Mental stimulation of your dog - why and how
Why is it a good idea to get your dog to use its head?
Most dogs are bred to be working for us humans, by protect us, guard our property, herding our animals or hunt for us.
Today however, many dogs are without a real job (!), they are simply jobless. Jobless dogs might invent their own pastime, which can result in unwanted and even destructive behaviour. A bored dog is missing out on positive learning experiences that strengthen the relationship to you as owner.
Many dog owners are spending a lot of time on making their dog physically tired, and might forget about their dog's mental needs, or giving it less importance. I would dare say many owners could, with good conscience, turn a bit down on the time spent on walks, and instead put some effort into training their dog's brain.
What are the advantages of mental stimulation?
With very little effort from your side, you can increase the quality of your dog's life tremendously, by stimulating the dog mentally. You get to spend quality time together with your dog, making both of you smarter.
Mental training will make your dog tired, and thus make it easier for the dog to relax and rest well afterwards. It's a perfect preparation for a dog going to spend hours alone, before a long drive, when you need your dog to relax or simply need to know all your dog's needs are covered.
By coming up with mentally challenging and constructive activities you can do together, you both develop, in being creative, understand things in new ways and problem solve.
I think you will be pleasantly surprised by your dog's abilities to solve puzzles. Your challenge is to find suitable activities, fit to your dog's level, and thereafter develop together with your dog.
To teach a dog how to solve a challenge, will make you have to think of how to do that best. It forces you to put yourself in someone else's place. And by including your kids in the activity, it becomes even more rewarding and enriching. It's bonding with your family and your dog concurrently, at it's best.
Help your dog to success by starting out with these fun activities:
What can you do together?
1. Obedience training in short sessions
Start doing short obedience training sessions of 5-10 minutes a couple of times a day. Train basic obedience, and in your home. This helps build the foundation of a properly behaving dog when leaving your home. Its a good idea to start out training contact with your dog, making sure the dog is encouraged to look at you and your hands, and follow your lead. Simply start by rewarding the dog for looking at you.
Training recall is also very useful. Have a look at this video to see how you can train recall of your dog together with your kids:
2. Ditch the food bowl
Most dogs eat once or twice a day, and get their full meal in a bowl. Often the same type of kibble, or other food, every day. Don't miss out of a perfect opportunity to enrich your dogs life through its food!
Now and then it's a good idea to ditch the food bowl, and instead portion the food out. Try spread the food on the lawn in your garden, or hide it around the house. Then you make your dog work for its food instead. Your dog will have to use its sense of smell to find the food, and it takes longer to feed the dog.
Several types of toys are designed to this purpose, and you will find many games and puzzles online to help you get started.
3. Hide treats
Like with the daily food, you can use treats to stimulate your dog to search. Treats packed with great taste and a delicious smell might motivate your dog even more to search and use its senses, also in new environments.
When walking your dog in a green area, take some treats with you to spread them in the grass, or hide them in other vegetation. Your dog will have to search for the dog delights, using its nose. See the video for how to do it:
4. Take your dog to new places
To train your dog to feel safe in new environments starts with exposing your dog to new places, people and other living creatures gradually.
Make sure you have control of who your dog is exposed to (just like you would with your kids). It's a good idea to arrange playdates og socializing events with other dogs that you know will be a good experience for your dog to meet. In my opinion, it is not good idea to let your dog run loose at new places where your it's up to your dog to manage new acquaintances alone. You never know if it will be good or bad.
Explore new places together, and keep an eye out for when you need to help your dog succeed to pass challenges like balance on a narrow bridge, get past a grate, test out the waters at the beach without getting in too deep, and make sure you act as normal when you hear loud noises. It is a good idea to teach your dog that loud noise means treats, so give treats when you hear potentially scary sounds.
To accomodate to something new is exciting and can also be taxing on both people and dogs, in the good way. Make sure you rest and rewind after these sessions. Rest facilitates growth and positive development of the brain. It makes you ready to enjoy new adventures together.
Would you like to get more tips and tricks on activation?
...and get help in strengthening your relationship to your dog?
If we decide to work together, I tailormake a programme for you. You can read more on my background within veterinary medicine, dog training, leadership and mentoring here.