Keeping your dog physically stimulated and in shape is an important part of dog wellness, but it is also crucial to provide mental stimulation and enrichment for your dog.
Thanks primarily to our collective commitment to better understanding our dogs through the study of behavioural science, modern dogs are very fortunate to live in a golden age of dog enrichment. Our responsibility as owners is to seek out and provide those opportunities, and we have never had more choices than we do today.
Interactive Chew Toys Chew toys are an excellent way to help puppies cope with teething as long at the rubber toy is specifically designed for puppies. In addition to the physical sensation, a dog also has to use his brain to figure out how to get the tasty treats out of the toy, which is great for mental stimulation.
The best interactive chew toys are the ones that come in different shapes with holes in them. They are an excellent way of keeping a dog happy and busy for hours because you can fill them with different foods like peanut butter or chicken and put them in the freezer for a few hours before giving them to your dog. This makes the stuffing last longer and gives your dog a good feeling while he is chewing. Many chew toys might claim that they are indestructible because they are made of very hard rubber, but certain dogs can still chew through them, so be careful and observe your dog when he is chewing.
Treat Balls Treat balls can be filled with dry food or treats and given to your dog who then has to get the food out by pushing the ball along the floor with his nose. This is a great way of feeding your dog’s meal to him as it takes longer to eat and tires him out in the process.
Puzzles There are many different kinds of puzzles that have been created for dogs with varying degrees of difficulty. Most puzzles have places where you can hide food and your dog has to then work out how to get it out of the puzzle.
Tug Toys and Bite Sticks Tug toys are great for playing the game of tug and for dogs to retrieve. These toys usually take the form of knotted ropes or are made of durable material that is long and stick like, providing a good surface to bite on.
Chase Toys Most dogs love to chase, so these toys are perfect for releasing that energy. You can create your own by attaching a length of rope to a stick and tying a soft toy onto the other end of the rope. You can whirl the rope around your body like a lunge rope and teach your dog to chase after it. This is best done if you can teach your dog to wait and only allow him to chase on your cue, a great way of teaching impulse control.
Puzzles, Toys and Games Problem-solving activities like interactive puzzle toys are a great way to provide mental stimulation to your dog both when you are with him and when you're not at home. Often, these toys come in the form of puzzles which hide treats and encourage the dog to figure out how to 'unlock' the prize. Just be sure not to make things too complicated too soon for the dog, as he could get frustrated if he can't figure it out quickly.
While physical activity is important for overall dog wellness, activities such as dog sports and playing games with your dog are also fantastic for mental enrichment. Play increases communication and builds a deeper bond between you so pick games you both enjoy playing and spend a few minutes each day engaging in play activity.
Tug of War Tug of war is a great way to teach your dog to listen to you even when excited and distracted. It encourages bonding through play and is a great workout for you and your dog. Some people believe that tug of war makes a dog more aggressive, and indeed it is not a game for dogs that are easily over aroused or aggressively protective of their resource but most dogs will not become aggressive while playing the game and tug-of-war actually builds up trust and cooperative skills if certain rules are followed:
* If your dog wins the game and takes the tug toy away from you, feign disinterest and go and do something else. Never chase your dog to try and get the toy from him. You can either ignore him until he comes up to you with the toy or get another toy and put all your attention onto the toy you have. Your dog will most likely drop what he has in his mouth to come and investigate a better option.
* If your dog reengages in the game and drops the toy in front or tries to give it to you, praise him and let the game continue.
* Teach your dog a reliable take it and drop it cue before you play tug so that he understands what you mean when you ask him to drop the toy.
* You do not always have to win the war! Give and take is best.
* Play should stop on your cue and if play gets too rowdy either ask your dog to drop the toy or drop it yourself and walk away. Rowdy play, mouthing or over arousal stops the game.
'Go Find' or Retrieve If your dog already enjoys carrying things in her mouth then this game is easier to teach, but you can also try to teach your dog to bring toys to you even if she does not like to retrieve something that you throw.
* Bring your dog's toy a few steps away from where she is sitting, so that she can see it, and ask her to find it. You can use the cue 'go find', or the name of the toy or object that you hide and want her to bring to you.
* Once she goes to the toy, praise her immediately, even if she does not touch it. Repeat this each time she is close to the toy and encourage her to take the toy into her mouth.
* The first time she picks up the toy, praise her and let her play with it for a while.
* When she has learned to take the desired object into her mouth, encourage her to bring it all the way to you. First praise her when she comes running with her toy, and then praise her only when she brings it to your hand. You can trade the toy for a treat.
* When she becomes proficient at the game, start hiding the toy in more difficult places in another room or in the back yard and send her off on the hunt.
Hide and Seek This is a fun game you can play with your dog indoors or outside and best played with two people.
Have one person hold your dog while you go and hide somewhere in the same room or area where your dog can see you hiding.
Call your dog’s name as the person releases your dog and praise your dog for finding you.
At this stage the game is easy but as your dog becomes more proficient start hiding in areas that are harder for him to find.
Motivate your dog to play the game by rewarding him with his favourite toy, some food or a game of tug if he finds you.
While your dog is coming to find you have the other person go hide and call the dog to them once he has successfully found you. This back and forth will test your dog’s seeking skills and tire him out.
Make sure you only repeat the game a few times so your dog does not lose interest.
Media for Dogs Dogs can also benefit hugely from listening to psycho-acoustic canine music which has been specially designed to promote particular physiological responses. Canine music is usually aimed at reducing anxiety, but can also be a valuable tool in providing appropriate stimulation at certain times.
There is a global TV channel designed to be watched by dogs - Dog TV provides purposely-designed periods of calming content followed by light stimulation, and the audio and video on Dog TV has been scientifically altered to provide optimal viewing for dogs. This is a far better option than leaving on sports, news or other human TV channels when you leave the house.
Dognition Duke University's Canine Cognition Center has created Dognition – a scientific tool which is available to the dog owning public to help better understand how our dogs think through the use of innovative games and digital content. This 'citizen science' project allows the scientists to collect valuable information about canine cognition while providing dog owners with the opportunity to grow the bond with their dog.
Bottom Line - Enrichment in the form of games and activities that are of moderate to high intensity lowers stress in dogs and encourages them to learn more efficiently, increases their problem solving abilities and leads to a more emotionally balanced and confident dog.