If you’ve ever arrived home to discover that Fluffy took a bite out of your sofa cushions or Fido shredded the morning paper “¦ well, then you own a dog. While indiscretions are common, many are avoidable. You already know that the first step in keeping your dog happy and healthy – and your home in one piece – is daily physical exercise. But what about mental exercise?
“Dogs weren’t bred to lie on the sofa all day and then walk in perfect step with their human for 30 minutes a day,” said trainer Eric Goebelbecker, CPDT-KA, owner of Dog Spelled Forward. “They get bored just like we do and need to exercise their brains.”
Providing the right stimulation can be a critical step in eliminating problem behaviors. As Goebelbecker points out, bored behavior is often mislabeled as separation anxiety. A dog who is bored will spend his day searching for activities, like disemboweling your television remote or barking incessantly. Providing adequate mental stimulation is easier – and more fun – thank you might think.
When you’re hanging around the house, play with your dog. Consider a game like tug or fetch. Hide in your house, and let your dog find you. You can repeat that exercise with treats and toys, too.
When you leave for the day, give your dog food puzzles he can solve on his own. To up the ante, Goebelbecker suggests hiding the toys. This gives your dog two separate activities – first, finding the toy, and second, solving the food puzzle.
Nina Ottosson makes a range of eco-friendly and pet-safe toys that will definitely keep your dog busy. Warning: These toys, which come in a variety of skill levels, will probably require your participation at first. (Check out her YouTube video demonstrations!) Another great option, though less eco-conscious, is the Kong. You can stuff a Kong to keep your dog occupied. “Kongs are great. You can put treats in them or even actual meals,” said Goebelbecker. “If your dog gets good at un-stuffing them, freeze them.”
Keeping your dog’s mind active will help eliminate problem behaviors like destructive chewing or excessive barking. According to Goebelbecker, “Mental stimulation can result in more relaxed and satisfied dog.”
Your dog will be happier and healthier for it, too!
Image: OakleyOriginals on Flickr, licensed for commercial use under Creative Commons.