When I was a little girl, we’d open the door in the morning and let the dog out. When he got hungry, he’d come home, hoping it was dinner time. In between, he played with his dog friends, hunted for crabs in the lagoons the jetties made on the beach, napped on someone’s porch or sunny lawn. You didn’t have to think too much about enrichment or education. Every dog made his own. And since I grew up in a small, gated community along the Atlantic Ocean in Brooklyn and since so many people had dogs, no one drove fast. Everyone knew the dogs were out chasing each other and playing doggy games.
Now the world moves faster and it’s no longer safe to let our puppies make their own fun when we are not there to keep them safe. If your puppy could talk, he’d help you make a wish list, all the things he needs to grow up to be a happy, smart, playful, safe, and satisfied dog.
When you are training your dog, is the cue “Down”? If so, use that and only that. Do not say “Lie Down,” “Sit Down,” or even “Down” meaning “Don’t jump up on me.” Dogs crave and need clarity. They live in our world and need to understand a language not their own. The best way to help them do that and keep them from being confused is to be as clear and simple as possible about everything. Don’t let them up on the couch one day and shoo them off the next. Make sure everyone in the family uses the same cues to mean the same thing. Clarity is a good thing. Dogs love and need it.
When you play with your dog, you need to address more than just his activity level and growing musculoskeletal system. He will love it and grow smarter every day if you also address his growing mind. Name all his toys when you play. Name the activities you teach him. Teach him to find things you hide, by name, of course.
Oh boy! Our strongest sense is vision and we rely heavily on it. A dog, though, views the world first and foremost by scent. Scent comes off objects as the smallest part of a cone and widens as it travels from the source. You may even notice that sometimes your dog will find something by tracking back and forth and then narrowing in on the object. It’s important to give your dog time to smell things when it’s his walk time and to leave scent messages for all the dogs coming along later. That’s how he comes to know his world. You can also play games with him that highlight scent. My dog, Sky, is a kitchen dog. She loves to watch me cook, knowing that she’ll get a raw carrot, a taste of cheese, a smidgen of butter licked off my finger. Being a multitasker, I also tell her the name of what I offer. Smell the carrot, do you want some butter, here’s some cheese for you. And she looks at the item with her nose, so to speak, as intently as I looked at the Mona Lisa when she and I visited the Louvre years ago. You can hide a biscuit for your dog to find – just don’t make it hard to find in the beginning. You can even toss his dinner kibble in the grass, tell him Go find it! and let him sniff out his meal. He’ll love it.
A Safe Space
A safe space definitely belongs on your pup’s wish list. That means a mat, a corner, a crate, someplace he knows he can go when he needs a break. And when he does, let him be. Having a place to retreat is helpful for pups and grown dogs as well – the same as it is for us.
Exercise would be on the list, of course; the chance to use his muscles, his wily smarts, and to grow his vocabulary. If he has the opportunity to play with other compatible dogs, that’s great. He can also retrieve, hike, swim, combine an active game with learning new words, anything safe you can think of that will send him to his safe space for a well-earned rest once you get home.
Exercise takes many forms. Take him exploring. Go to the beach. Make a play date. Teach him language. Let him sniff to his heart’s content. Your puppy’s wish list will help make life more fun for both of you.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.