We all are too familiar with the phrase “my puppy is chewing all my stuff” or “my dog is digging up my garden”. Very few people take the time to ask why and most assume it’s because the dog is just being naughty. No dog is born naughty. Dogs tend to resort to these ‘unwanted’ behaviour due to being bored or not stimulated enough. Mental stimulation is quite a new concept and most people don’t even know where to start. The stimulation should be incorporated into normal daily activities as early in their lives as possible. Here are a few reasons why mental stimulation is so important:
- Dogs that are not mentally stimulated can show signs of being unhappy
- Mental stimulation is a great boredom buster
- Prevent unwanted behaviour by channelling their energy into something good
- Prevent hyperactive and attention seeking behaviour
Interesting fact: Dogs have the mental age of a 3-5 year old child. Keep this in mind when choosing activities for your dog.
By now you are probably wondering what it is that you can do with your dog in your home environment (especially in the whole virus situation we are currently in). We were all quite disappointed when we found out we are unable to walk our dogs in this time but I can comfort you by telling you that mental stimulation might even satisfy your dog more than the usual physical (walking) stimulation. In this case, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!
Before we just jump in and start, let’s have a look at the buzz word clicker training. Why should we use a clicker when teaching our dogs a new trick? A clicker is used as a reward marker, while training a dog they need to know when they have done something right and that a reward is coming (like a treat). The clicker is a lovely tool to have because it has a short, sharp and consistent sound. Your dog will quickly associate the click with being rewarded. If you find it difficult to handle the clicker and treats and the dog (like myself), you can also use a short, sharp and consistent ‘YES’. When starting to train a new trick, we need to shape the behaviour by giving them clues on what we want and rewarding any movement in the right direction. Let your dog figure out what you want them to do, this type of thinking will also stimulate the brain and you will create a problem solver.
Example: Give paw. Touch your dog’s foot and if he lifts it just a bit, click and then reward. Once your dog lifts the foot each time that you touch it, you can start adding a word “paw” to the action. When your dog starts to give paw on his own, you need to jackpot him by giving 3 treats instead of just one.
Here’s a few fun and mentally stimulating games to try with your dog at home to keep your dog entertained at home:
- Paper rolls in a container
Place treats in a container with paper rolls on top and let your dog take them out to get the treats
2. Plastic bottle treat dispenser:
Take an old cold drink bottle, cut a hole on the side, place treats inside and let your dog roll the bottle to get the treats out
3. Muffin tin with tennis balls:
Place treats in a muffin tin with tennis balls on top, let your dog take the balls off to get the treats
4. Foraging in the yard:
Throw your dog’s breakfast kibble on the grass and let them search for it
5. Box and paper search:
Place treats in a box and cover with ripped up paper, let your dog find the treats
6. Frozen Kong:
Stuff a Kong with soft food e.g. mashed pumpkin/banana with peanut butter and carrot sticks or apple chunks and freeze.
7. Rolled up towel:
Place treats in a towel and roll up. Let your dog figure out to unroll the towel to get the treats.
8. Treat shuffle cups:
With 3-4 cups, place a treat under one (let your dog watch) and shuffle them. Your dog now needs to find under which cup the treat is.
9. Paper balls with treats:
Place treats/kibble in a rolled up paper ball and hide them around the house, your dog must find them and open the balls to get the treats out.
10. Holee roller ball:
Cut fleece into strips, place a treat inside and roll up. Place the rolled up fleece in the ball and let your dog take the strips out