The fact that I have a border collie will right away tell you something. My hands are full. On Wednesday and Thursday, we worked on a commercial ad. This involved a drive to Detroit — over an hour from me — and then working on set at a park by the Opera House and Tiger Stadium. (A subject for another blog.) After getting home, both days, he wanted to go for a run. So, we did. On Friday, he and his pals went swimming. Then he wanted to play frisbee. Yesterday, he went for a several-hour hike. On the way back, he wanted to swim in the river. When we got home, he wanted to take a walk. Then we played frisbee again.
The dog, named Til, is eight years old. Is he ever going to slow down? God I hope not! He keeps me moving.
But I usually am preoccupied by other stuff, so I don’t always have time to spend a whole day entertaining my canine. This has led me to think about the way dogs live, which Thoreau described as, “lives of quiet desperation.” Thoreau was talking about men, not dogs. But when it comes to dogs, I think the description nails it.
Lots of people approach me for help with their dog’s behavioral issues, and it turns out that the one thing most dogs are lacking is enrichment.
I offer loads of helpful tips to keep a canine occupied. There are stuffed Kongs and plenty of other interactive toys. And, not everyone has to live with a border collie. But it turns out that the one thing dogs most need, regardless of breed, is an activity that involves you. There is really no way around it. No chew toy or even a motion-generated treat dispenser is going to take the place of that hour walk in the park. Otherwise, it’s like plunking your two year old kid in front of a TV and expecting the cartoons to raise him.
Awhile back, I wrote a post about a ramble with your dog, which is one excellent way to fill the enrichment void in the lives of so many canine friends. If the weather is bad, there are creative indoor games you can do, like hide and seek or teaching complex behaviors that involve body space, like how to walk backwards up a flight of stairs.
I am as guilty as anyone. My dogs are well-behaved, so it’s easy for me to overlook them. If I tell them to go lie down, they will. But if I am typing away and my border collie creeps up and softly lays his head in my lap, he is sending me a message. Woe to the dogs who send this message in other ways, like eating your drywall or barking nonstop out in the yard.
Enrichment is the one thing, for people and animals, that lends to quality of life. It’s what time on earth is all about. By denying your dog the best part of life, you sell yourself short. The best thing about spending time with your dog is that the benefits go both ways.