Researchers recently published a study where participants were locked in a room with nothing to do; No cell phone, no music, no reading material, no company and no tools... well, except one. They were left with a device that could administer an electric shock. When faced with 15 minutes of boredom, 25% of the women tested, and a whopping 66% of men tested opted to shock themselves in lieu of sitting quietly with their thoughts.
How often do we expect our dogs to sit quietly with their thoughts and nothing more than the same 'ol toy or view out the window? My guess is it is much more often than they would like.
Boredom is stressful. So it only seems natural that boredom leads undesirable dog behavior. Dogs only have 4 outlets for their stress: Bark, dig, run and chew. I'm willing to bet NONE of these behaviors is desirable in your household!
Introduce the element of surprise into your dog's life by making each day a little bit different than the last. Pleasant surprise causes pause, though, excitement, engagement and a dopamine response; the chemical responsible for feeling pleasure in the brain. Moderation, here, people; No need to completely throw structure and schedule out the window. There's a variety of ways to enrich our dog's lives (and our own) through surprise.
Switch up your training treats. Do you buy the same treats every time you stop at your local Denver pet supply? Surprise your pooch each training session with a new reward. No need to break the bank! Try cut up hotdogs one session, and cut up mozzerella the next. Other store-bough alternatives that we use include Happy Howie's treats, Redbarn Meatrolls, and Wet Noses Little Stars. If you are feeling industrious, try making some Salmon Crack. It's a recipe that I use for my finickiest of dogs in training.
Rotate your dog toys. Is your living room cluttered with bones, balls and chew toys? Does your dog play with a toy for a little while and then let it collect dust? Pick up the dog toys and put them out of reach. Surprise your dog with a different toy every day or two. This helps keep your dog toys novel.
Play hide and seek games. This is a great way to improve your dog's recall, too! Have someone hold your dog, or better yet, practice your "Wait" command. Hide in a different room and call your dog. When your dog finds you, surprise them with a treat, and praise them. The great thing about this game is it engages all of your dog's senses. They use their eyes, ears and nose to find you.
Take a different route. Humans are creatures of habit. Make it a point to go in a new direction on your walks. Take a different path. Explore your neighborhood. Switching up your routine offers an opportunity to distraction proof your dog, as you are likely to encounter new sights, smells, dogs and people.
Switch up your feeding routine. Stop feeding your dog out of a bowl. No, really. Desist from dumping the same 'ol kibble into the same 'ol tin. Instead, stuff their meal into a kong toy and let them work it out, or use their feeding time as a training opportunity. Reward your dog for their obedience, or spend a few minutes trying to teach them a new trick. You will be surprised at how quickly you can go through their daily rations, so be careful not to over-feed.
Adding surprise to your dogs life will benefit you and your dog in many ways. It's an opportunity to improve your dog's obedience, enrich your lives, and improve your relationship. Get creative, and surprise your dog with something new, today.