2020 has been a heck of a year. Between running a growing business, supporting a husband as he strikes out on a new career, keeping our toddler alive, and navigating the departure of my trusty office manager; I don’t think I’ve had two minutes to sit down and breathe.
Granted, this stuff is mostly good. But, It’s been a lot . . .for everybody.
What slips to the bottom of the list are the two things in my life that are not actively on fire; my 13 & 10-year-old dogs. Both dogs are cruising along in their day-to-day adventures, enjoying their active senior lifestyle. Nobody needs intense training, behavior modification, or vigorous exercise. For all intents and purposes, my dogs spend a good portion of the day laying around waiting for the toddler to drop food. It’s a quiet life.
But it shouldn’t be. These are sentient beings that I’ve asked to join me in my home and live under the dictation of my lifestyle. And I owe them at least enough to spend 30 minutes a day concentrating on them.
We’ve got a few more days of 2020 before we have to get serious about 2021, but this is the busiest time of year for me as the farm is full of dogs having the best vacation ever as their families travel for the holidays. As I’ve spent time with these pups, I realized that our human goals tend to focus on drinking less, losing weight, or supporting relationships. But what do the dogs want?
After taking a look at my own dogs, I think I have the answer:
Get outside more. Dogs are the gods of frolic! They want to be outside and active, and they need regular exercise to keep them physically and mentally fit. Since obesity is currently a huge problem in both humans and dogs, carving out just 30 minutes a day for a brisk walk will do worlds of good for both of you.
Do something with their brains. Many common behavior problems are simply a result of the dog not understanding or being proficient enough at what they need to do. Enroll your dog in an obedience class, engage a trainer for private lessons, or just follow our YouTube series on basic dog training, and get to work. By practicing basic obedience for as little as five minutes per day, you will find that your dog becomes more reliable with their manners, has better impulse control, and gets into less trouble.
Get a job. Many people are guilty of falling in love with working breeds. Border Collies, German Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Golden Retrievers (amongst many other breeds) were all bred to have a purpose, be it hunting, herding, guarding, or carting. And while a few dogs were actually bred to just lay around their master’s feet all day (we’re looking at you, Shih Tzus!), most get bored when they are not given something to work on. And you know what a bored dog does? Causes trouble! So get your working dog a job! It can be as elaborate as training for an upcoming agility trial or starting to work with a trainer that specializes in sheep herding. Or it could be as simple as learning to fetch you a drink out of the fridge (or one of the other tricks that Haeleigh taught this year). Either way, you and your dog will both feel a sense of pride and purpose if your pup has a job.
Learn a signature trick. Nothing wins friends and influences people more than silly pet tricks! And every dog, no matter his or her age, breed, or activity level, can learn a trick. The best part about a trick is that it can serve as an alternative to a less than ideal behavior (like a dog doing a pretty sit up instead of jumping on visitors), help break the ice in a predictable way for dogs who are nervous meeting strangers (because tricks for treats are highly reinforcing for many dogs, and takes the pressure off of being petted by well-intentioned visitors), and burn mental energy. Need some inspiration? Check out this series of tricks videos by trainer Haeleigh.
- Sniff something new every day. Enrichment is such a big part of having a good life for any species. Humans need to talk to other humans, have a hobby, eat food that tastes good, or challenge their brains to a puzzle. Dogs also need enrichment, but for them, it’s so much simpler. Sniffing is how dogs see the world. It calms them down if they are amped up, and helps them decompress after encountering a stressful situation. It allows them to know the who, what, when and where of everyone that’s been in a new location (And with between 200 million and 1 billion scent receptors in the average dog’s nose, they really can tell all of those things from just one sniff.) So even for dogs who cannot socialize with other dogs, sniffing allows them to have a social life. Yet another reason to get your dog out for a walk, even if you have a fenced-in yard that they can run in. Nobody likes to be home all the time. . . go on a walk and have a party!
I hope that this list gives you a little inspiration to get active with your dog, without the stress of adding something more to your plate.