Choosing the Most Effective Way to Engage Your Dog This Summer
Brittney Frazier, CPDT-KA, Found Chicago Boarding and Training Center
The majority of dog owners are in agreement on the basic responsibilities that accompany the privilege of welcoming man’s best friend into our home. Making sure our dogs have food, water, dog beds, adorable sweaters in the wintertime, you name it! America sure loves their dogs and they want to give them all life has to offer!
But what if I told you that aside from meeting our dogs’ needs of survival, that engagement is easily the most vital activity we can provide our dogs as their caretakers. Most of us see engagement as cuddling on the couch or taking our dogs to the local dog park to wrestle with other pups for a few hours. While both of these things are very pleasing for both us and our dog, neither will challenge a dog’s mind and body in ways that chasing their prey for dinner would. Keeping our dog’s natural instincts fulfilled decreases all kinds of behavioral issues, such as anxieties, fear, and aggression. Once you can pinpoint just what activity your dog benefits from most, you will have a well-rounded and happy companion.
With spring in Chicago warming up to a reasonable temperature and summer just around the corner, many opportunities to engage our dogs will be right at our fingertips. Below is a guide to help you gage which activity your dog may enjoy most depending on their personality and energy level.
- Fetch! This activity seems an obvious one and has appeared in many past articles. That’s because “fetch” is a game that is just that – a game. When a dog is taught fetch in a stress-free and positively reinforced way, “fetch” becomes something that is fun and rewarding for both parties. A dog that enjoys “fetch” is most likely people-focused, eager-to-please, and fulfills a dog’s natural instinct to chase prey and bring it back to its pack. A dog that is fetching is actually working for you, which will, in turn, cause a natural reaction to follow and work for you in other areas of your daily routine. Dog that benefit most from this game are dogs that naturally want to “fetch” items and have a high amount of “chase” or “prey” drive. A dog’s amount of stamina will build over time, but whether your dog is a sprinter or a long-distance athlete will determine just how long your throwing arm will be in action each session. Some examples of dogs that benefit from this activity are: Retrievers (Labrador, Golden, etc.), Border Collies (and other herding breeds), German Shepherds (and other working breeds), and even small breeds, such as terriers.
- Swimming. Teaching a dog to swim can sometimes be challenging. But for those that are naturally water-loving, this low-stress activity can be very engaging for both dog and owner. So if you’re willing to get your feet wet, try your dog out in a small pool and build up their confidence until they’re treading like a pro! This is an activity that is very attractive to senior dogs, due to its ease on the dog’s joints and hips. Water treadmills can be very helpful to those looking to provide a lightweight activity for a mobility challenged pet. Dogs that would enjoy swimming are usually not afraid of getting dirty, and are confident on most surfaces. However, if you and your dog have building a substantial amount of trust throughout your relationship, this may be something your dog is willing to try! It’s not surprising that most labs and golden retrievers are great in the water, but so are Newfoundlands and poodles, since they were bred for swimming as well! Fearless terriers and bully breeds can also be great water dogs.
- Running. This is an acitivity that also seems like a no-brainer, however not all dogs are huge fans of fast foot-travel. In my dog training experience, I have found running to be an excellent way to reduce anxiety. A tired dog just doesn’t have the energy to be anxious if their energy has a focused and routine-oriented outlet. Lean and athletic dogs tend to be the best runners. German Shepherds, for example, were bred specifically as a “living fence,” meaning their job was to pace the perimeter of a property to keep intruders out and their territory within the boundary. It’s no wonder that every German Shepherd I’ve met thus far has a natural inkling to run! Whether it’s next to a bike, on rollerblades, or next to your side, a running dog is usually traveling at the pace they are more comfortable with than our boring walking pace. Other breeds who tend to enjoy a good run are Huskies, Dalmatians, Weimeraners, and Australian Cattle Dogs.
- Tug! If taught and executed correctly, tug-of-war is a game that can be one of the most engaging and exciting for both dog and owner. If a “drop it” cue is taught in conjunction with the game, essential skills like impulse control can be exercised and result in a tired and panting pup in just a few minutes. Dogs who enjoy “tug” are the sprinters of the canine world. They enjoy a quick burst of activity and are usually easily tired out, so they can learn to enjoy the breaks of “release” in the midst of the game. If “tug” is used as the reward for a chain of behaviors, high excitement dogs tend to work in a much more focused way. This is also a good activity for a dog who is naturally “mouthy” when excited to learn when and how he or she is allowed to use their mouth. Bully breeds, such as bulldogs and the American Pit Bull Terrier can be very fond of “tug.” The Belgian Mallinois, which has been bred for years as a versatile working dog, fit easily into this category. Funny as it may seem, I’ve seen quite a few small and tenacious dogs enjoy a good game of “tug,” such as the Jack Russel Terrier or the Yorkshire Terrier.
- Hiking. The great outdoors are so natural for living creatures. Studies have shown that spending time in nature can greatly impact the psyche of both human and canine. Getting off the Chicago concrete and into the grass is an essential activity for dog owners to explore. Whether it’s taking in the sights and smells of other animals and plants, or rolling in the first mud puddle they find, hiking through a wooded area can build your dog’s confidence and speak to their hunting instinct. It’s probably not a surprise that most breeds of hounds would jump at any chance to go on a hike and sniff every smell to their heart’s content! But other working breeds really enjoy hiking as well, such as dachshunds and Alaskan Malamutes. If you have a large breed dog and live in Chicago where space is limited, a good hike would be a great opportunity to stretch their legs and roam in a way that feels natural to them.
This guide is only a suggestion of what your dog may enjoy doing with you this summer. However, if your dog is not interested in any of the above, don’t worry! Exploring what way of engaging your relationship with your dog is one of the many gifts we can experience with them. Take advantage of this beautiful Chicago weather and dog more with your dog!