Dog Training Tips - Mental stimulation works!
Why Mental Stimulation is Important Dog Training For Dogs
Dogs need both mental and physical exercise as part of dog training to be balanced and healthy. Finding ways to mentally stimulate a dog can be challenging. Dogs that work, police dogs, drug dogs and working gundogs generally find mental stimulation by working and resolving problems constantly. It is unusual to find behavioural issues with working dogs, with the majority of behavioural issues found in pet and rescue dogs. There is plenty of research that demonstrates that when a dog is mentally challenged through dog training, this dog is a lot calmer around the household.
Understanding the need for and providing opportunities for physical exercise is relatively common knowledge among dog owners. Walking your dog is a great example of this. But what happens when you dog spends the rest of the day just staring at the 4 walls in your house. He becomes bored! And when he becomes bored, the chewing and other destructive behaviours start. But the concept that having a dog or dogs is a partnership and that your dog wants and needs to spend QUALITY and STIMULATING time with you, is more difficult for the pet owner to understand. It is not enough to spend time just walking or stroking them; dogs want to use their brains! Imagine a 6 year old child never going to school! Dogs have wonderful, intelligent, imaginative and creative brains that need to be challenged and stretched through dog training to help prevent boredom-related behaviour issues: barking, chewing and other problems. Using some of the ideas listed will not only help dogs’ brains, but will also improve relationships with our dogs.
*Most of these ideas are intended for the owner to be involved or for the owner to supervise the dog. There is a section at the end of things to leave for the dog when she/he is left alone.*
Create A Challenging Snack
Feed at least one snack a day in a mentally stimulating and challenging way:
- In a food puzzle such as a Kong, (Pets at Home will stock these) freeze the treats overnight and then give to your pet frozen
- Throw the food, if its dry food, into some long grass in the garden. You dog like and wants to use his nose when hunting for his food. Dogs that use their nose a lot are much calmer
- Put the food in an empty, dry (labels, rings, and caps removed) Coke Cola bottles, milk jugs, water bottles. Let your dog figure out how to get the food out
- Put the food in a tin and watch your dog try and take the lid off
- Use the food as a treat in a training session
Stimulating Dog Games
Get creative and play games with your dog. Here are a few games that are simple and quick to play every day.
- Hide and seek – with people, toys, and food. Hide his food in the garden and watch him hunt for it
- Introduce clicker training
- Hide dry food behind cushions on the settee
- Musical chairs – play music, play with your dog, when the music stops ask your dog to execute a behaviour on a mat or a rug, when the music starts again, play again
- What can you do? – get your clicker and treats, ask your dog “what can you do?” start clicking and treating offered behaviours (your dog will probably do SOMETHING to get you to click/treat – use these behaviours to play this game – when we play this, the dogs must offer different behaviours to get the click/treat. Note: this is not a shaping exercise; this is a game.)
- 101 Things to Do With a Box (or a laundry basket)
Toys come in all shapes and sizes. They are great tools to prevent boredom and enrich a dog’s life.
- Flirt pole, look on amazon for one. Small breeds such as terriers love this as it gets their prey drive going. (I like the Kong version because it’s easy to change out the toy at the end of the line).
- Using a long line and tie old pillow case on the end – your own version of lure coursing (think greyhound racing and chasing the lure). Run in front of your dog and watch him chase the pillow case.
- Ice sculptures – bowl or bucket or bottom half of a gallon jug – fill with water, toys, treats (carrots and apples work really well!) – freeze – put outside for your dog to play with, interact with, get the toys and treats out of.
- Old suitcase – start with one suitcase, put some treats or a favourite toy in it, have your dog get the treats/toy out of the suitcase. Make it more interesting by using peanut butter, spray cheese, or cream cheese as a treat.
- Yoga mat – unroll, sprinkle treats, roll back up. Have your dog unroll the mat and get treats.
- Small round basket, I use clay garden pots – put treats or a toy under the upturned basket/pot and have your dog figure out how to get them.
- Old phone books covered in duct tape. Play with different things your dog can do with these. Two paws on (front, back, right, left), four paws on, two paws on move around, etc. You can use a clicker for this.
- Scent or nose work classes are a great class for dogs who need to be stimulated/challenged!
- Agility class.
- Mountain rescue.
- Make your daily walks move exciting by doing basic sits, downs and recalls. Take treats and throw them into long grass so you dog has to hunt for these.
- Join a walking group that takes regular walks with their dogs. (I DO NOT recommend off-leash, play group type walks – the walk should be as much about you and your dog as the social aspect for you with the other humans. It should NOT be about the dogs physically socialising.)
- Teach the dog tricks through dog training.
- At home turn on the classical music station on the radio. Research in Scotland has shown that dogs will relax to music. I have special dog classical music CD’s that I always leave on when I go out.
Mental stimulation is as important as physical stimulation for dog Training.
Play games and work with your dogs to build your bond and prevent boredom in your dogs.