No matter how luxurious the home or how big the yard, most people do not spend 24x7 cooped up in the same space, seeing the same things, hearing the same sounds and smelling the same smells. But too often, the family dog is relegated to such a life. They have their designated rooms and beds and if they're lucky, a fenced yard that becomes their world. Sure, their people come and go, giving them attention and maybe playing a game of fetch or tug when schedules allow. Most of them are safe, well-fed and very well-loved. But many of them can also become very, very BORED!
Ever wonder why most dogs get SO excited to see their leash taken off the hook in preparation for a walk? Is it because they just LOVE to exercise and look forward to getting their resting heart rate up? Maybe, but I really don't think so...a walk to them is so much more than exercise! To most dogs, a walk around the block is the equivalent of us watching a Breaking News report, checking Facebook or hearing the latest "scoop" from a friend. Actually, it's better because they're outside and interacting with us and the real world! Tails up and noses down, you can just see them savoring all of that great sensory information they're gathering. "Wow - who's the new female dog? Smells like she eats that yummy grain-free, sweet potato food. Oh man, Ringo got some steak left-overs last night - lucky dog! Eww...what's that black tomcat doing hanging around here again. Hey, where are the baby rabbits....wait...SQUIRREL!!!"
But in addition to regular walks, which I highly recommend for almost any dog, I like to take my dog along with me for certain activities as often as possible. Are you going to run errands and the temperature outside is conducive to comfort for short periods in a parked car? Take them along! Going to a dog-loving friend's house who is cool with canine company? Take them along! Going to a dog-friendly store, such as the pet store, hardware store, nursery? Take them along! Kid's soccer games? Take them along!
Of course, the destinations need to be safe and "happy places" to your dog as opposed to dangerous, noisy or over-stimulating places. Basic manners and obedience skills are important so that everyone, especially you, can enjoy the experience! But if your dog is "challenged" in these areas initially, you can still work towards having a "take along" dog. It takes some time, patience and the willingness to learn what's enjoyable to your dog and what is not.
Start with short, low key outings amongst understanding "accomplices" where lots of positive reinforcement in the form of praise, play and food rewards can be provided. An hour-long gathering with people your dog has already met in an unfamiliar but quiet backyard is a much better choice than a 4-hour excursion amongst strangers at the Plaza Art Fair! Watch for signs of stress like panting, lip-licking, cowering behind you or unwillingness to take food. If your dog exhibits any or all of these signs for more than 5-10 minutes without signs of relaxing, it's time to cut the outing short and get them to more familiar surroundings. But don't give up. Think through what was the likely cause of your dog's stress and try a different venue the next time. Bring yummy treats, your best "you're OK" voice and focus on building their confidence level with upbeat praise. Most dogs will soon begin to associate these adventures with fun, food and spending time with you and then...you're on your way!
My dogs have always relished hearing the words "You wanna go for a RIDE?" It makes me smile to see their heads snap to attention and their barely contained excitement as they wait for me to open the car door. I strongly believe that conditioning your dog to be a great "take-along" companion is one of the most important skills you can teach them. Where, when and how often you take them will vary from dog to dog and from lifestyle to lifestyle. But even if it's just a short ride in the car for a walk in another neighborhood once in a while, DO IT! New sights, sounds and smells provide mental stimulation, battle boredom and overall enrich a dog's life. And best of all, the companionship, joy and fun of having them along will naturally enrich YOUR life as well!
Other blog posts in this series: