If your dog is regularly ripping your flat to shreds, or insists on howling its head off when you really need peace and quiet, it could be that it’s not being challenged enough intellectually.
These destructive and disruptive behaviours are often your pet’s way of saying “find me something useful to do!”, according to pet behavioural experts. As with humans, a rewarding vocation or interesting hobby could be the answer.
Katja Krauss from the GREH Dog School in Berlin says every animal is different. “First of all, it is important to look at the individual,” she says. “What does the dog do every day? What sort of temperament does it have?”
Exercise is something all dogs require – at least an hour a day for adult dogs – so sporting activities might be the thing to give your pet a boost.
Obstacle courses can offer dogs a really good mental and physical workout, as they weave through slaloms, jump over barriers and crawl through tunnels. They’re also fun.
“Where the height of the obstacles is adapted to the dog, everyone can join in,” says Marlies Koester from the German Dog Sports Association.
However, constant jumping can have a negative effect on the joints of some animals. In the search for the right pastime for your dog, you’ll also need to take the characteristics of its breed into consideration.
“Breed associations often give ideas for a species-appropriate occupation,” says Astrid Behr from Germany’s Federal Association of Practising Veterinarians.
Retrievers, for example, have a passion for bringing back thrown balls or sticks, and most also love water – so swimming would be something to consider for them.
Things become a bit more complicated when considering crosses and mongrels, and herding dogs present particular problems. Border Collies, for example, are highly intelligent and competitive – but they were bred to herd sheep, something most of their owners can’t provide them with regular access to.
“Sadly, the herding instinct is hard to satisfy,” says Krauss, adding that owners have to find different ways to stimulate them.
Mental exercise in the form of “nose work” is something all breeds – from Great Danes to Collies to Chihuahuas – can benefit from. Dogs use between 10% and 15% of their brain capacity to process smells. Their noses are so sensitive that no special talent or breeding is needed for them to smell objects or fabrics on command.
Krauss has trained her dogs to seek out ragweed – which provokes strong allergic reactions in some people – and also to detect rot in buildings.
It is also possible to train the animals to find truffles, banknotes, cancer, allergens or bedbugs. If you live in the mountains, five minutes’ training a day could turn your pet into a rescue dog within six months. A professional trainer could probably do it for you in just a couple of weeks. – dpa