A tired dog is a happy dog
It’s a simple, but effective mantra, and one that all dog owners would be wise to remember.
However, this doesn’t mean hours of walking and many new owners often complain that their dog is still restless, even after endless trips to the park. The answer is usually that they have created a very fit, but very bored dog.
Like humans, dogs need their brains to be busy, and most behavioural problems are rooted in boredom as the dog starts displaying destructive behaviour in a bid to make her own entertainment; chewing your possessions, clawing at the walls, obsessive / compulsive grooming, pacing and other “unwanted” actions often occur in unstimulated dogs. Just imagine how you would feel if all you did everyday was go to the gym – no books to read, TV to watch, internet to browse or games to play?
Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise to produce a contented hound, and using their brains can be as tiring as a walk for many breeds. But don’t worry, it’s not as onerous as it sounds to keep your pooch occupied – the following suggestions not only act as a brain drain for your dog, they will also strengthen your bond and improve his obedience.
Tempt the nose
Your dog communicates through smell, which is why even sighthounds spend their time with their noses glued to the floor, the tree trunk, other dogs’ rears and in your crotch. Even though your dog knows the route to the park with his eyes shut, he will pick up new smells every time and find out who has been there recently. Stimulate your dog’s senses by walking down a high street full of takeaway smells, other dogs and lots of people.
Try a new route
Even if you only have time to visit the same local park morning and night, if you alter or reverse the route, you will put your dog’s brain on alert as she takes in the new sights and smells. Even crossing the road in a different spot, walking the wrong way first, or detouring to the post box will keep your dog on her toes mentally.
By asking your dog to walk to heel, you are asking him to constantly use his brain to pay attention to the next step. By making your dog sit, lie or stand in wait before you cross every road, you are making him think. Working on recall or making him sit and wait before you throw the ball, are other examples of how you can challenge your dog’s brain while you are out.
Whether it’s puppy socialisation classes, adult obedience, trick-training, loose-lead walking, recall, agility, flyball or any other form of dog training, by asking your dog to learn and obey commands, while behaving nicely in a social environment, you are fatiguing him mentally as well as physically. An hour’s class usually tires a dog as much as a far longer walk. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to progress to competition levels, these classes provide quality time for you and your pooch. Check out our training calendar here to find a class to suit you and your pooch.
Whether your dog responds best to treats, toys or your touch, there is a thinking game which will entertain him both indoors and outside. Food-oriented dogs will go mad for a scavenger hunt, toys can be similarly hidden and retrieved, while affectionate dogs can be asked to do things for a bit of a fuss. All it takes is a bit of imagination and time. Alternately, check out our Buster ActivityMat which is a great, multi-functional way to bond with your dog while exhausting him mentally.
The possibilities here are endless, but the key is that your dog doesn’t know it’s a trick – all she knows is that you are asking her to do something, which you deem to be worthy of a treat if she gets it right. Whether that’s a paw high five, balancing a biscuit on her nose, rolling over or chasing her tail, the point is that you are making her think about what you are asking her to do and praising her when she succeeds. If you want to take these games to a new level, join one of our trick-training workshops – check out the next date on the calendar here.
There are a number of ways in which you can either treat or feed your dog by making him think first. You can stuff part of his daily allowance of food in a Kong and make him work for his supper, whether that’s kibble, wet or even raw food. Nature’s Menu nuggets are a convenient way to stuff a Kong, but any combination of treats can be used, with high value seals such as peanut butter, liver or salmon paste depending on your dog’s palette – check out some recipe ideas here and here. Just be careful that you don’t overfeed your dog and cut back on their normal daily allowance if you are regularly loading a Kong for him. We also stock a wide variety of treat dispensers which require brain power to work out how to release the treats.
Take her with you
Getting in the car and going somewhere new is very stimulating for dogs so, where possible, take your pooch with you on errands – even if only to visit Unique Pets to stock up on treats and toys! Being with you and experiencing new sights and smells will not only help your dog feel a part of your life, but it will also exhaust her. Our canine cafe, coffee shops with outside seating and dog-friendly pubs are good meeting spots where you can take your dog. While you can leave your dog in the car with the window open for a very short period, say posting a letter or dropping off library books, but DO NOT leave dogs in cars during hot weather – even with the windows open, your vehicle will very quickly turn into an oven.
With any brain training exercises, make sure that your dog is safe at all times and provide plenty of fresh water. Keep the sessions short and sweet, ending on a positive note to keep your dog wanting more. Mix up the ideas so that he doesn’t know what to expect when, and remember that variety is the key to contentment. You can also use mental stimulation exercises to stave off frustration during periods of confinement, say if you or your dog are temporarily unable to get out for walks due to illness, an operation or bad weather.
If you practice some of these mental activities every day, and balance them up with the physical ones, you will have a much more peaceful hound and a more presentable home!
Written by: Lucy Ellis