Helping an anxious dog is all fun and games

Pharaoh the dog on a sand dune with a toy in his mouth
A bored Pharaoh is a stressed Pharaoh, so his friends are always coming up with ways to entertain him.
By Best Friends staff

Pharaoh is a dog with drive. A bright mind combined with more energy than the Energizer Bunny means he is always ready to go, go, go — he completely throws himself into his activities. He snuggles hard and plays harder, and when he’s all worn out from a day of fun, Pharaoh sleeps like a log, only moving for the occasional twitch of a dream that couldn’t be contained.

But when he doesn’t have something to occupy his mind and keep his energy focused, Pharaoh gets anxious. He’s the kind of dog who’s happiest when he has plenty to do, and if he isn’t occupied, he’ll find something. The tasks Pharaoh comes up with for himself, though, can be self-destructive: spinning in endless circles, chasing his tail until he can catch and chew on it, gnawing on his back leg, or obsessive licking. He’s also not above digging through any available trash to find something interesting to sniff and chew.

[Dogs : Common Behavior Issues]

So to ensure Pharaoh stays more gainfully employed, his friends at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary have developed an enrichment plan. His caregivers and local volunteers each play an important role in keeping Pharaoh happy, healthy, and entertained — because sometimes, working with dogs is all fun and games.

Fun with Pharaoh’s friends

Pharaoh loves toys, and his favorite thing in the whole wide world is to play fetch with them. It even helps him to break the ice with new people. Whether playing with a ball or stuffed animal, Pharaoh is a dog on a mission the second one goes flying through the air above him. He will chase it down and deliver it directly back into the hands of his current playmate, ready to take off again right away.

Even at 7 years old, with some muscle and joint weakness in his rear end, Pharaoh could happily continue a round of fetch long after his human friend’s arms have become tired from throwing. When his legs do start getting shaky and need some rest, a trip to hydrotherapy is always something to look forward to. Pharaoh’s friend and Best Friends volunteer Mary Oetjens leads him through his paces on the underwater treadmill, keeping the forward momentum going with yummy treats and plenty of praise.

Once he’s all dried and his muscles are feeling good, a car ride is sure to send Pharaoh off to dream land. And when he wakes up from his back seat power nap, he’s ready to go again. Sometimes, Mary will take him back to her house to hang out in the backyard for another round of fetch.

[A story of love and learning with an anxious dog]

There’s plenty to keep Pharaoh busy back at the canyon, too. Dogtown manager Debbi Carman likes to take him to the dog park for some hide-and-seek: search-and-rescue training turned into a fun game. With his mastery of basic cues, Pharaoh knows to sit and wait while Debbi finds a place to hunker down behind a bush or on the other side of a tree branch. And with an OK signal, he tracks her down in seconds. He’s always the seeker, of course, but that’s what makes it fun.

When Pharaoh plays with caregiver Cassie Rowell, on the other hand, she’s "it." Their game together is “gonna gitcha,” and Pharaoh has a blast darting away from Cassie as she runs after him. He’ll bob and weave back and forth, through the trees and around the obstacles in his yard, feint in toward her and then rocket off again.

With caregiver James Simoneau, it’s a pretty evenly matched game of tug. James may have the height advantage, but Pharaoh’s vocabulary doesn’t include the phrase "give up." Caregiver Tim Depsey takes Pharaoh on golf cart rides around the canyon to take in all the sights, sounds, and smells. There’s nothing better than watching the world fly by with the wind in his fur and a friend by his side.

Pharaoh also goes on walks, outings, and sleepovers with volunteers to get even more experience with even more people. He’s constantly on the move — until it’s bedtime, and then he’s smooshing himself as close as he can get to his slumber party pal, happy and tired and ready to melt into sleepy snuggles.

It’s a packed schedule, but for Pharaoh it’s just right. Every game, every task, every something-to-do keeps his brain busy and his tail wagging (instead of in his mouth). It’s a fun job, and somebody’s got to do it.

Pharaoh the dog jumping up to catch a toy on a sand dune
Photo by Molly Wald

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