Part III: Breed-Specific Activities for Your Canine Friend(s)

While a majority of dogs spend their days doing very little physical activity, many dogs were originally bred for working. Knowing what your dog was meant to do can really help you understand its behavior.

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If you are looking for a new dog, knowing about the breed(s) can help you pick one that fits your family.  If you currently have a dog (or multiple dogs), understanding breed-specific traits can help you to provide an even more fulfilling life for your canine(s).

Working Groups

Herding Dogs

Herding dogs include German Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Border Collies (just to name a few). These dogs are full of energy, very smart, and highly trainable. These dogs were bred over hundreds of years for their ability to control and move herds of livestock — which is why many people also refer to them as shepherd dogs.

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Although they are still a favorite for farms, the majority of herding dogs today never get a chance to see a farm animal. Still, many owners notice their pet’s instinct to “herd” their families, which often results in owners becoming worried about their dog’s tendency to urgently nudge or even nip at people.

It’s important to recognize that these behaviors are not aggressive.  Instead, they are traces of the genetic lineage of herding dogs.  These dogs not only require serious physical activity on a daily basis, but they need mental activity as well. Thinking is one of the things herding dogs are great at, and they’re not truly happy without daily mental exercise.

Bird Dogs

This group is comprised of several types of dogs — pointers (German shorthair), retrievers (Golden or Labrador), setters (English, Irish), flushers (Cocker Spaniel, Springer Spaniel), and water dogs (Poodle, Portuguese Water dog).  These dogs were developed over time to help hunters of fowl find and retrieve their game.  Bird dogs are known for being smart & loyal, energetic, and loving the water.

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Guard Dogs

Guardian breeds such as Giant Schnauzers, German Shepherds, Tibetan Mastiffs, and Doberman Pinschers, and Rottweilers are oftentimes seen as aggressive and untrustworthy because they can be quite ferocious when it comes to protecting their home. However, it’s important to not forget that we bred them to be that way.

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The most important thing for these dogs is socialization when they’re still puppies. Young dogs that are exposed to as many strangers as possible tend to be less aggressive with age. If they aren’t exposed to these things when they’re puppies, it can lead to issues with aggression—which may be devastating for you and your dog. These dogs are incredibly intelligent and easy to train, so providing them with appropriate outlets to get out their extra energy will go a long way.

Sight Dogs

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These dogs were bred for helping hunters track prey by sight.  The Greyhound, Saluki, and the Irish Wolfhound are sight dogs, which makes them very visual and extremely fast. They will chase anything with quick movement (including kids) and tend to be highly energetic.

Although this group includes some of the fastest dog breeds, they are known for being “couch potatoes” at home.  If there is nothing for them to chase, they are usually quite content to lay by their human pack leader.  Therefore, don’t misinterpret their laziness as them not wanting to be physically active—it’s the owner’s responsibility to engage them in activities they will enjoy.

Trackers

Like sight dogs, tracking dogs were bred to help hunt prey, but instead of using their eyes, they use their noses. Breeds such as the Beagle, Bloodhound, and Coonhound belong to this group. Their amazing sense of smell is so instinctive that even dogs with no formal training will “track” a scent they pick up. As some of you may have experienced firsthand, if your dog picks up a scent, he/she will probably tune out everything else as his scent drive takes over.  Due to this, it’s not a good idea to let a Hound off of their leash without proper training.  If a scent dog finds a scent, will be long gone, having tuned your voice out completely. With training, however, these amazing dogs are great for search & rescue and scent work.

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Terriers

Terriers were bred to be expert hunters of game. This group, which includes the American Staffordshire terrier, Jack Russell and, West Highland Terrier, is well known for being stubborn, overbearing, and energetic.

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These dogs need a firm hand when it comes to training or your house will end up being destroyed. Since they were bred to kill, these dogs LOVE to rip, shred, chew, and shake anything they get their teeth into. Therefore, nip training and socialization are extremely important.

Activities for Working Dogs

  • Taking Turns (Learning Patience/Mental Stimulation)
  • Staying Focused (Learning Impulse Control/Mental Stimulation)
  • Being Attentive (Learning to be Responsive to You/Mental Stimulation)
  • Retrieve (Learning to Bring You Items/Physical Exercise)
  • Hide n’ Seek (Learning to Be Attentive/Teaches Responsibility/Mental Stimulation)
  • “Find It” (Teaches Names of Objects/Mental Stimulation)
  • Puzzles (Learning to Stay on Task/Concentration/Mental Stimulation)
  • Treiball (Satisfies Herding Instinct/Physical Exercise/Mental Stimulation)
  • Playing Fetch (Learning to Be Attentive/Physical Exercise)
  • Dock Diving (Physical Exercise)
  • Disc-Catching (Learning to Be Attentive/Physical Exercise)
  • Nose Work (Learning to Stay on Task/Mental Stimulation)
  • Digging Activities (Physical Exercise/Mental Stimulation)
  • Going for a walk/jog/hike (Physical Exercise)
  • Search and Rescue (Learning to Stay on Task/Physical Exercise/Mental Stimulation)

Non-Sporting Dogs

This is a diverse group of dogs in size and appearance. In contrast to other groups, these dogs lost their ability to perform the tasks they were bred for.  Nowadays, most non-sporting breeds are great companions and choice of many families. These dogs learn quickly and love any exercise as long as it suits their body type.  Non-sporting dogs include the Bulldog, Poodle, Dalmatian, Chow Chow, Boston Terrier, and Bichon Frise (again, just to name a few).

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The personalities and temperament of these dogs are unique. In fact, experts can’t make any generalizations about the behavioral traits for the breeds in this group. The tendencies of each breed are unique and can only be traced to their individual backgrounds. Some make excellent watch dogs, while others are lap dogs. Some are good for living in apartments, while others should only live in homes with large outdoor areas to be physically active.

Since it’s so difficult to make generalizations about the breeds in this group, owners should be sure to research breeds to help understand their unique characteristics, discover appropriate activities to do with them, and to determine whether or not that breed is appropriate for what they’re looking for.

Toy Group

The toy group is the smallest group of dogs and was bred to fit on laps. These dogs have diverse traits but they share the same characteristics of being small dogs. In the past, they were used to provide physical comfort and entertainment for their owners. Nowadays, they perform very similar tasks. These dogs are also known for their therapeutic value as therapy dogs. They are widely known for not leaving their sick owner’s bed side.

Some examples of dogs included in this group are Pomeranians, Pugs, Chihuahuas, and Poodles.

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Activities for Puppies

Playing with a puppy might seem fairly obvious, but if you’re not careful, you can play too rough or too long with your puppy, which can lead to aggression or grumpiness. Without preparing to play, you may create behavioral problems such as nipping or biting. The good news is that with simple preparation, there are a variety of games that will help your puppy to socialize and strengthen your bond.

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  • Choose a good time to play.

Pick a time when the puppy is full of energy and they haven’t just eaten.  If kids are going to play, make sure they are supervised.  An important thing to keep in mind is that puppies don’t understand the difference between playing and teasing.  So don’t be surprised if they “nip” out of confusion if kids (or adults) are teasing them.

  • Learn what your puppy likes.

Pay attention to what the puppy runs to or chews on. Test out some toys and see if the puppy responds or not.  Try out different textures and shapes/sizes.  A puppy won’t want to play with something they don’t like, so it’s the owner’s responsibility to provide them with preferred toys and activities.

  • Train during playtime.

Use this time to work on smaller tasks such as “sit” or responding to their name.  You’d be surprised at how fast a puppy can learn if you find the right motivator!

  • Know when to be done with playtime.

Since puppies are often energetic, it’s hard to remember that they can become overtired. A puppy has growing bones and slack ligaments supporting their bones. If the puppy becomes overtired, he/she might move awkwardly and damage those growing joints. Make sure not to overtire the puppy, so stop while he/she still has some energy left!

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When you do stop, end on a good note that leaves your puppy wanting more, instead of playing until they’re completely exhausted. If the puppy is worn out, he/she will become grumpy from tiredness—which could lead to the puppy associating play with negative experiences rather than positive experiences.

Activities for Older Dogs

Exercise is still extremely important with older dogs, so be sure keep them active for physical (and mental) well-being. Depending on your dog, consider slowing your daily jog together down to a brisk walk, or take a couple of short walks instead of one long one — use common sense to determine whether or not what you’re doing is at an appropriate level of intensity.  Just as people get sore as they age, dogs do, too!  So be mindful of the limitations your canine(s) may have.

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Swimming is a wonderful activity for dogs of all ages, but it’s particularly good for older dogs because it’s low-impact and easy on their weakening joints and muscles. Swimming also helps to build strength, is good for their overall conditioning, and is relaxing and comforting for most dogs.
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Tailoring activities as a dog ages is something that many people have a hard time with. Just remember that this is a natural part of life, and honoring that aspect of life is honoring your dog.

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Well, that’s it for today!  We hope you’ve learned something about behavioral enrichment for your dog(s), and maybe you’ll even decide to try out some of the activities this weekend!

Until next time,

Ayriel and the Ohana Animal Hospital Staff

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Part I: Behavioral Enrichment for Your Canine(s)

How Do I Know if my Dog is Bored?

Dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, reptiles, rabbits, gerbils, and animals of all sorts, spend most of their days lying around with nothing to do. While they’re busy lying around, their wild relatives experience days filled with activities such as hunting, scavenging, foraging, and gathering food for survival. They experience the thrill of tracking a prey, the excitement of finding a new location to store food, and the satisfaction of a nice nap to recover once they’re all done.

Unfortunately, animals in captivity (meaning pets, too) can’t tell us when they’re bored.  Instead, we have to look at objective data (i.e., observable) to measure boredom, and this data often presents itself in the form(s) of abnormal behaviors—whether it’s some kind of stereotypy (e.g., pacing, excessive licking, rocking, etc.) or behaviors that are generally viewed as being unwanted or “bad” (e.g., tearing up shoes in the home, digging in the yard, excessive barking, etc.).

Before I continue, let me briefly explain that stereotypy describes a behavior in a human or animal that is repetitive and serves no particular purpose (or function).  For example, you may observe a wild cat pacing back and forth in a zoo exhibit or notice a chimpanzee rocking back and forth.  With dogs, you may observe excessive licking or chewing, spinning, tail chasing, hair pulling, nail biting, or biting the air. With humans, you may see hand flapping, hair pulling, or biting nails. Unfortunately, there is no specific variable that causes stereotypical behavior(s) to develop, but there are several potential causes (e.g., increased stress, lack of mental stimulation, etc.) that we can predict are responsible.

That being said, you can never know for sure if your dog is bored, but by observing behaviors your dog engages in, you can begin to determine whether or not boredom is a likely explanation for why your dog engages in abnormal behaviors (including aggression).

What Can I Do if I Think My Dog is Bored?

The answer lies in an area of research known as behavioral enrichment.  Behavioral enrichment is a principle of animal husbandry that enhances the quality of captive animal care by identifying and providing the environmental stimuli necessary for optimal psychological and physiological well-being.

The fact that animals have to interact with humans at all causes the animal to assume behaviors that may be deviant in comparison to their wild relatives. For example, we put dogs on strict feeding schedules, altering such things as hunting time, choice of food to eat, and their natural eating patterns.  We decide when it’s time to be calm and when it’s okay to be playful (which can be VERY confusing for your dog). We clean up after them and pick up their droppings.  Although this seems completely normal to us, it is not completely normal for our canines (and other pets).

It’s important to recognize that their housing situation and social environment will always be inappropriate for their species (i.e., unnatural), and that this can ultimately cause unwanted behaviors such as aggression, boredom, and physical or psychological illness, to develop. It is the pet owner’s responsibility to attempt to decrease these problems by providing an enriching environment.

There are three different areas of enrichment I will be covering over the course of this week, and they include physical exercise (Part I), mental exercise (Part II), and breed-specific activities (Part III).  So, let’s start out with the easiest one: physical exercise.

Physical Exercise 

Dogs are active by nature. Their ancestors, wolves, covered many miles every day in search of food for survival.  Many domestic dogs were selectively bred to be even more active, with a focus on hunting, herding, or patrolling. Preventing them from their genetically programmed activity level can build frustration, which may exhibit itself in the form of hyperactivity, chewing on items not meant for chewing, chasing cats in the home, barking, digging, tail chasing, and home destruction.

Exercise also helps to prevent obesity. As with humans, obesity is becoming a major health problem in dogs. Obesity prevents dogs from enjoying many physical activities and can make it more difficult for dogs to deal with heat. Obesity is also associated with certain medical problems, including arthritis, increased risk of torn ligaments, back problems, cardiac problems, difficulty breathing, increased risks during surgery, and various skin problems.

So…what are you waiting for?! Let’s check out some ideas on how to get your dog more physically active so you both can lead happier and healthier lives!

  • Go for a walk/jog/skip/sprint (whatever your dog prefers!)

Bringing your pup along for your morning walk/jog helps to increase stamina and strengthen muscles. However, if you choose to do this, remember it’s your dog’s outing, too!

You should be willing to stop when the dog wants to smell the surroundings or greet another dog.

Remember to ALWAYS stop if your canine friend needs to go to the bathroom, and don’t forget to bring poop bags!  Not only is it important for cleanliness of neighborhoods, parks, and trails, but it also helps with disease control, fly control, and preventing other dogs from consuming what your dog left behind. Plus, cleaning up after your pet is just part of being a responsible pet owner, right?  Right!

  • Get involved in Flyball 

In this sport, dogs are part of teams and the rules are similar to a human relay race. Dogs race down a course with four hurdles. At the end of the first leg sits a box with tennis balls. The dog must stomp on this box to release a ball and then return to the starting line carrying the ball while jumping the hurdles. Once he or she crosses the starting line, the next dog takes off. The goal is to be the fastest team without any penalties. Penalties may include dropping the ball or a dog taking off down the course before his or her teammate crosses the starting line.

  • Check out Tracking

Not all dogs are tracking breeds, but just about any dog can participate in the sport of tracking, which is a competitive event for dogs and handlers. Hours before the competition, a scent trail is laid out. Once the trail is set, dogs (and their owners) begin the work of finding an object at the end of the trail.  Not only is this activity fulfilling for the dog, but it’s also fun for owners to see their innate scenting skills at work!

  • Find an agility group or class

If your dog has a lot of energy or extra weight to lose, find an agility group or class. This high-energy sport is not only great exercise, but it also helps to develop confidence and other important skills. This activity was designed to demonstrate a dog’s willingness to work with his/her handler in a variety of situations.  Dogs and handlers must negotiate an obstacle course while racing against the clock.

It’s important to mention that you don’t have to compete to enjoy agility! So don’t let the fear of competition stop you from getting involved. Just taking an agility class offers many other benefits for you and your dog.

  • Play a game of fetch

Fetch is easy to fit into your crazy schedule, and it’s a great way to use up extra energy as well as bond with your dog. You could go to a nearby park or just play in your backyard!  Something else that’s neat about fetch is that it can be an indoor sport, played from the comfort of your favorite couch or chair.  If your dog doesn’t know how to play fetch, you can train them!  Remember, you don’t have to commit to playing fetch for 30 minutes a day, every single day.  Start out with an amount of time you know will be consistent with (it can even be 5 minutes to start), and slowly build this over time.

What I’m trying to say is that there are no excuses for why you can’t play fetch with your canine friend(s).

  • Play with other dogs!

Have you ever been to a dog park and just observed how the dogs play with each other?  If you haven’t, it’s amazing to watch how they create their own games and expend their extra energy.

Too many owners are scared of having their dog socialize with other dogs.  Unfortunately, when owners are nervous or fearful, they engage in behaviors that the dog often picks up on (such as nervous tics, increased physiological responses, changes in vocal patterns, etc.). Then, the dog often engages in abnormal behaviors (such as barking or increased aggression), which leads the owner to conclude that their dog doesn’t like other dogs.  Because of this, the dog may be forced to become even more isolated, which can lead to even more abnormal behaviors developing over time.  Anyway, you get the idea.  It can develop into a vicious cycle.  Dogs are social animals and they should be given the opportunity to learn from and interact with other dogs.

  • Don’t forget about toys!

These are just a few toys that my friend, Anja, loves to play with.  There are several types of balls, stuffed animals with squeakers inside, and tug toys (her personal favorite).

One thing I always emphasize with pet owners, is that you need to find the right toy for your canine.  Just because one dog enjoys tennis balls does not mean that your dog will.

My advice is to go out and purchase a nice variety of toys and play around to find out which one(s) your dog prefers.  You could take them out one at a time or you could lay them out and let them seek out which toy they want. Do they enjoy tug toys?  Frisbees?  Stuffed animals?  Toys with squeakers?  Toys without squeakers?  Long toys?  Short toys?  None of the above?  If so, donating slightly used toys to your local humane society is always a fantastic idea (I often do this with toys my animals don’t use)! As a pet owner, it’s important that you take some time to really figure out what toy(s) your pet prefers.

Lastly, an important point to mention is that preferences change over time—sometimes even within the same day or hour!  That’s why I recommend you experiment with which toys your dog prefers on a daily basis.  It’s not fair to assume that they will love the same ball for 2 years (or 2 days/weeks if your dog gets bored easily).  Wouldn’t you get bored playing with the same toy over and over again?

Although there are LOTS of other options for physical exercise, you would get way too bored listening to me go on and on about it.  You should plan to take some time out of your day to research different physical activities you and your dog(s) will enjoy.  Not only will they be happier and healthier, but you will be happier and healthier, too!

Stay tuned for Part II coming this week!  I’ll be discussing the importance of providing mental stimulation, as well as different ideas for you to try out with your dog(s). 

Until next time,

Ayriel and the team at Ohana Animal Hospital