Ever since he was a pup, Vinnie has loved the beach. His routine is the same at every beach we visit. He races to the water as fast as he can until he’s knee deep in the Pacific. Again and again he leaps over the waves dolphin-style, arcing his body up and down in a U-shape. Then he runs back to his humans to get us to chase him back into the ocean so he can do it all over again.
At the beach, he is jubilant. You can see it in every jump, in his springy gait, in the huge doggy smile on his face, in every giant play bow he presents to dogs he meets. A beach day is a super day of fun for him so I try to make it happen as often as I can. When I can’t get to the beach, I make sure his days include other fun stuff, like playtime with other dogs, Vin’s version of soccer, tug matches and scenting games.
I know. You probably came to this blog for serious science-based information on doggy behavior and training. So why the emphasis on fun?
Because making sure your dog has lots of fun accomplishes important things too.
Take exercise. Far too many of the dogs I see don’t get enough exercise.Too little exercise results in a bored dog, which often leads to unwanted behavior and mischief, like chewing shoes, sorting the household garbage and recycling, or endless bark-fests. Inadequate exercise and pent up energy also make fearful, anxious and aggressive behaviors worse. Fun for most dogs involves some kind of play or activity, preferably of the off-leash variety. Dogs having fun are usually getting exercise and are getting to just be dogs. Fun could be a swim, a rousing session of fetch or tug or chase, a trail hike, a doggy playdate. . . The options are endless. It all depends on the dog and what he loves to do.
Doing fun activities serves another purpose – it provides your dog with mental stimulation, the opposite of boredom. Your dog doesn’t enjoy being bored any more than you do. Mental stimulation means better quality of life for any animal, human or otherwise.
Positive training is ultimately about building better relationships between humans and animals. So it’s a bonus that doing fun stuff together strengthens your relationship with your dog. The bonds between you are deeper because of shared happy experiences. You practice and learn better ways to communicate. Trust and understanding grow.
But my favorite reasons to ramp up the fun for my dog are that I love him, and while he’s here on this earth I want him to enjoy life as much as possible, to be happy.
So go on. Get out there with your dog. Play Frisbee or tug or hide-and-seek with him. Take him on a hike in the redwoods, or for a swim, on a kayak trip, a romp at the dog park, or whatever he loves doing best. Revel in the fresh air, majestic trees, sandy toes and paws, and that goofy sweet doggy grin on his face. He’s having a blast, exuding joy. It’s contagious.