We expect a lot from our dogs when you really think about it. They are asked to follow our routines, live in our human households, and behave “appropriately” to conform to social norms they don’t even understand. Training with your dog can be a fantastic outlet for building a good relationship with your dog, stimulating their brain, and helping them navigate our human world more easily. However, it’s not the only key to having a well-adjusted dog with a high quality of life. We need to make sure that we’re regularly giving dogs opportunities to express natural behavior and “just be a dog” too. Dogs who are allowed to regularly decompress usually tend to see more improvement in their training progress and overall mental wellbeing!
Going on “Choice Walks”
Regular neighborhood walks where we train for leash manners and loose leash walking are a great, accessible way to get your dog the daily exercise they need. However, they’re not the only type of walk you can go on with your dog. Taking your dog on frequent “choice walks” to decompress and have full freedom to interact with their environment can be a fantastic way to give your dog a full outlet to burn as much physical and mental energy as they desire. Choice walks should be done under certain parameters for best results:
The dog is allowed to go where they want (within reason), at the pace they want, and are able to stop and sniff anything and everything they desire.
Obedience for the sake of obedience is not needed, but you should still bring high value treats to reward good choices.
For best results, choice walks should be done on a long line and body harness while out in open spaces like hiking trails, parks, or open greenspaces.
Long lines can be a valuable tool for optimal freedom of movement and to allow your dog to really stretch out on their walk while staying safe (and oftentimes, still obeying leash laws). They are made at lengths of anywhere from 10-15 feet all the way up to 100! If you’ve never used a long line to walk your dog before, it’s best to start out with a shorter length to get used to the mechanics that come with managing extra leash with your dog, then work up to longer lengths as you and your dog become more accustomed to walking with one. If you’re interested in learning more about the mechanics of working with a long line and setting your dog up for success with long line walks, check out our Youtube tutorial on the topic!
Try to Find Safe Off-Leash Opportunities!
Off leash reliability takes lots of training, precision, and a lengthy reinforcement history to build up. For many dogs, this can take many months or more of consistent training before they are ready to safely be let off leash in any scenario. Additionally, not many public spaces are off-leash friendly, as most parks and walking paths have leash laws that require all dogs to be leashed while using them. However, letting your dog off leash doesn’t always have to be in risky spaces or in places where you may be breaking the law!
While we don’t often recommend using dog parks when they’re full of other people and dogs (they can hold a high risk for inappropriate play and dog fights), try checking out your local dog parks and scoping out if they ever have an “off” time. Oftentimes, if you go very early or late in the evening, especially on weekdays, there won’t be anyone out and you can take this opportunity to let your dog loose in the fenced area to have some off leash free time for a while.
Services like the app “Sniffspot” allow people to rent out their private spaces and yards for your dog to come play in at a small fee! You can go through and specifically pick out spaces that are fully fenced in to bring your dog for an allotted amount of time to explore and play to their heart’s content. This is a great option for people living in crowded city spaces and have limited access to open areas for their dogs to decompress in.
Fully enclosed sports fields that aren’t in use can also be an option for off leash play, so long as the rules don’t specify that dog’s aren’t allowed. Just be sure to take a lap around the enclosure first to check for holes in the fence or any other structural issues that may allow for your dog to escape.
Incorporate Food Enrichment into Your Daily Routine
One of the easiest ways to ensure your dog has an opportunity to express natural behavior on a regular basis is to ditch the food bowl and feed your dog’s daily meals through enrichment puzzles! Stuffable toys, interactive treat-dispensers, and puzzle games can all be used to feed your dog their regular meals for some added mental stimulation in their everyday routine. Dogs are mostly scavengers by nature, meaning they have a natural instinct to work for and forage for their food. Feeding food in a bowl only gives your dog a few moments of enjoyment before they finish their meal, but a properly prepared food puzzle can add much longer-lasting enjoyment to mealtimes.
To make a stuff-able toy into a meal for your dog, you can fill your toy with their regular kibble/food, while topping the toy off with soft and lick-able foods to “seal” the puzzle off like peanut butter, plain yogurt, fruit and veggie purees, or canned dog food. To add additional difficulty, you can even put stuffable toys in the freezer for a while to make them longer lasting for dogs who fly through food enrichment quickly. Looking for some suggestions to get your food puzzle collection started? Here are a few options to consider: