I know I’ve spoken about the importance of dog exercise before, but it bears mentioning again. The other day, I was talking to a friend who told me his dog became destructive any time he left him home alone. I suggested my friend physically exercise his dog and teach him tricks in order to exercise his mind, too. He told me that his dog just liked to lay on the couch by him. He didn’t understand the importance of stimulating his dog’s intellect and what a positive impact that would have on his overall behavior. In order to illustrate my point, I told him about a study I’d read. The study involved professor Bruce Alexander of Vancouver and his experiment with what he called a “rat park” in the 1970s. Not to be confused with the “Rat Pack” initially consisting of Humphrey Bogart and a variety of fellow actors, and later referring to the group consisting of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, et al. The one in the study is a “rat park.” Yes, a park in a cage for rats. I guess it would be too hard to keep the rats contained at the neighborhood park, what with all the children playing tag and the teenagers walking around aimlessly looking for Pikachus on their phones. The poor rats would get trampled on and then—bam!—end of the experiment. Either that or Professor Alexander could’ve kept getting new rats to replace the squished ones, but that would be time-consuming and would distract from the task at hand.
Professor Alexander based his experiment on the fact that when rats in traditional, dull, single-rat-only cages were given the option of bottles containing water or bottles containing water laced with heroin, they all became addicted to the heroin. The professor wondered what would happen if he gave the rats a more stimulating environment instead of their usual, boring, companionless cages. He kept some rats in the same old dull cages as a control group and put some rats in a cage outfitted with a rat park. Then he had a plywood box installed on the floor of the cage. He filled the box with rat toys, such as elevated platforms they could climb on, tin cans to hide in, wood chips to burrow under, and hamster wheels for exercise. They housed rats of both sexes in the cage that contained the rat park. Naturally, in no time at all the pitter patter of little rat feet enlightened the environment even more. Sounds like a little rat paradise to me.
Professor Alexander supplied the rats in the two types of cages with both choices of refreshment: regular water and water laced with heroin. Not surprisingly, all the rats who were in the insipid cages leading monotonous lives became addicts, while the “rat park” rats didn’t like the drugged water and avoided it. This experiment underscores the importance of a stimulating environment. And what can be more stimulating for your dog than interacting with you and acquiring knowledge from his best friend? I’m not saying that your dog will become a drug pusher if you don’t train him, but destruction can be very addictive. Give your dog a proper outlet for his imagination and he will not feel obligated to come up with new and ever-so-exasperating ideas of his own to entertain himself.