When caring for a dog, it's important to consider the various toys, treats, and accessories needed to meet his social, physical, and mental needs. Whether you're looking out for your own family pet or caring for a dog in a shelter, you can make a big difference in his quality of life by adding enrichment with your time, attention, and love.
1. Provide a variety of toys
Dogs enjoy having different types of toys to play with. Food-dispensing toys are good for mental stimulation, while chew toys provide an unlimited amount of entertainment and relaxation. My kids can spend hours designing and making toys when they know they’ll get to see them enjoyed by appreciative shelter animals.
2. Set up playdates
Dogs thrive when taken outside the home to experience new places and people. Organize playdates with other dogs. Visit an indoor or outdoor run for healthy physical and mental exercise. It’s incredibly important that you make sure the run has safety rules in place and that all participants follow them.
3. Play hide-and-seek with treats
Hiding treats around the house keeps a dog mentally and physically active. Dogs enjoy the search and appreciate the rewards they discover. Make your own homemade treats and sneak some greens into them to help the development of healthy blood and muscle tissue.
4. Keep treats handy
This makes rewarding dogs easy for the trainer as well as for any other person interacting with the dog. Make sure you can get your hand into and out of your treat holder quickly. Widemouthed jars are great for this reason, as are treat pouches that attach to your waist. The goal is for the dog to never know when reinforcement may happen, so you want to have the treats/toys readily accessible but not visually obvious -- otherwise the dog learns to focus on you when he sees the pouch and tune out when he doesn't. You also want to be able to mark the desired behavior with a treat as soon as the behavior happens. Be sure to label any jar or container of dog treats to stop heedless family members or unwitting visitors from digging in!
5. Offer a variety of sensory items
There are various smells and sounds that can help dogs relax. Lavender and chamomile scents relieve stress, while classical music and recorded ocean waves can help manage behaviors associated with fear. Experiment with different sounds and smells to see what works for your dog in your environment.
A soft dog bed suited to your dog's size and age may also help to relieve stress and provide comfort. There are dog beds that offer orthopedic, heating, and cooling benefits. My high-energy and always-on-the-go French bulldog, Smudge, prefers a smooth, cool dog bed; my other Frenchie, Barkly, who suffers from frequent bouts of back pain, loves his heated bed; and my two pit bulls, Lil’ Dipper and Scout, who love to sleep under the covers, truly appreciate their dog beds with cavelike roofs.
Excerpted from "Do Unto Animals" by Tracey Stewart (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Illustrations by Lisel Ashlock.