Guest post by Andrea Logan
Is your dog still hyperactive after a long walk or game of fetch? Are you pressed for time? Instead of adding more physical exercise to your dog’s routine, add some brain games to tire him out.
Mental stimulation enriches your dog’s life and alleviates boredom. Additionally, it decreases the likelihood that your dog will develop behavioral issues such as excessive chewing or barking.
I don’t know about you, but there are cold, rainy days when I don’t feel ready for a long walk! As an alternative, mental activities proved life-saving with Luke, my energetic young dog.
And on days when I’m short on time, I favor mental stimulation to supplement a shorter walk. If Luke doesn’t get mental stimulation every day, that’s a handful!
1. Provide easy mental stimulation with food.
If you feed your dog from a bowl, you are missing out on opportunities for enrichment and mental stimulation!
Dogs have natural recovery habits. If you want to add more mental stimulation to your dog’s routine, you can start by changing the way you feed him.
Instead of just putting food in a bowl once or twice a day, you can create a fun game for your dog. There are unending choice !
My dogs love their slow feed bowls, snuff mats, Gnawt-a-Rock toy, and frozen Toppls, to name a few.
Food puzzle toys give your dog a chance to use some of his natural problem-solving abilities and can tire him mentally.
2. Teach your dog new tricks.
Dogs are smart and love to learn new things.
Teaching your dog a new trick or command is great for mental stimulation, will help build your dog’s confidence AND strengthens the bond between you and your dog. Learning new commands can also help increase your dog’s focus and impulse control.
Luke knows about 20 tricks. My favorites are back, around (he walks around me to get into heel position), and kiss on the cheek.
Make training sessions short, frequent and fun!
3. Go shopping with your dog.
My dogs love car rides. It’s fun for them and mentally stimulating to sniff around and explore a new place. Often I take them on errands and trips to the barn.
If your dog likes it, arrange trips to pet-friendly places like the pet store, local brewery, and hardware store. Even if the activity is not physically strenuous, they will experience new sights, sounds and situations, which will contribute to fatigue.
4. Play nose games.
One of my dog’s favorite activities is basic nose training games. A few minutes of nose work will go far to relieve boredom and tire your dog.
My dogs’ favorite game is to find treats or kibble in boxes placed all over the house. Make it harder by putting paper in the boxes and hiding the boxes or putting a box inside a box. I ask them to stay and then release them saying, “Find him! When starting out, start with something that smells good and praise your dog when he finds the prize. Before long, they will understand the game.
Another easy variation is the scatter food game. Hide food or treats in your yard and encourage your dog to find those treats. It can also be done with their favorite ball or toy.
5. Engage in more interactive play with your dog.
Our dogs love to play with us, and engaging in interactive play is one of the easiest ways to keep them mentally stimulated.
Playing a pulling or fetching game is an interactive game, and these kinds of games help tremendously when it comes to giving your dog more mental stimulation. Any of these fun games will help strengthen your bond.
Tug is my favorite game with Luke because it’s great physical exercise, lots of fun, and helps him work on his impulse control. Teach your dog a release command such as “get out” or “let go” when playing tug or fetch.
On one particularly miserable day recently, I played a combination of fetch with the tug and “find” in the house. He did the trick!
6. Explore dog sports.
There’s a whole world of fun classes and activities to explore past basic obedience classes with your dog. Dog sports physically exercise your dog and provide tons of mental enrichment.
My dogs love agility, nose work, rally obedience and barn hunting. We have a simple agility course set up at the house; they love going through the tunnel!
There are unending ideas on Facebook and online. Look for dog mental stimulation or canine enrichment.
When you spend quality time with your dog, your dog is happier and better behaved, and you and your dog have a stronger bond. I want this for you and your dog. Isn’t that why you adopted your dog in the first place?
[Andrea Logan from Lead Dog has been active in animal welfare for over 20 years, and currently focuses on rehabilitating challenging foster dogs, and helping dog owners with training and behavioral issues. Her passion is helping people build a better bond with their dogs. For help with your dog visit Lead Dog’s Facebook page]