When we talk about needs in dogs, we often talk about the need for exercise in a one-sided way, as if physical exercise was the only avenue to consider. Unfortunately, the importance of mental stimulation is regularly ignored or neglected, which too often leads to unwanted behaviors in our furry friends.
Did you know that a dog spends the equivalent of one hour of physical exercise for every 15 minutes of mental work? This is one of the reasons why dog trainers love enrichment activities such as puzzles and snuffle mats! And why these types of activities are great to incorporate into your dog's routine, especially during hot or cold weather when you may have to cut back on walks and outdoor exercise.
Here are some tips and tricks to get their noggins working!
- Interactive bowls
Interactive bowls are an easy solution to make Fido work without adding to his caloric intake! There are several models on the market, and these will allow you to feed your dog's regular meals in a bowl that will keep the fun going.
- Puzzles and hide-and-seek toys
Again, there are a ton of options to keep your pooch busy, whether it's during long days confined indoors or when you have to leave the house. Be sure to choose one that is appropriate for your dog's size and interest/sensitivity to keep it fun and not create new sources of frustration.
For puzzles, you can choose to hide kibble or treats, depending on your dog. You can buy a puzzle or make your own from egg cartons or a muffin tin!
Another favorite is a toy that you can fill with food, like the famous Kong. These are also usually safe to leave with a dog while you are away. And for an extra dose of challenge, freeze it before giving it to Fido.
- Snuffle mats
Snuffle mats are becoming more and more common. They offer a great way for your dog to spend time sniffing, a very natural behavior for him, in an environment that encourages it. You can easily find these snuffle mats, or enrichment mats, on the market, or you can even make your own at home with fabric scraps or old t-shirts, or simply hide treats in cardboard boxes. Another alternative for beginners: a tightly rolled towel with kibbles or treats at different points on the roll will be a sure hit!
Weather permitting, you can take this game outside by scattering treats or kibble in the grass and then have Toto search for them!
- Tricks and obedience
Obedience training is often associated with a necessary evil for our canine companions to live with us in society. But it's also a great source of stimulation for Toto (not to mention a wonderful opportunity for you and your dog to build a strong relationship).
When teaching your dog new tricks, keep your sessions short, positive, and tailored to your dog's current mental state. You both need to have fun for him to enjoy it! Don't hesitate to reward every time your dog offers you attention without having to ask; the more you reward this behavior, the more natural it will become for your dog to offer it to you!
- Games and activities
Get creative! Think of all kinds of activities and games you used to do as a child and think about how you can adapt them so that your pooch will participate!
These tips are just a few of the thousands available to you! Do you know about dog fitness? Does your community offer yoga with dogs? Is there a pool where your pooch can stretch his legs? How about an indoor party for your dog and his best furiends?
Remember: young or old, small or large, our furry friends all need stimulation adapted to their abilities and interests! Not only will they be happier, but you will be too since a stimulated dog is more balanced and will usually stay out of your hair!