Incorporate a little mental stimulation into your dog’s daily life – it’s easier than you think. What are the benefits of mental stimulation? Aside from the fact that all dogs need daily brain exercise, there are some real benefits from adding mental brain work to your dog’s life.
- If you don’t provide mental stimulation, your dog will do it for himself. And not always in a way you might like. Chewing is the most common expression of recreational mental stimulation. That’s fine if it’s on a Kong or an Orbee, but sometimes it’s used on less desirable items.
- A behaviourally well dog has access to mental and physical exercise every day.
- It counts towards physical exercise. I’m not suggesting that feeding meals from Kongs means your 2 year old Portuguese Water Dog doesn’t need to go out for an evening walk. But if the weather is uncooperative (or your dog is recovering from surgery and can’t go outside) mental stimulation will help to take the edge off.
It’s easier than you think!
Kongs and food puzzles. The great thing about Kongs is that you can let your inner-Michelin chef emerge! I like to put a dab of peanut butter in the very bottom of the Kong, then add enough kibble to fill the Kong two-thirds, to three-quarters full, and top off with some wet dog food to keep everything inside. I pop that into the freezer for an hour – just long enough to make the wet dog food firm, but not so long that the contents freeze solid.
Mental games. Crumple up a towel and hide kibble inside it. Let your dog find the kibble. Monitor your dog so he doesn’t chew up and swallow any parts of the towel. Alternatively, fold a towel in half and lay it on the floor. Put some kibble at one end, and then roll that end up so that it’s at the centre of your towel roll. Let your dog figure that out!
Put some kibble in a water bottle. Put the water bottle inside a box, and put that box inside a bigger box. Now let your dog work to reach the water bottle.
Free Shaping. Get a bowlful of kibble and your clicker, and sit in front of your dog. Click for any movement he makes – maybe it’s an ear flick, or head turn. Continue to click just that movement. You will notice your dog begin to isolate that movement and become quite animated.
Impulse control games. You can never train enough impulse control. These games are progressive.
- Can your dog resist the cookie if it’s held in your open hand?
- Can your dog resist the cookie if it’s held on the floor?
- Can your dog resist the cookie if it’s dropped on the floor? Or tossed away?
- How about if you leave the cookie very close to one of his paws? Or on his paw?
Remember that with impulse control there is no “correction” other than covering up the cookie. Progress slowly and have fun!