Managing A Busy Dog

Kate Abbott, Petra Burke & Liz Palika  on Pet Life Radio

It’s a Doggy Dog World is a pet podcast all about living with dogs; the challenges as well as the joys. This week we’re talking about how to live with and manage a busy dog. A busy dog is one who if not kept busy, will find something to amuse himself. Unfortunately, that can be the kitchen trash can, the leg of your dining room table, or he may simply decide you need to amuse him. But you can manage a busy dog and we’ll take a look at easy ways to do it.


[(Show Open)

Liz Palika: Welcome to It's A Doggy Dog World on PetLifeRadio. I'm your host, Liz Palika, and I want to thank you for joining us. My co-host today is my very good friend Kate Abbot from Kindred Springs K-9 Education Center in Vista

Kate Abbott: Thanks Liz, for inviting me! I mean, after all, talking about dogs is one of my favorite subjects.

Liz Palika: This show is all about learning to live with your dog. Dogs are supposed to be our best friends, after all that's why we have them, but living with a dog can also cause problems. Uh, we're introducing a species into our house that, you know, wasn't born to us, wasn't raised with us, and so we can have misunderstanding and miscommunications. Uh, so we'll be talking about training in this show. We'll be talking about household rules and social manners. We'll be talking about how to deal with any problems that might occur, but this isn't going to be all serious stuff. We also believe in having fun with our dogs.

Kate Abbott: Right, that's why we have them in our lives after all; is to have fun. And there are so many things that you can do with your dog, even if you don't want to compete in competition, but if you- oh, say something like lure coursing. A couple of weeks ago, my cockapoo Walter and I were introduced to lure coursing at a charity dog event. (For those of you who aren't familiar with it, lure coursing is a sport that involves a mechanically operated lure.) A lure can be anything from a plastic bag to a squeak toy. Chasing it around a course. It can be an empty field or dust field, or it can be obstacles that the dogs chase the lure over (jumps) and through tunnels or things like that. Well, we got a chance to do this at the event and Walter, oh my gosh; that just turned out to be one of the great big blisses of his life, to run over that and have a good time.

Liz Palika: Yeah I introduced, uh, Bashir  to lure coursing at that same event and it was really interesting. My youngest dog Bashir is an Australian Shepherd. He's a herding dog and has been introduced to herding, but he's never seen lure coursing before. So he hesitated for initially when he first saw that little mechanical fuzzy thing that is supposed to represent a rabbit, but he only hesitated a second and he was "off!"  My husband said he looked kind of, uh, uh oh what's a nice term, devilish? (laughs) in his focus for that. So we're going to talk about a lot of fun things as we go along too. This show is all about living with dogs and fun is a big part of that

Kate Abbott: There are so many opportunities to enjoy spending time with your dog. Anything from a walk, to having a coffee in an outside cafe, or therapy dog visits. Of course in all of these things you have to start with a good foundation, and that is training with your dog. And once you have that good foundation the world is opened to you and it should be. So you can go places and enjoy life with together and show other people a well mannered dog [and] how much fun they can be.

Liz Palika: Well we need to take a break for a commercial break. Don't go away!  When we come back, Kate and I are going to be talking about the challenges, and the joys, of living with a busy dog, because busy dogs are, well- they're a special type of dog. So hold on and we'll be right back.

(Cut to a commercial break)

Liz Palika: Welcome back to It's A Doggy Dog World. I'm your host Liz Palika and my co-host is Kate Abbott from Kindred Spirits K-9 Education Center in Vista, California. Today we're discussing the challenges and joys of living with a busy dog. Kate, Let's start at the beginning. What do you consider a busy dog?

Kate Abbott: Well, my dog. (laughs) A dog who's very, very- uh- "interested" in life and in everything that happens. And I guess the easy definition would be the dog that, um, if you don't tell him something to do, [he] goes off and finds something to do. It may not always be something that you want done either. Walter, my little cockapoo, is definitely a "busy dog".

Liz Palika: So a busy dog, is not just an active dog, but perhaps a dog that wants you to throw the ball over and over and over again. Or maybe the dog who wants to torment the cat or raid the trash can. A busy dog is just a dog who is always doing stuff.

Kate Abbott: Yes I do a lot of private training with Kindred Spirits Dog Training Group. And the secret is that I almost never get called out on private problem solving training for a dumb dog, because they don't think of things to do. They're happy to lay around. But busy dogs, oh no, they're finding- "oh the gopher's in the back yard", the people walking down the street so you get in the window and "bark, bark, bark, bark, bark!" They have a lot of energy, physical and mental. So I found that dealing with both- well, a busy dog, you have to approach both sides of it. You have to wear them out mentally and physically. One of my favorite dogs is "a tired dog is a well behaved dog", but that only works if you can tire out their brain as well as their body.

Liz Palika: Well we have a focus on training so that leads into what we believe, in that every dog needs some training. And training isn't necessarily competitive obedience training, but training can be setting the foundation for the busy dog

Kate Abbott: I'm thinking about one of our students who said to me, "You know, I loved my dog the moment I got him, but now that we've had some training, I actually find that I like my dog and we can have fun together." So training has got to be the foundation, so you can establish a way of communicating with your dog, which you want them to do. Once you've got that done, well you can only do so many sits, sit-stays, before you’re  both bored, especially with a busy dog, a high achieving dog. So how do you get their brain tired? I love to use games, but make them a little educational. If your dog likes to bring the ball back and play fetch, super! Take that one step further. Do fetch, practice the sit and the sit-stay, and then you throw the ball. Oh my gosh, does that teach self-control? Now you may have to help them in the beginning. "Hold that sit." But, then you get to release them, they go get the ball, they bring it back and then you get to teach them another command. "Give." Once you've got that idea down, then you're working their brain. "Oh, oh do I get to get it yet? Do I get to get it yet? Oh no I gotta hold it, I gotta hold it. (Breath.) Oh yay! I get to get the ball and bring it back!" It's kind of like if you work in an office job and you sit at a computer all day. You come home and you're mentally tired, but you may be still physically wound up. Or if you go out and  run around in the fields with your kids and throw a ball. Then you come inside and the kids are still, "I'm so bored! I'm still- oh do something with me!" That's as if you go out and play fetch with a dog and don't put any rules on the game. They may come in physically tired, but still mentally wound up. Still ready to chew on the legs on the sofa, still ready to chase the cat. But make them think. And then have fun doing it. Then they come in thinking "oh yeah, now I'm ready to take a nap."

Liz Palika: So what other types of things can you do to exercise the mind.   Are you talking about specific types of training or, like trick training?

Kate Abbott: Oh I love trick training. It's- Well the first thing I notice is the change in the students. Everybody get all serious on the sit, and the down, and the stay.  And then, [i say] well let's teach your dog to spin in a circle and all of a sudden they go "Ok Fido spin! Yay! Good boy!" So that they get to have a lot more fun and the dogs respond to that and hopefully that attitude rolls over into the obedience as well. I'll give you an example: I injured my self and I was sort of laying on the couch for a couple of days, which was torture for my busy dog Walter. I woke up from a nap on the fourth day and I found twelve toys all over myself. So while I was napping, Walter had gone and gotten every toy that he could find in the house and placed them all around me. I woke up and I still wasn't able to get up and physically move him a whole lot. So I started teaching him a couple of tricks that I could do sitting down that really made him work his brain. About eight minutes of that- he took a great big sigh and I was able to tell him "lay down, relax" and he could, because now he was tired. Uh, you do the same with Bashir  right?

Liz Palika: Of course, yeah because Aussies are way too smart for their own good. Australian Shepherds. Not- not the people from the continent (laughs). Well maybe them too (laughs). Bashir , being a young Australian Shepherd, and very eager to learn. I've had to keep his mind challenged. And so, one of the things that I taught him was, uh, identifying with the blocks, labeled A, B, and C. People told me they couldn't learn that, but I said "sure he could". So I went to the craft store and got a wooden A, and a wooden B, and a wooden C and started teaching him to recognize, uh, those letters and to touch the letter when I asked for it. And then to make sure that he wasn't pattern trained, (that It wasn't always A, then B, then C) I'd mix them all up. And I found that after about 3 or 4 minutes of that, he was tired. He had to quit. His brain had to relax for a little bit because that's a lot of work. That's more than most dogs are ever asked to do. And when I was through with that, he'd go take a break. So yes, the mental exercise is just as important. But what else do we need to keep do- to keep in mind with a busy dog?

Kate Abbott: Oh I hate to hear about any dog, especially busy dogs just being left in the backyard all day long. Dogs need to get out and get about. Going for a walk is just such a wonderful experience, (with a well mannered dog) *laughs*. It should be fun. It shouldn't be just dragged down the street by your sore arm, but once they're listening to you, and walking with you and going places, then you can take them places, which stimulate their mind as well as their body as your walking. We're lucky to have Oceanside harbor nearby our home. Great place to walk: grass, ocean air, uh, seagulls, seals, boats. It's great! And we can go out there and walk with our dogs, knowing that they're well mannered. They're going to listen to us. They're not going to lunge at other people's dogs and have a great time. Then when you come home, they're ready to relax. You can snuggle together on the couch, watching TV, and not wonder what your dog's going to get into as they're wandering around the house. So getting your dog tired mentally as well as physically is the big thing that I'm always telling my students to get done. Whatever level your dog needs. And a busy dog needs a lot.

Liz Palika: Now for most dogs though, to just simply go for a walk is not enough exercise. The exercise can be mental stimulation and can be training, but for exercise it's not enough right?

Kate Abbott: Especially if they're on a high calorie food. So many of the foods that we see on the market today have way too much caloric free- simple carbohydrates. I'm gonna put it that way. Simple carbohydrates with a high glycemic index. So paying attention to the kind of food that- I'm sure that Liz will be bringing this up in episodes to come. But that's a big deal. If you feed your kids sugar you can't expect them to sit quietly and read a book. If you feed your dog a high caloric, too-simple-a-carbohydrate a food, then they're not gonna to be able to relax and sit still and think either. So find out what your dog likes to do and turn it into an educational game. Walter, we all joke about Walter's addiction to his red ball, but I've been able to use that red ball as a reward for him thinking and working and he can then get physical energy by chasing the ball, but that's also a reward for sitting still and thinking in the minutes ahead of it.

Liz Palika: Ok, thank you Kate. We have to take a break right now for messages from our sponsors. But listeners please hold on, and definitely don't go anywhere because we have a lot more for you.

(Break for Commercial)

Liz Palika: Welcome back to It's a Doggy Dog World. I'm your host, Liz Palika, and with me today is our co-host, Kate Abbott. Kate and I have been talking about busy dogs, the challenges and joys of living with these dogs. So far we've discussed the importance of exercise, of training- of obedience training, and some training that can keep the busy dogs minds on positive things rather than getting in trouble. We've also talked about food, and we'll talk about food more in shows, coming up in the next few weeks, because food has more to do with than with just busy dogs. Food affects the dogs in many aspects of their lives, so we'll discuss that in more detail in a couple of weeks. But right now there's other things that we can do with the dogs to keep a busy dog out of trouble, because that's one of our primary goals. When a dog is getting into trouble he's not much fun. I got into dog training many, many years ago because I had a German Shepherd who, in one eight hour day, while I was at work, destroyed my sofa. When I left for work, I had an 8 foot long sofa in the living room. When I got home I had- well I had enough fiber on the floor to fill eight garbage bags. The next day I called the trainer for help and kinda got addicted to training after that. But when you've got a busy dog and he's getting into trouble, it's not much fun. So  let's talk about activities that we can do with dogs that can help keep them busy. Kate mentioned Lure coursing. And in many areas that's just for sight hounds.  Here in southern California we do have a group that is open to all breeds and I do know that interest in this is spreading all over the country. Uh, Kate and I, and our second co-host, who will be joining us next week, Petra Burke, is also interested in therapy dog work, and we all do that. Walter's very good at therapy dog work. In fact he had a visit today

Kate Abbott: It's surprising how much therapy dog work takes out of a dog. A lot of people think, "oh well your dog gets to be petted and he must just sit there and soak all of that in." But they actually have to think quite a bit, especially dealing with visiting people and medical equipment such as wheel chairs, or hospital beds and oxygen tanks. Uh, need some training, there's that reoccurring theme again, to understand how to deal and not be frightened by this equipment and how to safely go say "hi" to someone. For a busy dog like Walter, I was so amazed the first time I took him on a therapy dog visit. As soon as we finished, about an hour/ hour and a half, of a visit, I put him in the car, he jumped in the back seat, and he, uh, he crashed. He slept all the way home, and that is unheard of for Walter's energy level. And that tends to be pretty consistent. He's not as wiped out as at the beginning, but it still takes a lot out of him just to say "hi." Um I myself, well, I consider myself fairly social. If I was to go to, um, a cocktail party or any sort of get-together where I have to talk to a lot of people and be friendly and smiling the whole time, I'm exhausted *laughs* at the end. And, that's what I think Walter is feeling. It's fun, but oh my gosh, it's so tiring to say "hi" to so many people. So, he loves that. We do agility as well. We do it for fun, not competition. That's a great way to get some energy off of him. The tricks of course, and carting. Pulling a cart, oh, good for him physically as well as mentally. He gets to use a lot of energy and pull, which he loves to do, but then he has to listen and control that enthusiasm considerate of people and other dogs. There's just so many things that people can look into in their neighborhood and find to do fun with their dog.

Liz Palika: One thing that you might wanna look into, that listeners might wanna look into and check with some trainers in your area, and that's Flyball. Uh, dogs, there's a lot of dog's out there who were born with a tennis ball in their mouth and thinks that tennis balls' the next greatest thing maybe to food. Flyball is a game where the dog jumps a series of four hurdles with a low height, so even little dogs can do it. They then are going to bounce off of a backboard that shoots a tennis ball out and they grab that ball and then they turn around and run back over the hurdles. Now Flyball is a competitive sport, just like obedience competition can be and agility competitions can be, but it can also be a great sport for you and your dog in the backyard. Get a Flyball box, there's some descriptions of them up on the internet, so if you're handy or have someone who can build things, have them do that for you. And then teach your dog to play Flyball. It's a great way to get your dog to think and to exercise. Some other activities out there, swimming. There're a number of dogs who love to swim. Whether you've got a pool, or a pond, or a lagoon, or the ocean, swimming again uses up that energy, gets those busy dogs using their muscles and their brains, and if your dog really likes to swim, do some retrieving. Toss the ball in the water. Have them jump in, go get it, bring it back out to you. So, just look around. Look at your interests, at your dog's interest and find something that is going to satisfy both of you. That way you keep that busy dog busy, keep him constructively busy, use up that energy and use his mind. So anything else, Kate, that you'd like to add about busy dogs?

Kate Abbott: Yeah. Everyday life with your busy dog can be a challenge or it can be a lot of fun. I'll give you an example, say I'm working on my computer and here comes my busy dog with his ball and he's nudge, nudge, nudge, nudging on me. I can either get frustrated with him and tell him, "knock it off. Leave me alone. Go away. Knock it off." I could spend 15-20 minutes telling him to cool or I could say " Ah! I have an opportunity here! He's eager and willing to do something!" So I get up and I make him do some puppy pushups, which, if you haven't tried them before, can be a lot of fun. Go from- have your dog go from a sit to a lay down, and back up to a sit. And that's one pushup. Ask him to do some of those but make it a fun game. How many can you do in ten seconds? So, he's working for you, he's getting lots of praise, you're both laughing, and he's getting some energy off and working his brain. Or teach him a new trick in a few minutes, and then when you tell him, "that's enough now; settle down," give him something. Give him a rawhide or a gnaw on a bone, or a chew- cone toy. Give him something. When you then tell him to lay down and he's listening to you to do that, he can do it relaxed, having taken the edge off, and you get to go back to working on the computer feeling good and you've established a fun relationship instead of a nagging and a yelling at- controversial relationship. So think about them as, I call them educational opportunities, learning opportunities and look for those to try to build good habits instead of always trying to squash a busy dog. Turn it around. Say, "Ok we can have some fun with this, because you are so interested, and active, and ready to do stuff!"

Liz Palika: My busiest dog is now thirteen years old. Her name is Dax. She's also an Australian Shepherd and she's still busy at thirteen, although she does stay fully relaxed more, but I know one thing I needed with her, when she was in her younger years, was that I had to keep a sense of humor. You've got to laugh when you've got a busy dog. Uh, because a busy dog's not gonna make life easy. You've got to be able to laugh at him. You've got to be able to laugh at yourself. You've got to be able to live- laugh at your situation because if you don't- then you're not going to be friends with the dog anymore and it's gonna be hard. So, laugh with that busy dog and keep it busy. Uh, I hope this information has been helpful to you, especially those of you who do share your life with a busy dog. I know there's lots and lots of busy dogs out there. In upcoming weeks, Petra Burke, who is also going to be a co-host with us on the show. She's also from the Kindred Spirits K9 Education Center. She'll be joining us. She'll be with us next week.

Kate Abbott: There are so many topics that we can talk about with living with dogs:  living with a fearful dog, how to put your dog to work for you, how training puppies or adult dogs (such as rescuing a dog and bringing that dog into your home)- well even adult dogs will need some house training. We'll discuss some different problem behaviors as well. Uh, we'd love for you to write in suggestions. You can email us at That's Pet Life Radio .com. And, send us in some topics and concerns and problems that you're having, whether your dog's busy or not.

Liz Palika: Some other things that we might talk about as we go along, because there are so many things that we can talk about is choosing the right dog for you. If any of you are thinking about getting your first dog or adding a dog to your home, we talk to many, many people who have, for one reason or another chosen a dog who really isn't suited for their lifestyle or their personality. And this, unfortunately is very very sad because they might be very nice people, it might be a wonderful dog, but just the two of them just aren't meshing for whatever reason, and unfortunately the outcome of that is very- very negative for the dog. The dog often needs to find a new home. Either that or the dog and the owner just have an adversary relationship. They're just not happy with each other. So, we'll talk about that in weeks to come. We might talk about some individual breeds, how to choose the dog. There's a lot of things that we could talk about. But we could talk about dogs all day, but we're out of time, so Kate and I would like to thank our producers and sponsors for making this show possible. I'd like to thank you, our listeners, for letting us talk about our favorite subject, dogs.

Kate Abbott: And this is Kate saying, "work your dogs hard but love 'em lots" and we'll see you next week.