Doggie enrichment and Mental stimulation
Is your dog bored? You do not need to take hours out of your day to provide adequate amounts of mental stimulation. If you begin to provide more mental stimulation, you will probably notice that your dog is more settled, less restless, less hyperactive, less attention-seeking, and guess what? he or she won’t need massive amounts of physical exercise just to make him/her tolerable to be around. Balance is key!!! Some of the items below even allow you to kill two birds with one stone (mental stimulation and physical exercise together).
Games to play with dog
- Bring the Dog: Take your dog with you when you go places. Need to return movies? Take the dog along if the weather permits you to safely leave her/him in the car for 5 minutes. Return your movies, then get the dog out for 5 minutes and walk her/him around the parking lot. Every outing you can allow your dog to enjoy is mental stimulation and environmental enrichment, even if it’s just for 5 minutes! Need to go to the ATM at night? Take the dog along and have her/him do a sit-stay while you get your money. Need to wash the car or take your car to the shop? Take the dog along, and do some trick practice outside the car wash/ repair shop.
You can add immense amounts of mental stimulation just by allowing the dog to accompany you wherever you go. Even if you don’t take him out of the car, the trip itself is fun and exciting and offers all kinds of new sights, sounds, smells, and experiences. Plus s/he gets to be with you. Simply starting to include the dog in your life on an everyday basis outside of the home environment will make a HUGE difference.
- Kibble Hunting: Put your dog in its kennel or in a down stay. Go hide a few treats in a room. Return to your dog(s) and release them to go find the treats. Also, if you have a fenced backyard or a grassy area where you can be sure the dog will not ingest pesticides or fertilizers. Play outside! Measure out your dog’s kibble in a bowl and go outdoors with him. Throw the kibble into the grassy area, making sure to spread it as far as possible. Sit down in a lawn chair and read a good book while your dog roots around to find each kibble.
- Doggie Buddies: Find a friend who has a nice dog, and arrange for a 30-60 minute play date once a week. Try to go for a free run/woods-walk with the playmate so that the dogs can sniff out bugs and mice and read the pee-mail and leave some of their own.
- Retrieve games: If your dog likes to play ball or frisbee, add a “mental component” to it by asking the dog for a different obedience behaviour or trick before each throw. Then, throw the item creatively…sideways, out front, backwards, straight up in the air, long, short…keep the dog guessing. A good enriched retrieval session of 5-10 minutes can leave the dog mentally satisfied and physically exercised (and plus, you don’t even have to walk…I’m lazy, can you tell?) You can do retrieval games with dogs that do not have a good recall by using a long line/Flexi lead, or by going to a ball diamond or tennis court. For extra exercise, get a Chuckit and really fling that ball!
- Busy walks/ new scenery for your walk: Take your dog to a busy area and hang out for 15 minutes. The Wal-Mart parking lot, a softball game, a town fair, any outdoor event is super. Taking your dog to a large pet store is great environmental enrichment too, but please boycott pet stores that sell puppies! The sights, smells, and interaction with people are all new and interesting items for the dog to take in and will mentally exhaust the dog. If your dog is anxious in new environments, please start remedial socialization and use less challenging environments at first. Remember to praise your dog for being brave instead of coddling them for being fearful and anxious.
- Use the Kong as a meal replacement: If your dog is not on a proper feeding routine, you cannot use this as mental entertainment. Your dog will not work hard to get the food out. He will lick at it a few times and leave it. If he is on a proper feeding routine, he will work very hard to de-stuff the Kong and it is the same as a difficult crossword puzzle or a math problem…after he’s done, he will shake himself, lie down, and probably sleep. This is high-level mental entertainment! Even a very young puppy can easily dissect the beginner-level Kong described below.
- Dogs initially try to de-stuff Kongs by simply licking at them and following them as they are pushed by the licking. As time goes by, however, you will see your dog learning extremely creative and effective ways to de-stuff. Some dogs jam them into a certain corner of the kitchen, or learn how to fix them in place with their paws to dissect. Many dogs actually learn to drop them down stairwells and then clean up the stuff that falls out, or climb onto furniture and drop them to the floor!
- Because some of the items in a Kong can be messy, please offer the Kong somewhere that you do not mind wiping up if necessary. You can offer Kongs in a crate if you wish. Doing so will help your dog associate the crate with positive things instead of with being alone. I find it easiest to buy two Kongs that are the largest size that your dog can pick up. That way I can offer one and toss the other one in the freezer to be prepared the next day. For most dogs above 15 pounds, the size large is what you will want (about the size of a large fist). The black Kong is for extreme chewers. Red is strong for normal chewers. Most other non-brand-name Kong toys are not durable and your dog will be able to destroy it easily. Although they cost less, buying name brand in this case is definitely worth it. Stuff Kongs creatively and offer Kongs as meal replacements as often as you desire.
Kong recipe 101- for beginner dogs. This must be done a few times before offering more difficult Kongs or your dog may be too frustrated to finish them:
*Liberally smear anything spread-able over the entire interior of Kong (peanut butter, cheese whiz, cream cheese, liverwurst, last night’s gravy).
*Stuff a layer of the dog’s kibble, pack in hard.
*Drop in something delicious like a dabble of canned fish, bacon, cheese, treat, etc.
*Continue layering kibble/treat/kibble/treat/etc until you fill Kong to top. Use your knife to pack in hard!
*Wedge two medium-size Milkbones into the large hole at bottom (this will be difficult, you might break a few at first, keep trying!)
*Turn Kong over and shake. If something falls out, pack in harder until you can shake it and nothing falls out.
*Put your dog in a sit/stay. Place Kong on floor. Wait for dog to look at your face, and tell him “release, Kong!” or “GO get the Kong!”.
*Watch a favorite television show for the next half-hour while your dog drives himself nuts dissecting his new favorite thing!
Kong recipe 201 (for dogs who empty Kong 101 in less than 30 minutes):
*Follow KONG 101 recipe above.
*Soak kibble in plain yogurt/beef broth/tuna juice/ anything tasty and liquid until slightly soft.
*Place in freezer overnight
*Put your dog in a sit/stay. Place frozen Kong on floor. Wait for dog to look at your face, and tell him “release, Kong!” or “GO get the Kong!”.
*Watch a favorite television show for the next 1.5 hours while your dog drives himself nuts dissecting his Kong-sicle!
- Teaching Tricks/Obedience: Teach your dog a number of silly tricks and functional obedience behaviors and then ask the dog to do them throughout the day when they want something like petting, going outside, leash walks, ball games, etc. Additionally, you can use feeding time to remember to do a 5 minute review of all your dog’s tricks. Teach a variety so that you can ask for different things, and always ask in a different order- keep the dog guessing what’s next.
Easy, silly tricks to teach:
Jump through a hoop
Touch your hand with your nose
Target your hand (or the touch light) with your foot
Say the word one time before doing the activity and your dog will learn the word!
Agility course in the house:
Jump (over the bar stool, etc.)
Let’s go (walk in heel position)
- Feeding Routine: Get your dog on a twice-a-day feeding routine immediately. Dogs are pre-programmed to work very hard and be very excited about food. If your dog has a food bowl on the floor that s/he picks at all day, this is boring. Twice a day, simply put the food down for about 30 minutes. Your dog will quickly get the idea. S/he will not starve! Additionally, you can add a sit-stay into your feeding routine. Have her/ him wait until you release her/him to eat. You can start with 5 seconds of waiting and slowly build up to 5 minutes!
Charlotte NC Dog Trainers offer in home training and group classes!
Mariah Hinds is a professional dog trainer for Gastonia, Fort Mill, Rock Hill, Pineville and South Charlotte. She offers in home dog training, group dog training classes and dog sports classes. She can train your dog to be calm and to be a well-behaved dog! Call 803-619-0308, schedule your free phone consultation to get started.