Dog breeds were bred for different purposes, but when it all comes down to it they each have a basic need for mental stimulation. I cannot begin to imagine being home without a job or something to do day after day for my entire life. I need something to look forward to, and so does your dog. Playing games with your dog is a lot of fun. There are so many things that you can do, but for the purpose of this blog I have included just a few.
Benefits of using mental stimulation games for your dog:
- You will be meeting one of your dog’s needs. Your dog NEEDS mental stimulation. Don’t you? I cannot imagine being home ALL day and, on top of that, having nothing to keep me busy. No books, no computer, no TV, no phone, nothing. Your dog wasn’t just designed to hang out with you when you were home from work. He enjoys things that challenge him.
- His behavior will improve and benefit from mental stimulation. Really? Absolutely. Think about how tired you are from sitting at your desk at work all day. Even if you didn’t lift anything heavy or run 5 miles; you simply looked at your computer and used your mental power. Dogs are the same in that experiencing mental stimulation it will help “exercise” them more in addition to their daily walks.
- He will learn focus and impulse control. Yes, it is true. Focus is a learned behavior for most of us. Some people have more of an natural ability to focus than others and I have found this true for dogs as well.
What type of Games can we play?
Hide the Treat hands down, I think, is a favorite not only for my dogs, but for me as well.
How Do I teach?
If your dog has a strong stay command; place your dog in a stay. If your dog doesn’t have a strong stay command and there are two people living in your home; have your friend hold your dog on a leash. If you don’t have a friend, you can place your dog on a leash tied to furniture or something solid.
When you first start the hide the treat games, allow your dog to see you place the treats in different places. Make the first few times really easy to find so they begin to understand the game.
Once you have finished putting out five or six treats, release your dog by saying, “Go find the treat!” At this point, you may have to point out the treats. Continue with this step until he is quickly finding the treats.
Once he understands the game you can start making the treat hiding more difficult, like putting the treats up higher and possibly even hiding under couch cushions eventually!
*Note: If you have multiple dogs that resource guard or have food aggression then it is important that you play this game separately and ensure that all food is picked up before allowing other dogs back into the room.
Products that provide mental puzzles and games:
Nina Ottoson has become one of my favorite dog puzzles. This will be an activity that you will want to supervise with your dog. Link to her website: http://www.nina-ottosson.com/
Kongs are always the 101 with dogs. A Kong is a rubber toy with a hole. One trick that I find useful when using the Kong which many pet owners neglect to do is to stuff it. Layer it. Freeze it. I tell my clients to layer with peanut butter, the dogs food, peanut butter, etc. and then FREEZE IT! You can leave this with your dog when you go to work and it will keep him occupied for hours. You can be as creative as you want with this. This product is good for chewers, and Kong also makes a specific Kong for heavier chewers.
Buster Cubes were my bloodhound’s favorite thing. When I left for work, I put a Buster Cube in her kennel. A Buster Cube is a hard plastic cube-shaped toy. You fill the cube with your dog’s kibble and move it around so the food goes into different compartments. There are also a settings on the cube from easy to hard. Your dog learns to move it in just the right way so the food falls out. I found that this was good for my chewer… she never did destroy the cube (unlike almost all the other toys).
Kyjen Hide the Squirrel is a plush log with several holes. The log is stuffed full of squirrels that your dog will work to get out. It is fun to watch their different techniques. One of my dogs stuck her whole head in (tried to at least) and my other dog shook it like crazy. Obviously this is plush so if you have a heavy chewer you will want to supervise the play.
Author: Michelle Huntting
Kenyon Canine Institute, Educating Professional Trainers