Dog Training Tips: Stimulation

Created 10/05/2015 at 12:25 AM

Two months ago on Saturday I started a new job: a nine-to-five deal, which was significantly different from my previous highly-flexible position as a graduate student. This also meant that, for the first time since we adopted him, ADHDog was alone in the house all day, though Husband was able to come home around lunchtime and take him out for a brief trot down the street. After that, however, it was back into the bedroom for ADHDog, and back to work for Husband.

For the first two weeks or so, I felt incredibly guilty. Astonishingly so, actually. I felt guilty that ADHDog wasn’t getting the amount of attention and stimulation that he was used to. I felt guilty that Husband had to take time out of his day to take care of the dog – early afternoon walks had always been my responsibility (and joy). I would still take ADHDog for his long evening ramble after I came home from work, but I had gotten so accustomed to spending time with him on-and-off throughout the day that no matter how much time I put in with him after work, it seemed inadequate by comparison. And for the first few weeks, I was so exhausted when I got home – adjusting to waking up at 5:00, daily meetings, learning the ins and outs of my new position – that taking care of him suddenly seemed like a chore. And what was I going to do in the winter, when there was a foot of snow on the ground, and it got dark at 4:30?

So I turned to the internet, to find new ways to stimulate my ADHDog and wear him out: dog owners know that there’s a difference between wearing your pup out physically and wearing him (or her!) out mentally. We invested in more puzzle toys – he’d had a Kong, but now he acquired a barnacle-shaped food dispenser, a Pickle Pocket, a home-made monstrosity made out of a peanut butter jar and a toilet paper tube. We hit another roadblock: turns out ADHDog won’t play with his food toys when we’re not here. He waits for us to come back and then brings them over and spikes them into our feet, to say “You made this difficult! You fix it!”

What he IS interested in is hide-and-seek. He loves finding toys I’ve hidden under pillows, loves sniffing out and extracting a handful of kibble wrapped in an old towel and stuffed under the couch. Twenty minutes of foraging for toys and treats was more exciting for him than an hour-long stroll through suburbia. So we’ve been working on harnessing that, building on it, using positive reinforcement and games to transfer his natural enjoyment of working for rewards to the development of the ADHDog feeder system. You may have seen Husband’s video, posted recently, of his button-smacking prowess. We’re working with him now to distinguish a lit button from an unlit button!

The mental games, finding the button, finding the treat dispenser, have been immensely rewarding for ADHDog. Watching him learn has been immensely rewarding for Husband and I. I’ll post more about our progress on the ADHDog system soon, along with tips and tricks for training your dog to respond to a target, and other fun ways to keep your pet stimulated and happy whether you’re at home or out for the day.

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