Updated: Apr 28, 2020
Last week, while my day job was moving offices, I worked from home. I was super excited about it. I imagined myself in pajamas all day, taking my dog for extra potty breaks and tranquilly attending to my work duties as needed. Instead, I grit my teeth as the phones rang off the hook, the programs I'm accustomed to using presented constant obstacles and my computer grew more slow and hot with each passing hour. It was, I learned, better to just work from the office.
Though stressful, one interesting thing came from my time spent working from home. I got to witness a more accurate version of how my dog spends her days. Since I was only able to leave my post for sustenance and bathroom breaks, I saw how she spends the majority of her time. Let me tell you, it's pretty damn boring.
Up until then I felt like a was doing a great job enriching her life. She gets evening walkies, meals and treats from puzzle toys, and stuffed Kongs whenever we go out. I make an effort to go on hikes and work on trick training once a week on my day off. But honestly, as I watched my dog nap in various spots over the course of eight hours each day, it didn't feel like enough.
So what's the solution? I've come up with a few ideas for extra enrichment:
A dog walker to break up the day and get her outside a bit more.
Daily Nosework exercises by hiding small treats around the apartment (an easy one).
Another 100 day challenge similar to AniEd's 100 Days of Enrichment.
Trying out a Barkbox subscription.
Getting back to running together once Autumn arrives.
Bringing her along for more errands now that the weather is cooling off.
Trying out a new sport, like agility.
I know it can seem that our dogs lead more interesting lives than many dogs out there. Especially when you think about the ones chained or penned up in backyards, crated 12 hours a day or waiting on an adopter in the shelter. To me, however, that is like comparing apples and oranges. If we are in a position to make our dogs lives a bit more fun and rewarding, then why wouldn't we? Especially when it can take such minimal effort on our part.
It's also easy to get stuck in the trap of thinking, "Our dogs already have it so good, certainly better than we do!" Let's explore this notion. Yes, they don't pay bills or go to work (most of them anyway) or worry about whether or not they're having a bad hair day. Instead of all that, they spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting on us to get home, waiting to go out to potty, waiting to be fed dinner. There's not a lot of freedom and choice in their lives. So it's up to us to provide them with those things.
All of this reminds me of when we first moved to New Jersey. I was still trying to find a job and once I did, it was a while before I could actually start. I sat in our apartment alone for hours each day. I didn't know anyone in the area and was afraid to drive anywhere because the traffic can be a bit intense. It was really boring and kind of sad. And that is basically what our dogs do all day everyday! They sit in the apartment alone and wait on someone to come home.
This is a stark contrast for the majority of their time on Earth. Dogs evolved from wolves. Wolves spend the majority of their time acquiring resources - food, water, territory and mates. This takes up a lot of time and energy and leaves no room for boredom. Then there is the domestic dog up until recent decades. What do we always hear about when we watch a dog show? What the breed is for. Or what it used to be for anyway. Gone are the days of farm dogs and hunting dogs, except for a select few.
All of this is part of the reason why I find working dogs to be so fascinating. They're out there everyday working alongside people like they are meant to. Whether it's a Border Collie herding sheep in New Zealand, or a Belgian Malinois patrolling your nearest airport, that is a dog with a job. That is a fulfilled dog.
This brings me to my last point - breed appropriate enrichment. A lot of us out there have mutts, and that's wonderful! Others choose to get certain breeds based on looks, temperament and a myriad of other things that go into human decision making. So if you have a certain breed, think about what they were historically bred to do. They are likely still inclined to do those things, and if you can provide some enrichment centered around those activities, both you and your dog will have a lot of fun!
If you have a husky like I do, take up cani-cross or skijoring. If you have a hound or a Lagotto Romagnolo, give Nosework a try. Living with an Australian Shepherd, Border Collie or something similar? Check out Treibball. Or find your local herding dog community and give it a go with some real live sheep! Got a dog that will play fetch endlessly? Give Flyball a go! Have a sight hound? Look into lure-coursing! Plus there's always agility, dock-diving, Rally obedience, on and on.
The possibilities are endless and they are only limited by our time, willingness and imagination. My challenge to you is to leave the office on time, leave the laundry in the dryer to be folded another day and get out there and try something new with your dog. If you come across something awesome that you think others should know about or have additional enrichment ideas, please share them in the comments below.