Monday, October 22 , 2018, 7:59 am | Fair 58º


Inquisitive Canine: Shadow Play May Indicate Dog’s Boredom

A family's Labrador mix is most likely craving attention, so she 'invents' her own game

Dear Joan:

I have a real dog issue. My family Labrador mutt chases shadows, light and glass reflections. I have a feeling this is a nonproductive habit. What do you suggest my family should do to correct this behavior?

Joan Mayer and her sidekick, Poncho
Joan Mayer and her sidekick, Poncho

— Thanks, tired of chasing shadows

Dear family of “Shadow Chaser”:

I’ll start off by agreeing that your feelings are correct: Your Lab’s shadow-chasing behavior is a nonproductive habit — at least by our human standards. However, it’s obviously fulfilling some sort of canine need.

Let me first ask: When? Does this happen every day? At the same time? Before your dog is being left home alone? When other pets are around? Only when certain people are there? Or is it always at random times?

The answers to those questions will help ascertain whether there are any specific triggers that cause your dog to behave in this manner. By determining whether there are specific triggers, and what they are, I can help figure out whether your dog’s behavior is attention seeking, is related to anxiety or is just plain fun.

Are there any additional signs such as pacing, panting, whining, not eating or not engaging in play? If so, your dog’s actions may be the result of some anxiety-producing event. I recommend consulting with a professional certified pet dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist to help correct this behavior.

If the “when” is random times, and you or other family members are able to interrupt the behavior with ease, then I would venture to guess this behavior has more to do with boredom; your dog has developed a form of entertainment. What’s the simplest solution? Give your energetic and creative dog something else to do!

Provide enrichment for your dog. These would be outlets that are both mentally and physically stimulating. Just like humans enjoying activities such as reading, watching movies, playing at the computer and going for hikes, our canine companions also need various hobbies to keep them satisfied. If your dog is keeping busy performing healthy, more productive behaviors, then she’s less likely to carry on with the undesired ones. For additional information on ways to keep your active dog stimulated, please see my dog-training tips blog or Poncho’s blog.

Whether it be interactive food toys, a rousing game of tug, a brisk walk or run, doggy day care or all of the above, your Lab mutt will be doing something that is more productive, while at the same time correcting the undesired behavior. Plus, if your dog is tired, it will be less likely to invent games. Remember, a tired dog is a happy dog, and a happier owner.

Lastly, look at the humans involved. Is this the only time your dog gets attention? Does your Lab mutt provide a “floor show” for you and your family? Could all of you inadvertently be rewarding the nonproductive habit by providing generous amounts of attention whenever she is performing this activity? If so, I would recommend choosing at least one productive behavior your Lab mutt does that you love — then reward her generously for that.

— Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified pet dog trainer and dog behavior counselor. Her column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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