I often hear from clients how their adolescent dog is always getting into trouble. Some of our most beloved snuggle friends, that we now capture every moment with on Instagram, were originally bred as working dogs. Farmers used dogs to help herd sheep or cattle and many hunters used them for various sports. Nowadays most modern dogs live a life of comfort in homes, many with little to no yards.
Today’s pets get plenty of love but are often left alone all day while the family members are at work or in school. This gives your pup plenty of time to dig for China in your backyard and add his personal designs with DNA to the edge of your favorite chair. Many become bored and find new things to keep occupied. A dog that was bred to do a job, needs a job and will always find something to keep engaged. Hopefully not something that makes us want to pull our hair out when we get home.
Fortunately, there are many ways to minimize this type of less than stellar behavior. Mental stimulation can be incredibly enriching to a dog’s life. Enjoyable activities can divert a bored dog from shredding the carpet on the stairs, eating the baseboards and carrying out destructive behavior, as well as potentially averting behavioral issues such as excessive barking or chewing. Some of my favorite ways to keep our dogs happy is offering engaging mental stimulation in conjunction with daily physical exercise.
1. Go For More Walks
Instead of your usual after dinner twenty to thirty-minute walk, how about three ten minute walks? Your buddy will be thrilled at the chance to go out three times instead of once a day with their best friend. You technically won’t be spending any more time than before and this will be much more gratifying for your dog.
2. Allow Your Dog To Sniff And Explore
As shared in a previous post, one of the best things we can do on a walk is let our dogs smell around. I often wonder what my pup is smelling while they survey everything around them. All the information that is being processed through their sense of smell is astonishingly good for their mental health.
3. Make Meal Time More Fun
Most of us go straight for the kibble or canned food in a bowl routine at meal time. I suppose depending on what you offer, it could get slightly more exciting when you feed raw food. However, no matter what we feed, they still inhale the delicious morsels within in a few minutes of the bowl hitting the ground. I often wonder if they even taste it.
Food dispensing toys are an awesome way to make meal time engaging. I like to take advantage of the classic Kong, Kong Wobbler, Snuffle Mat and several other food dispensing puzzles. You place the food inside the toys and they must nudge and roll them around to get the food to come out. With Summer coming, freezing kibble soaked in broth (or treats) inside a kong is another great way to help them pass the time in the hot weather! I particularly like the Snuffle mat where you sprinkle the kibble about, work it in by brushing your fingers around on top and they have to “forage” through the pieces of fabric for their prize. The dry boring breakfast that originally took 4 minutes to devour can keep them busy for 10-25 minutes! They will savor having to work for that meal!
Note: I do not get paid to talk about any of the products in my posts. These are always items I use and gift to clients, family and friends.
4. Do Some Training
Often we get relaxed about being consistent with our dog training. I think many of us can admit at times we might have let slide the not so perfect down-stay or immediate sit for example. Sometimes, revisiting and refreshing the basics can be a perfect opportunity to achieve better obedience and give them phenomenal mental stimulation!
This is also a terrific time to teach new tricks! When it comes to trick training the possibilities are nearly endless! The benefits of working with your dog help strengthen the bond between you while enhancing your pup’s confidence. It’s a total WIN! WIN!
5. Engage And Play With Your Dog
We should be the best playmates our dogs have. Depending on the dog, my go to games are tug-of-war and fetch/retrieving. The most common interactive toys I recommend using are ropes, balls and frisbees. Unfortunately, many people do not fully utilize interactive toys. I often see them strewn all over the house or laying around in the yard. This is such a missed opportunity for both bonding, training and mental stimulation. For example, Tug is a marvelous way to tire your pup out (it’s great exercise), teach some impulse control (the game stops when you stop) and reinforce that “drop” if they need it. I love the multipurpose aspect of the game. Best of all, your dog will find it incredibly fun.
6. Find It
An easy game of “Find It” can be played inside or in the backyard. You can use everything from kibble, treats and toys. I like to grab a handful of kibble from a meal and use that. I have hidden treats around the backyard so they get to use their sense of smell to explore and rummage around. Sometimes if the grass is long I use it like the snuffle mat and make them scour around the yard! I have even tossed kibble around the porch, under tables, around bushes and called out, “FIND IT” and my dogs have a blast running around trying to find the kibble I’m hurling.
What are some of your favorite things to do to engage your dog?