Brain activities for your dog

Although walkies and physical exercise is important for all dogs, it is not enough to keep them happy, they also need mental activities. Even if you feel you have a hyper active pooch, who is impossible to tire out by running outside, a suitable amount of mental stimulation and problem solving, will tire him out for sure. To keep your dogs mind busy does not need to be hard work and although training is a brilliant way to give your dogs brains the much-needed exercise, there are other ways you can keep her busy.

Food puzzle toys and chews

One option are food toys. These are also great things to give your dog when you have to leave her alone in the house, or in the evening when you want to enjoy a quiet night in front of the TV, without having all the balls carried in your lap by the hopeful pups. Since our dogs’ wild counterparts spend much of their time scavenging for food, food puzzle toys offer a natural solution to pet-dog boredom. Puzzle toys also encourage chewing and licking, which can have a calming effect on dogs.

Food puzzle toys are sturdy containers, that you can use to put food or treats inside but don’t give dogs easy access to the food. Most of them have holes on sides or on ends and the idea is for your dog to figure out how to get the food out. Usually they get it out by shaking, pawing, rolling, nibbling licking or throwing the toy.

You can make food puzzles yourself or buy them from a pet shop or online. There are numerous different toys, but perhaps the most common one is the KONG® Toy, which you can in every pet shop.  Paws Abilities -blog has a great article about KONG and other similar toys, including some great stuffing ideas. Feed your dog at least one meal a day in a food puzzle toy to give her brain and jaws a great workout. You can also stuff these toys with your dog’s favorite treats or a little peanut butter, cottage cheese, cooked oatmeal or yogurt. 

A cheaper alternative is to make your toys yourself. Keep some small cardboard boxes that you get from groceries. Put some treats inside one, roll it up and push it through an empty toilet roll. At first only a rolled up cardboard box might be enough, but once your dog gets the idea you can make the puzzle more difficult, by adding boxes. Another nice food puzzle can be made from an old muffin tray and tennis balls. Put a few treats the muffin tray and put a tennis ball on top of each one to hide them. Then let your dog find the treats by lifting the balls up.

When you first introduce your dog to a food puzzle toy, make it really easy for her to empty it. She’s probably accustomed to getting her food served in a bowl, so she has some learning to do! When using a bought toy, choose one with a large dispensing hole and make sure the goodies you put inside the toy are small enough to come out easily. As your dog becomes an expert, you can make it harder and harder for her to get food out of her toys. Use bigger pieces of food or, to provide an extra challenge, freeze the toys after stuffing them. You can also place the frozen toys inside a cardboard box or oatmeal tub so that your dog has to rip through the cardboard container to get to her meal.

Chew Time

Dogs of all ages need to chew. Both wild and domestic dogs spend hours chewing to keep their jaws strong and their teeth clean. Chewing is also fun, it provides stimulation, relieves anxiety and reduces stress. Try out paddy whacks and hard rubber toys, natural marrow bones, rawhide and pig ears. You can also give your dog raw bones, but you need to introduce them gradually, since they can upset your dogs tummy. NEVER give cooked, cured or smoked bones. Check our these pages about giving your dog real bones. However, there is a lot of controversy about giving dogs real bones, so before you make your decision, it might be a good idea to do some research.

Although chewing behavior is normal, dogs sometimes chew on things we don’t want them to. Giving your dog plenty of her own toys and chewies will help prevent her from gnawing on your things.

NOSE WORK

Scent is your dogs most powerful sense and most of them absolutely love using it. Keep in mind that nose work is extremely tiring for your dog, so don’t overdo it, especially in the beginning.

Find It!

Giving your dog a chance to use her powerful nose can really wear her out! It’s easy to teach your dog to find hidden treats. Just put her in another room, out of sight, while you hide a few treats on the floor. When you introduce the Find It game, start out by choosing hiding spots that allow your dog to find the “hidden” treats easily. Try placing treats behind the legs of furniture, partly in view. After you’ve hidden the treats, go get your dog and say “Find it!” right before letting her into the room. Encourage her (you probably need to repeat “find it” a few times to keep her going) to look around for the treats. You also might have to point them out the first few times you play this game. As your dog becomes better and better at finding the treats, you can hide them in more difficult places, like behind pillows or underneath objects.

Which one?

You can use small plastic plant pots for this one or small football marker cones (which have a hole on top) that are often used in children’s games. Put few pots on the floor upside down and put a treat under one of them. Show your dog that you’ve got a treat but don’t show her where you put it. Then let your dog go and “Find it!”.

Scent trail

On the walk ask your friend or partner to hold your dog, or leave her on the stay if she masters the command. Walk a few meters away and shuffle around a small square area moving your feet only a few inches at the time. Then place a few treats to the area. Get your dog and point her to the right area and tell her to Find it! Repeat this a few times, so that your dog slowly starts associating your scent with the treats. Then you can start tamping a small distance forward (perhaps half a yard at first) and place treats every two inches. Place a jackpot pile of treats at the end. Position your dog to the beginning and let her work her way to the jackpot. You can increase the distance of the scent trail slowly and little by little increase the space between each treat. It’s a good idea to have the dog on the lead for this one, so she doesn’t wander away. However, you should not drag or even lead your dog to the right direction, but let her do the work herself. If she wanders off gently lead her back to the next treat and cheer her on.