On one side of town a dog owner complained that their dog shredded the arm of their favorite lounge chair. On the opposite side of town another dog owner complained that their dog is extremely needy and in fact has become an incessant licker. The owner can’t get a moment’s rest without the dog constantly following her from room to room to continue this insane licking. Another dog has a bad case of hyperactivity and yet a completely different dog licks himself raw while other dogs develop aggressive issues.

These appear to be totally unrelated dog behavior problems. But they actually have a very common cause:

Lack of enough things to do that stimulate the senses and the brain in dogs can often times result in behavior problems suck as hyperactivity, destructive chewing, licking of themselves obsessively, attention-seeking behaviors, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorders) and aggression.

Maybe you’ve noticed your own dog acting out, to a lesser or greater degree, with some of these behaviors. If you think about it, most pet dogs are handed their food in designer dog bowls wolfing it down less than 10 minutes – in sharp contrast to dogs in the wild that used spent hours foraging for food.

Another contributing factor to potential problems is that pet dogs don’t spend a lot of time if any at all doing jobs for which they were bred (hunting, retrieving, herding, guarding, etc.) leaving absolutely no outlet for high levels of energy.

While, environmental enrichment cannot make up for all of a dogs physical needs, it can diffuse the potential for problem behavior by providing for a more interesting and enriched environment.

Our black lab Sammy gets his doggie brain challenged several times a week with interesting puzzles like the one to the right.

You can watch below to see him work out the puzzle to retrieve his prize “lamb loaf treats!” in a quick VIDEO we did to demonstrate how much fun your dog can have too.

He revels in the fact that he can completely empty out the puzzle is less than 5 minutes.

So, what do we do with the rest of his time? Another great game that Sammy loves is “Find it!” in which we hide a rope toy we call his “Trade” somewhere in the house while Sammy is required to go to his bed and stay until we return and send him off on his hunt. A stuffed Kong toy awaits him as he returns with his “Trade.”

As you look at your dogs daily activities – especially while you are at work all day, consider the following enrichment ideas that will hopefully go a long way to curb unwanted behavior:

Put your dog’s dry kibble or treats in a Buster Cube or treat-dispensing toy so that your dog has to work for its food. Some even have a way to adjust how quickly the food/treats are dispensed.

Hide food or a chew toy in an old towel that’s been folded or wadded up to challenge your dog to get at the goodies.

For backyard activities, shotgun your back yard with nickel slices of carrots or tiny diced pieces of apple for your dog to hunt. The carrots will keep your dog hunting for these special treats vs. digging in your yard.

If your dog is a digger, provide him/her with a special place to dig. For little to no money you can get a $9 plastic kiddie pool at Wal-Mart and fill it with sand. Bury chew bones, etc. and bury them in the sand box for him to find.

Hide a portion of your dogs daily meals around the house in small nooks and crannies (use open plastic containers to place the kibble in. Feed the rest of his/her meal in his/her dog food bowl.

These are just some of the fun ways you can take your dog’s environment from “Ho-hum to “Wow!” Now sit back and let the games begin. Don’t you wish you had a video camera?

Don’t forget that your dog still needs exercise on daily walks, training on come, sit and down and other interactive games with you.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are with the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”

(C) Jim Burwell 2011