Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Happy Dog, Happy Owner

The picture you see is of two highly energetic boys and one of the laziest dogs you'll ever meet. His name is Graham, and he is our standard wirehaired dachshund. He's bigger than most dachshunds but is still within the AKC standard; my favorite question, posed to me while I was walking him at our local community dog park, was, "When will he grow into a real dog?" That question was asked by an adult.

Every once in a while I get alarmed at Graham's complete inactivity and am moved to hold a mirror under his nose to make sure he's still alive. While this usually elicits one of those really loud dog yawns, it doesn't make him any more lively. I knew exactly where to go for information on how to get this dog up and at 'em: Arden Moore's The Dog Behavior Answer Book.

My main frustration is our walks, which can be the most boring activity in the world for both of us. Because he's a scent hound, he constantly veers off in the direction of a really promising disgusting smell and then wanders back to do the same thing in a different place. We don't even call them "walks" anymore; we call them "stops." What do I do?

I cracked open The Dog Behavior Answer Book, but it seemed that all the questions were about dogs that were TOO active. I wish, I thought. But further reading brought me to this question,

Q: I know it is important to walk my dog every day, but it is boring. I sense that Tippy, my corgi, is bored, too. We walk around our neighborhood for about 20 minutes twice a day. Tippy smells the same mailboxes, the same grass, the same car tires. I know that dogs like routines, but what can we do to break the monotony and make walks more interesting and fun?

A: Dogs live by the motto “So Many Smells, So Little Time.” In Tippy’s case, he surely can tell you every single thing that is within your 20-minute range, so it’s time for new frontiers. Start by varying your routes, the duration of your walks, and, if possible, the time of day that you walk. Simply switching to the other side of the street will introduce Tippy to a bonanza of new sights, sounds, and smells. Invite a friend with a friendly dog who likes Tippy to join you on your walks. Having company will liven up the routine for both of you. If your weekday walks must follow your work schedule, take time on the weekends to drive Tippy to a pet-friendly place for a longer hike. Or, treat him to playtime at a local dog park if he likes to play with other dogs.
    Daily walks provide golden opportunities for you to reinforce basic obedience training and introduce new tricks. Unleash some fun, creative ways to bust boredom on your regular treks with my four favorite walking games: the Molasses Walk, the Jackrabbit Sprint, Park It Here, and Curbside Attraction. Your increased activity may evoke some giggles and stares from onlookers, so bring your sense of humor with you on the walks. Act goofy and it will be contagious to Tippy and others.
    The Molasses Walk begins with Tippy walking nicely at your side with the leash loose. Ask Tippy to look at you as you take giant steps forward in slow motion saying s-l-o-w in a drawn-out way. The goal is for Tippy to copy your slow stride. When he does, reward him with praise (good slow!) and a treat. Continue doing this slow walk for 10 or 15 seconds and then return to a normal pace.
    Next, hasten the pace with the Jackrabbit Sprint. Start power walking and in an exuberant tone tell Tippy to go fast, fast, fast, fast! (Be careful not to move so quickly that you are dragging him behind you, though!) Keep this pace up for 10 or 15 seconds and then stop. Give him a treat and resume your normal walk.
    In addition to varying the pace, spice up your walks with my Park It Here game. Depending on the size of your dog and his physical condition, pick a park bench or sturdy low surface onto which he can easily jump. Train Tippy by tapping your hand on the bench, then making a sweeping up motion as you say jump up! Help him initially by hoisting him up if he seems confused by this strange request. Once he is on the bench, make him sit for a few seconds before giving him permission to leap off. Praise and treat and be on the lookout for the next bench for Tippy to conquer.
    The Curbside Attraction trick makes crossing the street more interesting. Stand on a quiet street (very close to the curb, so you don’t risk getting hit by a car). Face Tippy. Ask him to sit, and then use a treat to slowly lure him forward — the idea is have him move just his front feet. As soon as his front legs touch the street and his back legs remain on the curb, reinforce the pose by saying curb. At the same time, put your open hand in front of his face to stop him from continuing to move forward into the street. Praise and treat. This looks quite comical, but dogs have senses of humor, too.
    These are just a few suggestions for spicing up your walks. If you vary your routine and make up your own fun games, I’m sure both you and Tippy will enjoy your daily outings more.

Hallelujah! Just walk a different route! Last night when I got home, I leashed Graham up, looked him in the (closed) eye, and let him know there was a new sheriff in town. Off we went in the car to the schoolyard closest to our house. Once in the car, he practically wiggled himself from seat to seat, and when I parked and opened his door, Bam! Out he went, raced around the entire circumference of the very large playground three times, and then rolled around at my feet. I'll take that as a doggy "thank you," for a change in routine that shook him right up. Tonight's challenge: the woods in back of our house. Thanks, Arden!

Amy Greeman, Storey Publicity Director

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