Imagine being involuntarily stuck on an airplane for an eight-hour flight every day only to land, greet your family, walk around the airport, use the restroom, and step outside for a few moments of fresh air—before returning to the terminal and waiting to board the plane again alone in the morning. It would get old really fast. Just imagine what it must be like for your dog, if he is anything like the average “pet” dog, to have such limited space, limited movement, and limited access to the outdoors on a daily basis. That life, even if pleasant enough, can become maddeningly unfulfilling, repetitive, and frustrating.
Your dog’s only apparent option is to find ways to get any interesting game going to pass the time—breaking into the garbage, chewing the table, stealing your socks, chasing the kitty, barking at the TV, whining at you while you’re on the phone. We call that misbehavior. But, for many of our pet dogs, this is life. And sometimes they are losing their ever-loving minds over it.
With all of the realistic demands of modern life you are facing and only so many hours in a day to meet them, there is only so much you can do. And there is only so much he can do. The reality is that a pet environment—for most dogs, regardless of what they were bred to do—is almost entirely indoors and highly inactive. It can cause sensory overload due to the lack of emotional and physical outlets for the dog, even as it is simultaneously impossibly boring for him. Without a way to take any action or control his environment, his senses can feel ready to burst. Think eight-hour delay in a crowded international airport and you’ll have the idea.
While you are living a busy life, it can easily escape your attention that your beloved dog might be struggling. You make every effort to meet his needs, but you have to go to work and pay the bills. You need to go to the store and the post office, have to return those phone calls and emails. You really are doing everything you know to do as a pet owner, giving him everything you possibly can while still making a living and having a life.
But this kind of domestic life is taking a toll on him. He doesn’t have the option of doing something else, of getting his own life or hobbies. He can’t just decide to get off the plane and walk out of the airport to other horizons. He relies on you, his doting keeper, for absolutely everything in his life. You are responsible for his meals, his health, his entertainment, his social life, his exercise, and ultimately his sanity.
Don’t let this discourage you. Your unique position also gives you the ability to change your dog’s world for the better. You may not be able to quit your job, but you can find a thousand ways to enrich his in order to get him off of unemployment. You can get him outside as much as possible, and take him to places off the beaten path. You can shamelessly chase squirrels up trees with him or take him swimming in the ocean. You can help him make new meaningful friends and foster his own relationships. You can give your creative genius hard puzzles to solve in order to earn his breakfast rather than serve him another easy plate of food and watch him unravel the mysteries of your bathrobe. You can ask him to be your wingman, teach him how the modern world requires that he behave in order to accompany you on your many snazzy adventures. You can take him out for dinner and a night on the town after a run through the park and the perfect sweet sunset on the hill in the summer air.
Realizing how much your dog leans on you to open the doors to a greater world for him, you can start to open them one by one. Meeting his environmental needs on a daily basis—once you recognize them—will improve life immeasurably both for you and for him.
Sometimes your hands are tied in terms of what you can change about your dog’s home life. But compassion for his predicament can reduce your frustration and resentment. You’ll see that the bedspread destruction (and the incessant party-crashing barking, whining, and jumping) wasn’t personal at all. You may be inspired to take steps to expand his horizons beyond the walls of your house and to create a better home life for both of you.
Your dog needs to get out and live it up a little. He needs you to provide those chances for him to do whatever his heart desires in a safe environment. You are, after all, not the only one who gets cabin fever and needs a change of scenery, and the chance to let your hair down after hours of confinement indoors. He, too, hungers desperately for the right career path and those occasional chances to really blow off some steam. And, like you, he just isn’t quite right without these things.