Yesterday I watched the Gremlins – also known as Miko, Mei-Mei and Popo, three silky terriers – pile into the car with their parents, panting and barking with excitement as they went for a family outing.
A few hours later, I saw one of the “wolves”, the two huskies who live with the Doberman across the street, bouncing about with excitement because it was his turn for a long evening walk with his mum.
It struck me that the dogs in our street tend to be very happy. Most are companion dogs, and their human family spends lots of time with them. It also helps that our neighbourhood tends to be rich in self-employed and retired people.
Dogs are superb companions because they are hugely social. Like human people, they need lots of company in order to be happy but this can be a challenge when they live with families who are away at work for much of the day.
If you’re worried that your pet is bored, here are some ideas for having extra happy days.
1. Buy terrific toys
Dog toys have come a long way since the days of the chew bone.
Canine puzzle balls come in all shapes and sizes. They are made of chewable, practically-impossible-to-destruct plastic, and they have hidden flaps where you hide treats. Your pet will spend hours chewing on these, happily searching for their taste reward.
If you have a clumsy puppy, you might want to look for the puzzle mat versions of these as big puppy paws will find the mats easier to manipulate.
2. Arrange for play dates
Dogs like company so it’s always best to adopt two pets rather than one. However, if you really don’t have the resources, there are other options.
First, groomers and boarding centres often run playgroups for dogs. Any pet is accepted, as long as they are inoculated, flea-treated and social. Playgroups for pets are fun because while you’re at the office, your dog is having a party.
Second, dog-walker services are becoming increasingly popular. A good one will be able to collect your pet while you’re out, and take him for a run with a companion dog. This is especially wonderful if you have someone who’s willing to play a game of fetch or take them to a dog-friendly lake.
3. Give your dog chores to do
Yes, it sounds crazy but think about it: working dogs, like those who work on farms, are busy and happy all day long.
When you get home, you need to do chores, and so if your pet helps, he’s with you, which makes him happy, and he gets to do things that earn your praise – so it’s a double whammy.
Indoor chores that dogs can do are built around fetching. So ask your pet to fetch a toy, or his food bowl, and then you clean it together.
Think it’s too fanciful? There’s a border collie named Chaser in Wofford College, Spartanburg, South Carolina, who has learned the names of 1,022 individual items. Another pet, Rico the border collie at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, can identify 200 items.
If you’re in the garden, you can ask your pet to carry a gardening tool for you or to dig on a special spot.
4. Buy a paddle pool
Dogs adore water and will play all day long if you let them. Swimming is also fantastic entertainment and wonderful zero-impact exercise that’s especially good for older dogs.
If you have a garden, installing a children’s paddling pool is cheap. Products are usually simple to set up and tend to come with safety features.
However, a custom-built pond is more robust and also easier to maintain in terms of clean water. If you hire a builder, make sure it’s not too deep and that there are no sharp edges. Also, it helps to have the sides built for easily accessibility, so your pet can get in and out easily at all points.
5. Make your home time count
When you come home from the office, tired because the boss has been demanding or traffic dreadful, you may want to put up your feet and just sit. However, your pet is dying to be with you.
Set aside some playtime. This should be a fun time for your pet to enjoy, and also to run off some energy. If you have a garden, then a game of fetch is ideal. You can also build an agility course, with little walls, fences, tunnels and so on. Look on YouTube for ideas and join a dog agility training class to learn how to make the most of these.
If you don’t have a garden, or it’s raining, move back the coffee table and get on the rug and play tug-of-war. All you need is an old T-shirt or you can buy a fancy rope. Be careful not to tug too hard. Let the dog set the pace. Also, always let the dog win! Do this by letting go, and saying, “You won! Good boy!” and then petting your dog in congratulation.
Note: there’s some popular advice that says you shouldn’t ever play this because dogs are really wolves who will interpret it as a fight for dominance. This has been proven incorrect. Dogs who play tug-of-war with their humans just enjoy themselves.
For simple papers, look for “Dominance in domestic dogs – useful construct or bad habit?” by JWS Bradshaw et al in the Journal Of Veterinary Behavior and “An experimental study of the effects of play upon the dog-human relationship” by NJ Rooney et al in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
After 20 minutes of tug-of-war, you’ll both be ready to pile onto the sofa together and veg out in front of your favourite show.
Enjoy your happy times!