Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What Does Your Dog Love To Do?

I’m talking about the activity your dog truly 100% enjoys, when the silly dog grin never leaves his face. For Caleb, this is backpacking. He was supposed to be my competitive agility dog. We have entered three trials and have been taking classes for two and a half years, but the only part of agility that has done successfully in competition is jumping into ring stewards’ laps. He usually enjoys it, he enjoys the treats, and getting to play, but for him it isn’t the best thing in the world like backpacking. My silly baddog is never as happy as he is when we are backpacking. He pulls on the up hills, stays with me on the occasion he is off leash, is quiet in the car, and is perfectly content taking a nap wherever I tie him. And he loves it.

Someday maybe Caleb will successfully compete at agility, but that isn’t the important part. The important part is that Caleb and I are doing something we both really enjoy! Here’s three ways to know that your dog is enjoying your activities as much as you do.

1. Determine your dogs limitations.
Consider your dogs structure and age, as well as physical and mental limitations. Caleb is a healthy four year old mix, but he has terrible structure. As he has gotten older I have realized that agility probably causes him a little bit of pain. Pain makes it hard to love what he’s doing.  Consider his mental limitations as well. Perhaps your sound sensitive Border Collie that LOVES tennis balls would be great at flyball, but would he be able to enjoy the loud noises of a flyball tournament? Maybe not. You can train through a lot of things but don’t ignore who your dog is, physically and mentally.

2. Observe your dog!
Get in the habit of observing your dog. Watch his body language. Keep an eye out for the little signs, the looking away, lip licks and sniffing that tend to indicate the dog is stressed by the situation. Watch how fast, energetic and focused they are at the start of the activity compared to the end. Compare this to activities you know they love, such as playing fetch or at the dog park.  Lots of dogs slow down not because they are physically tired, but because they are stressed. Stress isn’t always a bad thing, but be aware of it. What is stressing your dog? Why? What can you do to change or prevent unnecessary stress? A dog that is completely focused and never seems to tire is probably enjoying the activity!

3. Try lots of different things.
Don’t just limit yourself to the activities that you find the most exciting! Try them all. Try everything that you can safely try. I always have LOVED agility and found obedience just a tiny bit boring. But when I take Caleb into obedience class he is so enthusiastic and focused that we both have a ton of fun. There are lots of activities to try with your dog, look beyond the obvious ones. Try backpacking, barn hunt, treiball or nosework. Take your dog to camp or on a trip. You’ll never know if you and your dog will like something until you try it, so don’t be afraid to try.

Figure out what your dog loves, and do it with him. Remind yourself that your dog is awesome, even if he is not the competitive superstar that you sometime wish he was. Never give up on your dog!