Brain Games – How Mental Stimulation can be as Beneficial for Dogs as Exercise

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Brain Games – How Mental Stimulation can be as Beneficial for Dogs as Exercise

| News | January 27, 2014

The following post was written for us by TDWA member, Cindy Carol, owner of For Dog’s Sake, serving certain neighbourhoods in the west end. Cindy’s an experienced dog walker and trainer, a volunteer and foster home for Australian Shepherd Rescue, and a member of the High Park K9 Committee. She believes in continuing education and is therefore always growing her professional knowledge and skills.

Many of us dream of living the lives our dogs do. It sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Someone else goes to work to pay for room and board, cooks and serves the meals, does the housecleaning, and takes you out for a walk when they get home, all while you sleep on a comfy bed or couch all day. Who wouldn’t want to trade places with our well cared for dogs?

Our dogs do live wonderful lives. But we can also look at this scenario from another perspective. Picture this – your best friend gets up early in the morning, takes you out for a walk and feeds you breakfast. So far so good. Next, your friend heads out for the day, leaving you behind. You enjoy a nap, then wake up refreshed and energized, looking for some entertainment. But your friend forgot to leave you access to the radio, television or internet. You don’t have a book to read, or a pencil and paper to write or draw with. You can’t call your friends on the telephone or go out to visit them at the park or a café. You begin to feel a little bored and decide to take another nap. Later on, your friend comes home and you are excited to go out for a walk and some exercise. In the evening, you sit at your friend’s feet as they busy themselves with a project. You are happy to be together, but wish you had a fun activity to enjoy as well.

Like us, our dogs are at their best when their minds are stimulated and creatively engaged. Most of us go to great efforts to give our dogs lots of physical exercise. But if you have ever watched a dog chewing a good bone or learning a new trick, a herding dog working sheep or a hound dog catching a scent, you have seen that something truly comes alive in our dogs when their minds are as exercised as their bodies. There is a sparkle in their eyes.

When the weather is inclement or on those days when there just isn’t time for a long walk, exercising our dogs’ minds can be almost as effective as physical exercise in tiring out our dogs. Consider of how fatigued you can feel after spending a day on a mentally challenging task, sometimes it can be more tiring than heading out for a run. Even if our dog gets lots of physical exercise, adding mental exercise to the mix can increase the benefit. Mental stimulation can also be an important part of an overall treatment plan for behaviour challenges such as separation anxiety and excessive chewing.

What can we do to provide our dogs with lots of stimulating mental activity for those rainy days or every day? Here are some ideas:

1)    Use their instincts – give your dog a safe bone to chew, feed whole or part meals in a Kong or other treat toy, hide treats or toys around the home for your dog to find, or invent some scent games to play that require your dog to use his or her nose.

2)    Play games such as “come when called” in different rooms and with different people around the home. Tug can also be a wonderfully fun game that has the added bonus of teaching your dog self-control when played with appropriate guidelines.

3)    Teach your dog a new trick using an effective positive reinforcement training method. In fact, any form of positive training can be one of the best ways to tire out your dog, and you will have a well-mannered dog at the end of it! Good training methods build good relationships, and both dog and trainer will enjoy the fun.

4)    Take up a dog sport such as agility, flyball, dock diving, rally-o, herding or tracking.

5)    There are also many new puzzle toys and games on the market that your dog may enjoy.

Remember, providing your dog with mental exercise doesn’t have to be a daunting or time-consuming task. Even five minutes a few times a day of some trick training, or incorporating a Kong or treat toy into your dog’s meal routine or as you leave the home will provide considerable benefit. Who knows, your dog may even be happy to see you off to work, so he or she can catch up on some much needed rest!

Be sure to “like” our Facebook because we’re announcing a contest this week. The top prize is sure to help one lucky Torontonian dog beat the winter blues!

About the author

All members of the Toronto Dog Walkers Association contribute to our blog. You will find a short write up about each author at the beginning of each entry. Thank you for reading. Comments are always encouraged, but require approval first to avoid issues with spam.

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