Your dog is growing up. He is smart. He is young. He is probably bored quite a bit of the time. Every day that magnificent brain of his needs to be used in some positive way or he’ll set about using it himself. And what ideas do bored puppies come up with?
Unraveling toilet paper.
Digging out laundry and eating the stinky parts.
Nipping human ankles.
Barking at humans until they do something!
Ripping up the linoleum/wallpaper/wall-to-wall carpet.
Discovering what’s inside a chair.
Leaping at strangers on the street.
Leaping/barking/barging into strange dogs.
Becoming obsessed with trash blowing in the wind.
The list is endless. Energy must go somewhere! So release it yourselves through training and play or have it released in less ideal ways and spend your time coping with correcting unwanted behaviors. Changing unwanted habits is always more difficult, time-consuming, and generally annoying than carefully teaching the behaviors you would prefer.
Okay, fun game, but not so easy in most apartments. However, for those of you with kids or those of you with larger living spaces, it’s a fun game.
Start by having one person hold the dog while the hider leaves the room and hides, at first in an easy-to-find place like behind a chair or door. Once they are hidden, say to your dog, “Where’s [name of hider]?” in an excited voice. Have the hider give a brief call. Than walk with your dog as he hunts for his quarry off lead.
When he finds the hider—celebrate! Good dog!
This will not take your dog long to figure out. Soon he’ll be hunting people down by name no matter how well they attempt to hide. Many kids find this endlessly entertaining, and it can help pass some rainy afternoons.
Dogs are perfectly capable of learning the names of all their toys. Take two toys (say, a ball and a squeaky toy), put them out about six feet apart. Tell your dog excitedly, “Where’s your ball?” Walk her over to the ball and play with her for a few seconds. Repeat. If she goes to some non-ball toy, say nothing. Ignore it. Simply praise/reward her when she’s right, and she will soon catch on.
Eventually your dog will be able to go get any toy in the apartment by name, and your friends and neighbors will not believe it.
Different breeds are prone to different problems, so do your research on your dog’s breed or mix. Certain symptoms should send you right off to the veterinarian. If your dog (especially toy dog) skips with a back leg up in the air, she may have a subluxating patella (slipping kneecap). If your larger breed gets up by heaving himself up on his front legs first, then pulling his rear up, if he hops upstairs or bunny hops in the rear when he runs, he may have hip problems. Limping in the front can signal a light sprain, panosteitis, or a more serious problem like elbow dysplasia or osteochondritis. Every year brings improvements in treatment, so talk to your veterinarian about options.
Bracken learned to “high five” while I watched TV in the evening. She would sit and stare at me, as she is prone to do. Willing me to do something interesting. So, to amuse us both, I started making a little hand beastie by putting my thumb and fingers together and pretending to bite her nose (complete with dinosaur sounds).
Bracken would watch my hand for a moment or two and then slap it down with her paw. We’d both laugh (I out loud and she with her eyes) while I’d pet her.
Soon she’d slap at my hand more quickly. I decided to make it into a “high five” in our spare time. I started to hold my hand out flat before making the “beastie.” Soon she started hitting my outstretched hand with her paw, and a decent “high five” was born.
Now, your dog may never slap at your hand. He may fling himself on his back or spin or pick up a toy. Whatever it is, work with that. See if you can get him to do it consistently, and when you can, put a word on it.
Because it’s fun, and there is too little of that some days. Because it makes your dog think and builds the connection. Because anything he learns teaches him how to learn, and that is of great value.