your dog physically, as long as you walk a brisk pace, and will stimulate your dog mentally if you are requiring both dogs to obey and heel nicely at your sides. Don’t meander or allow your dog to stop frequently to urinate. The walk is then not physically stimulating. When I walk my dogs I pick designated spots along the way for my dogs to sniff and relieve themselves. When I come to that spot I release my dogs from my side with the phrase “okay” and allow them to go out to the end of my six-foot leash to smell and urinate.
When I am ready to walk again I take in my leash and we begin a brisk walk again. Then sometimes throughout the walk command your dog to break from heel and maybe sit or down stay. Mix and match your commands so your dog is forced to focus and pay attention to you. Now, this will mentally tire your dog so the walk is so much more than just a walk.
Spending time with your dog requires a mental and sometimes financial commitment. I find that once I make a financial commitment to do something, I usually stick to it because I don’t want to waste my money. So, if you sign up for one class a week, that won’t financially break you and you can still find the time to get your holiday shopping completed.
You will see such a huge difference in your dog’s mental outlook if he gets time out of the house and gets you by all by himself. Our dogs do crave our undivided attention and a weekly one hour class is just what will keep your dog stimulated. And, this time spent with your dog will relieve you of your guilt of not being able to do as much as you usually do with your dog.
I believe a dog needs a minimum of 40 minutes to 1 hour of exercise (retrieve, running, etc.) a day and a ½ hour of training a day. All exercise or all work will not control negative behavior. A happy medium of both will make your dog happy and well adjusted. Don’t worry, the holidays will come and go so fast that you and your dog will be back to your old adventures, but it is up to you to make sure your dog gets enough exercise and mental stimulation to get him through the stress of the holidays and the rest of the winter. Your dog’s mental well being, as well as your own, is in your hands.