Friday, June 14, 2019

He's good with kids.

DOG GOOD WITH KIDS! –– Have you heard this said to you by others about their dog? Read it on an adoption site or at an adoption event? What does this actually mean anyway?

This is really a pretty arbitrary statement. As a professional who has turned more toward helping families with dogs after becoming a mother myself (3 kids –– girls ages 10, and twins that are 6) I now see things with dogs and kids in a different light. After becoming a mother I'm more vigilant and aware of dog body language and stress signals. I'm also more aware of what kids should and should not do around, to, or with dogs.

What I see is that most often "good with kids" means the dog hasn't actually done anything negative to a child, or that the dog is very tolerant with kids antics and behavior. This doesn't mean the dog should allow this behavior, just that for some reason it does. This is where the label comes, because the dog has a high tolerance level.

On the other hand, I've seen a dog labeled as "not good with kids" when the fact is that a child did something inappropriate to the dog, the dog reacted well within its rights and therefore now the dog is labeled as "not good with kids". This really comes down to a matter of education on the human side of things for both adult and child (um, and likely rescue group or shelter!)

A label of "good with kids" doesn't negate a parent's job of learning how to read dog body language, respect what that language is saying, their space and their tolerance levels. Also, the parents need to be in touch with someone who is able to appropriately able show their child(ren) what is appropriate dog-etiquette that includes the same things in child-friendly terms and interactions. Finding a Family Paws Parent Educator and/or The Family Dog private trainer will be key here. Family Paws is geared more towards expecting parents, newborns and babies up to toddler years while The Family Dog focuses on child/dog/family interactions and training for kids ages 5 years and up. Also, note I have many kid-dog resources on my website's free resources page.

I find this statement, often seen on adoptable dog sites/ads, very misleading and without further education it could be dangerous. A dog should not ever be disrespected by a child or adult just because the dog is tolerant and allows people to "do anything" to them. This does not mean, if your dog allows your child to grab it quickly, climb on it, or other behaviors like this, that you should allow your child (or anyone else's) to do this. Would you do this to a dog as an adult? Would you allow a child to do this to you as a human –– grab your hair? Hit you? Pull your clothes? Climb all over you? Then why is it ok for us to allow kids to do this just because we have a dog that's not reacting when this happens?

Dogs are sentient beings and should be respected the same way you would respect another living thing, item of someone else's and national treasures! You don't allow your kids to climb all over restaurant tables and up walls in public places, right? Then why should they be allowed do this to a dog? Just because a dog allows and tolerates this does not mean the dog is enjoying it, and more importantly that they will always tolerate it.

Dogs, like humans, do have a breaking point and this is where most "he bit my son for no reason!" comments come into play. Usually those "out of the blue" bites are not out of the blue at all. The dog had put up with a lot for a long time and finally had enough! ... or the dog had issues with personal space, the child got into the dog's personal space, the dog was uncomfortable, or something else happened that caused the dog to react negatively.

A dog that reacts negatively to being climbed on, grabbed by the face, pulled on or even hugged (most dogs do not like hugs, especially by children and strangers) are actually not labeled correctly. This should not deserve a label of "not good with kids". A more appropriate label would be "training mandatory by family dog trainer, inquire if interested in Fido to be part of your family!" Let's take this scenario: Every day after lunch you sit down, want to relax and have a little down time. I come over and sit on you. I tug your ears. I move around all over you. I try to lay in your lap. Maybe the first time you'll say "Um can you move, please?" I might then move. But what if this continued to happen every day? I'd likely be pretty accurate to assume by about the 3rd time this happened you'd either yell at me or push me off of you forcefully to give me the idea that it's really not ok with you.

Now let's do this scenario: Fido lies down comfortably on his bed in the afternoon and is relaxing. Little Susy comes over and sits on him, or lies on him or kisses him constantly. Fido might just get up and walk away the first time, or he may just lay there and do nothing, just hoping Little Susy will go away soon so he can finish his afternoon nap. Then the next day Little Susy does it again, then the next day and the next. Finally, one day Fido snaps at Little Susy when she gets her face too close to his. He's had enough. He wants to be left alone and Little Susy is just not respecting his space at all!

In the above scenarios the human one seems to make sense, right? But does the dog scenario make just as much sense? It should! Because Fido is a dog and cannot verbally tell Susy she's bothering him, after a while he'll use his voice (he could just bark loudly at her) and/or his teeth (snapping or biting) to communicate his dislike for Little Susy's antics.

The problem isn't a dog that snaps at children. The problem is that we need to know why the dog chose to do this behavior. Was the dog in the right? If we investigate the situation and find out that the child was not being respectful, then it's not a lost cause. The dog can, and likely will, be totally fine living with children. The success in this scenario will happen when the family as a whole can get a professional to come in and teach them appropriate skills to live with their dog and understand his needs and behavior.

Now, all this to say, there are in fact some dogs that are not good with children. They may react to kids for no reason or in such an aggressive manner that it isn't safe. So, this isn't to say that all dogs that snap at children will and can be ok with them. This is also why a professional must be consulted with when a family adopts any dog, regardless of the label the shelter or rescue has given it.

I personally think all families who acquire a dog at any age should hire a professional that knows how to educate every member of the family on how to live peacefully with a dog! Please do check out all the great, and free, resources on my Free Resources page on my website for books, downloadable handouts and more. ... and if you have kids and a puppy or dog, don't wait, hire a professional today that can help!

Copyright© 2019. All rights reserved. 
Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior 
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas

Tuesday, June 11, 2019


Hello dedicated dog owners! I wanted to send this update for all my past, current and possible wanna-be clients. I'm going to be taking fewer in-home training clients starting in July and wean down to only a select number as I'm able to do so. I'm not quitting or anything like that just not going to be working as much and at times I may take weeks off at a time.

I will no longer be boarding any dogs in my home for boarding or training. This will start immediately. This one may be one of the hardest ones for me to give up because I know finding a good place to board your pets is hard and I also love doing this service for my clients. However, it's also a lot of work, especially when you are doing it from your home with your own dogs and family involved too!

I will be doing more online training! I'm hoping to focus more on online training webinars and even online consultations and one-on-one training. So, please consider this as an option. If you have a case that would involve more than can be helped via online training I'll refer you to someone who can help you out with your specific situation.

Being a mom to young kids and being very involved in their extracurricular activities and such is making me realize I need to be with my kids more. They'll be out of the house before I know it and I want to be fully immersed with them while I can be! I currently head my 6 year-old twins' Girl Scout troop and that's pretty time-consuming ... but I really, really love doing it! So, I'm going to be doing more Girl Scout stuff and other things with my kids and hubby.

Thank you so much for understanding and please feel free to contact me if you really need some in-home services. As I said, I'm not quitting, just cutting back. I will not leave anyone stranded or left behind!

Please do follow my Facebook page for online training updates and upcoming webinars, or contact me via email to set up some online training. I will be updating my website soon to reflect all these changes and ways to sign up for new services that I'll be offering. So stay tuned for that.

Copyright© 2019. All rights reserved. 
Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior 
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas

Friday, May 31, 2019

Dogs & Kids: Assume they aren't listening ...

Assume the worst. Assume they know nothing. Assume they do not absorb anything. ... I'm of course talking about the kids! I had a recent picture I posted on my Facebook timeline of my refrigerator which adorns many things but one of them is a set of kid and dog posters. I leave these up, they are laminated and stay there at all times. I do this because kids should never be given as much credit as "oh they know they shouldn't do that ... or they know they should do this ..."

When you work with kids and dogs you need to assume that your child needs to be reminded, molded and trained daily just like your dog does. Just because you showed your child, or told them, once that pulling Fido's tail isn't nice doesn't mean they will think about this each and every time they come near a dog.

It's really important that kids are reminded often and given opportunities to practice what they have been previously taught. I have 3 kids –– a 10 year old and a set of 6 year old twins. The 10 year old is definitely getting better about having to be reminded and having to practice as much education on dog behavior and body language than my 6 year olds. However, that's because I've been doing this with her for a long time. 

I'm a Certified Dog Trainer, a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator and a trainer with The Family dog. However, this doesn't exempt me from teaching and training my kids all the time on dog behavior and body language. 

Download on my website
Each dog we encounter is a learning opportunity. I will stop and say "what does that dog seem to be feeling?" "What body language can you identify?" "Do you think he wants to be approached or left alone?" It's so important that parents understand that dogs are sentient beings and can change from one minute to the next just like children ... and adults! This means we need to always be aware of what a dog is "saying" or trying to "say" with its body language and actions. This is how we make Dog Aware Generations –– generations of kids that learn how to always read a dog and stop and think before acting. This will almost always ensure safety and a pleasurable experience for both dog and child. 

So be sure you are practicing educating your children on canine body language and what their actions may mean. But don't stop at one lesson. Use dogs you see or are around as learning opportunities, use your own dog as a learning tool. Go over pictures of dogs and their body language. Do this as often as you can. Learning is on-going!

I have several resources on my website for kid and dog education and training. One of my favorites is the poster above for kids that is from and The Family Dog.

Copyright© 2019. All rights reserved. 
Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior 
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas

Monday, May 13, 2019

I'm a professional dog trainer & I don't walk my dogs.

I’ve wanted to say this out loud for so long, so I’ll say it again … I don’t walk my dogs and I’m a professional dog trainer. Oh sure I have walked my dogs –– gone on hikes, in public places, at events, at [training] classes … but regular, daily exercise such as walks down my street –– nope. My dogs don’t get those types of walks. 

This blog post may compliment my blog post from quite a while back titled “Stop walking your dog.” If you’ve not read that you should read it when you have a moment, it’s lengthy but full of lots of great information and resources.

So, back to the topic of this post—My dogs and their lack of getting daily walks. Yeah. I know I must be a lazy dog owner right? … or maybe just a terrible dog owner—gasp! My dogs must be sad and fat, right? Actually, my dogs are quite the opposite of either of those. In the past 15 years I’ve had 5 personal dogs –– a Great Dane, a Labrador Retriever, a Jack Russell Terrier, an Australian Shepherd and a Beagle.  None of them receive(d) regular daily walks. (I currently have the Aussie and the Beagle as the others have passed.)

Each of my dogs has (had) a fulfilled life because they are (were) mentally engaged far more than the average dog. They have (had) a lovely balance of, I’d say about 90% mental exercise and 10% physical exercise. Well, my Great Dane had only about 1% physical exercise, his choice completely of course! That guy adorned a couch far better than any throw blanket ever could! Alas, I digress . . .

Let's get something straight first  exercising your dog is not wrong and it is definitely beneficial to your dog. Hey, every living creature needs to get physically active in some way, including humans, right?! So, I'm not advocating for people to never exercise their dogs. I'm simply stating that exercise isn't the "fix" that so many dog owners have been led to believe it is. This includes behavior problems as well as weight problems. Yup. That's a whole other topic in itself (weight problems in healthy dogs). So, I'll save that for a different blog post.

The issue with most dogs today is that they are not mentally stimulated properly and/or enough. Yet, is has been drilled into dog owners’ heads that physical exercise will fix all the things!  In fact, I find this to be such a myth it’s becoming a problem in the sense that people are trying to exercise their dogs to fix behavior issues and missing the boat completely. Of course, this isn’t by a fault of the owner. I get it. It’s been so ingrained in people’s minds that “an exercised dog is a tired dog and a tired dog is a good dog” that dog owners are attempting to achieve this, mostly with minimal success.

What I see most of today in the dogs I work with are stressed dogs, dogs riddled with anxiety, dogs with lack of boundaries and training, and dogs not set up to have their brains enriched in the way that they should. Please don't read this as me stating that dogs aren't being cared for properly. I'm simply stating what I see a lot of. Most, if not all of it, is by no fault of the dog's owner. People don't know what they don't know –– this is why I write this blog!

I see people who want to put forth all the time and energy to exercise their dogs. So much so that they almost have a resistance to setting up enrichment and would rather get out and walk or run their dogs. For some I know that it's the dog owner who sees it as a way for them to get out and exercise, and that's totally fine. It really is. Again, there is nothing wrong with exercising your dog or yourself! Obviously exercise is in fact important.

But what I often see are humans who are walking their dogs because they think if they don't they are a bad dog owner, or the dog won't be fulfilled, or the dog's behavior issues will be worse or, or, or ... The guilt of not walking their dog forces them to do it. I see a lot of dog owners who would quite honestly rather not walk their dog. So if that's you, then this is directed at you. You don't have to do it. 

Let's also discuss dogs that do worse when walked. Yup those are out there too! There are dogs who stress more on walks than lying at home in their comfy bed. Some dogs are anxious or nervous or reactive to all the things. These dogs do not do well on walks and walks are not benefitting them in any way. They are actually likely increasing the stress and anxiety and making things far worse. These dogs do not need walks. (Note: You should hire a trainer to help if your dog has any of these issues, they deserve to live without stress or anxiety, even if it's just "a little bit".)

If you find solace in it or feel like it's something you really have to do and you have a dog suited for walking, by all means do it! Also, I'm not stating you shouldn't walk your dog ever. 

Guess what? You don't have to walk your dog and some dogs will actually appreciate not going on a walk. You can stop walking your dog if it’s stressing you out and/or if it’s stressing your dog out. Stop if it’s not helping the issues you thought it would help. Stop if you dread it. Just stop if you just don’t feel like doing it that day, or every day. Just don’t. And don't feel guilty about it. It's going to be alright! You can make up for it in so many other ways. I promise!


1. Train your dog
 in some capacity. Maintain the training. Do it regularly, not just one class here or there, or an in-home program and then nothing after that. A trained dog is a good dog, even better than a tired dog ... because a trained dog is a tired dog!

2. Take your dog camping or hiking 
as you see fit (if it suits you, your dog's temperament, and/or your schedule). I know that hiking is exercise but it's not a daily walk in your 'hood. This is actually a great form of enrichment for dogs that would be suited for this. (Note that not all dogs are well-suited for camping, also hiking should follow rules & other things. Good info for hiking with your dog here.)

3. Play with your dog.
 Tug? Ball? Fetch? Play with your dog is great, even better if you incorporate some impulse control exercises (drop, wait, go get it, sit, etc.) in with the play.

4. Provide mental enrichment & stimulation
 (see my blog post on this) This is your golden goose right here, and there are soooo many ways you can enrich your dog. My blog post explains many different ways to do this.

5. Work on relaxation exercises.
 Teach your dog to chill. (Great read on this here.) Many dogs that are amped up or energetic need more downtime not more exercise. I actually go into great detail in another blog post I wrote on this. You can read it here.

6. Let your dog sleep. Most dogs don't get enough sleep, just like humans! Did you know that dogs should sleep 16-20 hours a day, depending on age?! Interesting read on sleep in dogs here.

So, see - you're not a bad owner if you don't walk your dog regularly. There are tons of ways to meet your dog's needs. But, again, if you do enjoy walking daily or weekly with your dog by all means do that. Just note that adding in some of the above things to your dog's exercise routine will have increasingly great outcomes for your dog's mental and behavioral health!

Need help with some of the suggestions in this blog? Hire a professional to guide you in training and any other aspect of these things!  Read my blog here on how to find the properly qualified professional for you and your dog!

This blog post was updated on December 27, 2021.

Copyright© 2021. All rights reserved. 
Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas

Thursday, April 25, 2019

She'll get used to it ...

Have you ever had a dog that was a bit scared of something and  you thought perhaps if she just "gets used to it" she'll figure out it's ok? I see a lot of the mindset that if a dog is scared (or just unsure) of something that all they need is more exposure to that something in order to "get used to it". Unfortunately it doesn't work like that.

Let me use the example of a dog not too keen on riding in the car. Maybe it's not even crippling fear but just a bit of stress in the car. So, you think, I'll just take her in the car more so she'll get used to it. That will get my dog to understand that the car isn't so bad, right? I mean nothing bad happens in the car. So she'll just get used to it if I take her in the car all the time, right? Well, actually this won't get her used to the car.

Here is the thing with stress and/or fear –– it doesn't just go away on its own or over time by forcing the dog to be in the situations and/or around the things that scare them or make them nervous. There is actually a term in psychology for this "technique"–– it's called flooding. You will find some dog trainers that use flooding as a training tool, and they will swear that "it works". Here is why some dogs appear to be getting past their fear or stress –– flooding causes dogs to shut down or present what is called "learned helplessness". This means the dog realizes it has no other choice but to just sit through the situation as it cannot escape so it just does nothing. However, while doing nothing they are mentally panicking, some a lot some just enough to make it uncomfortable. Either way, they are not coping, and they are definitely not "getting used to it". They are praying for the moment they can get away or go back to a place that's safe for them. They are also not moving past their previous viewpoint on the very thing you were attempting to get them "used to".

Let me try to put this in perspective. Let's say you are afraid of spiders and I put you in a room full of spiders. The spiders are in a huge enclosed tank, at the other end of the room. They cannot get to you. But you cannot leave. You have to sit there for an hour and try to just "see" that it's not so bad, I mean after all they are in a tank and across the room ––right?! However, likely you will begin to try coping mechanisms. This is a physiological response that the body does. This is whether you are a human or an animal. You go into survival mode. You'll probably be staring intently at that tank full of spiders. You probably will start talking to yourself, trying to calm yourself –– "see, they can't get to you, see they aren't so bad." You may start breathing techniques. You will probably talk to yourself some more. You will probably look over at the tank every 2 seconds. You will probably start to possibly think of worst case scenarios. What if they get out? What if the lid isn't on tight enough? What if someone forgets about you? . . . You will be hyper-focused on the spiders. You will be counting down until you can get the heck out of there. But what you won't do is walk out of the room and say "well that was great, now I'm not afraid of spiders! Thanks for that awesome session of flooding!"

I recall, probably 10 years ago, I was teaching a group class and a client in the class asked about how to help her dog "get used to people" because she's shy and timid around new people. One client that was in the class thought she'd give her two cents and she stated, "we just took ours on the Katy Trail all the time and she finally got used to people." For those not local, the Katy Trail is a very, very, very busy jogging and walking path that goes around a busy part of the huge city of Dallas. It has joggers, bikers, roller bladers, skaters, strollers and tons of dogs! It's seriously packed with people and dogs. It's too much for most dogs let alone a dog afraid of people! What likely happened to the client's dog that says "she finally got used to people" was that she continued to take her dog on the trail and the dog just tolerated it because it had no other choice. When a dog is in a state of learned helplessness they look compliant because they do nothing. It could appear to the untrained eye to be "obedient" (ugh I hate that word!) It looks like blind obedience but it's just a dog choosing to do nothing because it has zero options. This would apply here because on the trail all dogs are on a leash. A dog on a leash that's forced into a situation where it's not comfortable isn't going to do much of anything as it has no choices.

On another side of that some people could argue, "so what's wrong with the dog just getting by and doing nothing?" Why is this "learned helplessness" so bad? Sounds like they don't do anything bad so, meh. Why not?!  But here is the thing, mentally your dog isn't ok. They haven't learned to be ok, they've learned that they have no choice. I don't know about you but I like to have a dog that is actually ok with the thing or situation that makes them nervous, uneasy or anxious. I don't want to just put a band-aid on my wound if it's never going heal. Why can't I do something to make the wound disappear completely?!

So how does one know if a dog is exhibiting learned helplessness, being shut down, or truly "used to" something? Great question! A dog that is not truly ok in a situation will show signs of stress. Now, the kicker here is that you gotta be a real Dog Decoder (by they way that's actually a dog body language app, go download that now, here!) with body language. This is where dogs will often show super subtle signs of stress so you'll need to be a great detective here. Things such as whale eye, licking their lips, tail tucked (or lowered heavily), head averted, eyes averted away, paw lift, eyes blinking, eyes squinting, panting out of context, heavy shedding, moist paw pads and even just sitting there staring and frozen (with a few of these others signals likely to be occuring at the same time.)

Now, remember reading stress signals takes you looking at the whole dog and really understanding what you're looking at.

Dogs that are "used to" or ok with something will show loose body, ears, eyes, mid-line tail wagging that's loose, often eliciting interactions and exploring things on their own without showing signs of fear or uncertainty. They will not just sit frozen. They will also listen to you when you ask for something most likely while the unsure dog –– or flooded dog –– will often seem to ignore you when you ask something of it.

Here is the thing with science and psychology –– you can train a dog to be comfortable with things and situations by choice. You can do it the right way. You can do it so that with the proper training your dog will actually like going on that car ride that previously made her nervous. You can teach your dog that previously thought men were scary that they aren't so bad, and actually could even be good! Your dog will make their own choices and even moreover –– your dog will be confident as a dog and mentally balanced. That's the dog I want! How about you?

If you have a dog with any kind of fear, anxiety, stress or phobia please contact a positive-based trainer that understands how to properly use classical, counter conditioning and desensitization to modify behavior. You also need to have any anxious dog visit a licensed veterinarian that is well educated in behavioral medicine before implementing a training plan. Some dogs do require medication to aide in the process. This is on a case by case basis but no one should brush off the power of medicine when owning a fearful and/or anxious dog.

Need help finding a qualified professional near you? Hit me up in the comments!

Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas & surrounding cities

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Mental Stimulation & Enrichment: What is it anyway & why?!

I know my clients hear me talk about this all the time. I also suggest it as a solution to many doggie behavior complaints — because it often is a solution, if not something that would help dramatically!

However, I don't see it utilized as much as it should be. Actually, I find it interesting how many people would rather take a one hour walk/run with their dog vs 15 minutes to prepare an enrichment toy or food puzzle for said dog.

I think the issue is that so many people have had it drilled into their heads that exercise is the answer to a dog's misbehavior, or that if they were exercised more their behavior would improve. This is rarely true. This is a whole other topic. I don't mean you shouldn't exercise your dog but it's not going to solve your dog's issues in the way that you likely have been told it will. (I wrote a blog post on this titled, "Stop Walking Your Dog" you may want to read for details on that.)

The #1 thing I hear from clients is this "Oh yeah I stuffed that thing [pointing to their dog's KONG] and he wasn't all that interested." I hear something along those lines as well as clients stating their dog wasn't even remotely interested in the KONG. Likely this is due to it not being used in the most beneficial way. Read on to learn more . . .

Most dogs know that their dog food will be provided in a bowl and they will have easy access to it, read: they can eat it easily and quickly out of the bowl. If you free-feed your dog (food is available at all times, not picked up and fed only at set times) this will be even more obvious because your free-fed dog often won't work for anything. They have food available at all times why would they do something that takes work to get food? On the other hand, if a dog has to work to get his meal he is going to do it or he knows that he won't be getting that meal!

So, I encourage dog owners to provide their dog's meal out of a food puzzle, not an extra thing full of treats the dog might [or might not!] enjoy. I recommend you feed your dog's entire ration of at least one meal per day out of a food puzzle so that she has to work to get it!

Food puzzles also can make feeding fun and some dogs become more encouraged to eat when given a fun way to do it. For dogs that eat too quickly food puzzles are a great way to force them to eat a bit slower as well as get some mental stimulation out of it.

If you want some examples of food puzzles and details on using them please download my handout here.

Enrichment doesn't just benefit hyper, over-aroused, active and busy dogs — it benefits all dogs! Dogs need enrichment because their brains need to work as much as, if not more than, their legs! Enrichment for dogs has been known to lower stress, encourage them to learn more efficiently, and increases problem solving skills which leads to a more emotionally balanced dog. In fact, mental enrichment is what will make your dog more relaxed and manageable, not 5 miles of jogging around the lake (unless you're allowing your dog to stop and sniff a lot during this run!)

Physical exercise is also important to your dogs, as it is to all living creatures (hey, humans too!). However, what most people don't realize is that dogs suffer more from lack of mental stimulation than they do from physical stimulation. Most people meet, if not exceed, their dog's physical stimulation needs but do not realize that this is not the need that needs to be met the most.
Dogs actually sleep anywhere from 16-20 hours a day, by nature (puppies and elderly dogs need more sleep than middle aged dogs). If your dog doesn't get enough sleep it's a lot like a child with not enough sleep — if you're a parent then you know what this looks like – it's not fun! As with children, dogs will usually show lack of sleep by acting out or showing behaviors that we definitely don't approve of. While a dog acting out doesn't always equate to a dog not getting enough sleep (it could be for a variety of reasons), I'm saying that a dog without enough sleep will definitely show some behaviors that are undesirable. Exercising to the point of exhaustion or not having your dog sleep enough will cause more problems than give the dog a reason to nap.

Dogs need to use their brains, legs and their comfy beds in order to be mentally and emotionally balanced –– and exhausted. More sleep actually makes for a calmer dog. So be sure your dog gets a very balanced day of sleep, exercise, enrichment and more sleep.

One standard definition of enrichment is: "Additions to an animal's environment with which the animal voluntarily interacts and, as a result, experiences improved physical and/or psychological health."

There are a lot of things that involve enrichment to fulfill your dog's mental stimulation needs everyday. They can range from somewhat simple to more complex. You should provide a variety of these to keep your dog's needs met. Don't always opt for the easy ones and don't always opt for the more challenging ones. If you stick to one or the other your dog may become frustrated due to boredom if too simple or due to not being able to solve the more difficult challenges. So be sure to stay on a sliding scale of difficulty.

Enrichment can be divided into six categories:
1. Sensory - This includes anything that stimulates your dog's senses. Sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch.

2. Feeding - By employing the power of your dog's nose and brain, you can encourage your dog to use their natural hunting and foraging skills at meal time.

3. Toys and Puzzles - These encourage your dog to manipulate them for a reward. The reward is usually food or treats, but could also include plush, rubber, rope, and fetch toys.

4. Environmental - Adding new things to your dog's life can sometimes increase their physical activity and make things more interesting. Try adding a mirror to a room in your house, build a ramp in the backyard, or go for a hike in a new place.

5. Social - Interaction with other people and other dogs builds self confidence and trust. Visiting the pet store, the dog park, or even a friend's house while practicing training and skills can help keep your dog well-rounded.

6. Training - Training can help strengthen the bond you have with your dog. It helps to build trust plus your dog will learn basic and important listening skills.

  • The dog's sniffer! I think that the absolute best type of mental enrichment is the type that involves your dog utilizing his nose to find food — I mean real sniffing and searching! I cannot stress how much this will wear your dog out. This type of enrichment far exceeds any type of physical exercise you could provide for your dog — by leaps and bounds.

    Allow your dog to forage, scavenge and find her food. You can do this by just simply 
    tossing your dog's ration of kibble out into a yard or field (when dog is on a long line) and let them sniff until they find it. If you live where you don't have a fenced in area to allow this (or don't want to go out to a field), then you can utilize a snuffle mat –– it's truly my favorite thing for this! Heck, use the snuffle mat everyday! Here is a snuffle mat (see pic & click to buy) in case you're thinking – what is a snuffle mat?

  • Fun with surfaces! Offer a variety of surfaces and textures for your dog to explore, train on and discover. This is especially beneficial to puppies from the time they start
    walking to the time they are around 14-18 weeks of age. This helps puppies not be afraid of different obstacles, surfaces and textures.

    However, any aged dog can benefit from this type of sensory input. Be wary of sharp rocks and other things and go slow if your dog isn't used to odd surfaces. Always use safety and precaution first and foremost! Use rewards. Scatter food on the surface for them to search and forage. Make this fun and rewarding. This is also a great confidence booster for dogs that may need an ego boost!

  • Sensory Gardens! You can make your own backyard tons of fun. There are loads of ides online for sensory gardens and fun for your yard to really make your dog have a fun and enriching space. Here is a great article on how to do your own sensory garden. Here is a guy who made his Huskies some great sensory and fun in his yard.

    These gardens can be anything from agility type equipment to mounds, tunnels, ponds or dog pools, decks and riverbeds to anything you can imagine! You can all kinds of things to make or buy at home garden centers and sometimes even just lying around your home or in your garage! You can have great fun with this one while also making your yard fun for your dogs ... and kids if you have those too!

  • Enrichment walks/hikes. Taking your dog out for walking is boring, if you really think about it. Most of the time people are making their dog walk in a straight line, no room for going anywhere to sniff or be a dog.  Make the walk truly beneficial –– let your dog sniff, a lot! As I stated above when discussing using their sniffer – when dogs are able to use their noses it's so incredibly rewarding as well as mentally stimulating for them.

    Let them use their noses on walks whether in nature (hiking, exploring), in your neighborhood (sniff mailboxes, lawns) or in the city (sidewalks, benches, etc.). Dogs need to sniff! I have my dogs on cue to let them know they can now go to the end of their leash so that we are still practicing leash manners. So you can do this too so that your leash manners still stay intact. I say "Ok you're free to go!" then they go to the end and sniff away!

  • Training. Obviously this one is my favorite because I'm best at this! However, many people leave out training. Even just simple foundation skills such as: hand targeting, sit, down, and come when called can benefit your dog in multiple ways. It is a great way to get your dog to use her brain while also learning basic skills that will be
    useful in more ways than one!  

    Training your dog really should be a must as it helps build the relationship between you and your dog as well as helps you get rid of any behavior issues that may be in play. Depending on your dog and any challenges you have this could be easy or complex. I do recommend you hire a professional trainer to help you in some way if you want to properly train your dog. 

The above are just a list of a few ways to give your dog mental stimulation and enrichment. You can be creative and have fun with it. Your dog will thank you for it! There are also a lot of fun DIY ideas on Pinterest that I've posted to my board

Remember to get a calm dog you want to provide all of the above and do not leave out the component of sleep – plenty of it too! If you give too much of one and not the other you'll likely see some behaviors that you don't like in your dog! When in doubt, always get in touch with a qualified, professional trainer in your area.

brought to you by
Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas, USA
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