The Importance Of Mental Stimulation For Pets
These days, everyone is busy. This means that many dogs spend a lot of time at home in the house or yard with not a lot to do. Yet at the same time, our dogs have often been bred to work and use their amazing brains to do jobs for us. Like people, exercising the brain can help a dog to feel tired, even more than physical exercise. It’s important to leave your dog with things to do when you’re gone but also very important for a dog’s health and wellbeing to spend time exercising their brain when you’re home. This doesn’t have to take up a great deal of time – in fact dogs learn best with several short training sessions rather than one long one.
Brain Boosting Games For Your Dog
Wouldn’t it be great if your dog could find your keys or your mobile phone? This trick provides great mental stimulation and is useful for you around the house as well. When a dogs search for an item, they use their amazing power of scent. Having a dog use their sense of smell is a great way to exercise their brains and keep them tired and happy.
You don’t need to teach your dog to use their nose, they already know that. You just need to teach them the object you want them to find and show them that it’s worthwhile to find it.
Here are the steps:
▪ Show them the object you want them to find – you might want to give it a unique name for later when you expand to more items. Let’s say you’re teaching your dog to find the keys. Show them the keys and when they look at them, sniff them or touch them, say, “yes,” and give a treat (or any reward that motivates your dog)
▪ Place the keys on the ground and mark with, “yes,” and reward for the dog sniffing them on the floor
▪ Keep moving the keys around different places of the room and continue to reward for your desired outcome – this could be just sniffing them or picking them up. Reward for small steps towards your end goal
▪ At this point, put a command to the task like, “find keys!”
▪ When your dog is consistently giving you the reaction you want, start to hide the keys where they can’t be seen. This will encourage your dog to use it’s nose.
▪ Gradually increase the difficulty of the location as long as your dog is winning. If they are struggling, take a step back to where they were last successful and practice some more
If your dog knows how to fetch, you can start giving each individual object it’s own name. This is an impressive trick when you work your way up to several objects and is a great brain challenging game for your dog. You can combine this game with the Find It game to have your dog fetch different objects by name using their nose. But you should have each one going well separately first before tying it together.
Here’s the steps to name your objects for the dog to fetch:
▪ Choose the first object you want to name. Let’s say it’s a stuffed bear.
▪ Place the bear on the ground and say, “bear,” followed by your dog’s usual fetch command.
▪ Reward your dog for fetching the bear. Practice this several times and then try dropping the fetch command so you are just saying, “bear”
▪ Once your dog is fetching the bear on command, place the bear on the ground again as usual but this time, place a second object on the ground as well. Let’s say it’s a toy sheep.
▪ Test the bear command and only reward your dog if he sticks with the bear. If he gets it wrong, he won’t get his usual reward. If he gets it right, throw a party! Your dog can now fetch the “bear” item by name. Add more items around it to proof the “bear” command.
▪ Repeat this process with the sheep on it’s own and any other objects you want to name.
▪ The real test is when you have trained multiple items and you put them all down together. See if your dog can remember which one is which and only fetch that toy on command.
▪ Remember like all training, if your dog is stuck, take a step back to where he last succeeded.
Hide and Seek
Another task to encourage your dog to use her nose is hide and seek, where your dog has to find you! Make sure you have their favourite reward for them ready for when they do.
This trick uses the dog’s sense of smell, exercises their brain and gives them exercise as well. It can be easier with two people but you can do it alone if your dog can hold a reliable stay.
▪ Have your dog stay or have a friend hold your dog with them in another room
▪ Go and hide. Make the first few easy
▪ If you have a friend helping, they can say, “seek,” and let the dog go.
▪ The first few times, you may need to also call your dog once or twice to show them that they need to find you and give them a bit of help
▪ When they find you, give them a big reward!
▪ Make it slightly harder each time but always keep it fun. Ways to make it harder is to hide inside cupboards, behind doors or go outside and try it in a safe outdoor area.
Tidy Up Your Toys
Wouldn’t it be great if your dog tidied up all their toys when they were done playing? Combine this trick with the object discrimination trick for a super advanced version and blow your friend’s away with how smart your dog is. Your dog needs to know how to fetch for this trick. Be prepared for your dog to be nice and tired after a session of training this helpful trick.
▪ Start with just one of your dog’s toys on the ground and a basket to put the toys in
▪ Stand with the basket in front of you and give your dog the fetch command for that object
▪ Hold your open hand above the basket
▪ As your dog brings the object to your hand or goes to drop the object at your feet, hold a treat above the basket. As your dog goes to take the treat, the toy will fall into the basket. Mark (“yes”) and reward your dog when this happens and give lots of praise.
▪ Repeat multiple times until your dog is reliably dropping the item into the basket
▪ As your dog is successful, stand behind the basket and point to the basket as the dog approaches. Reward after the dog has dropped the toy inside.
▪ Now you can introduce a new cue to this task. To do this, say the new cue right before the old cue and then phase out the old cue. So say, “tidy up, fetch” and then reward as usual. After a few repetitions, try saying, “tidy up,” by itself and see if your dog understands.
▪ Gradually move further away and reward less often by asking for more toys to be tidied up before you give a treat.
Is it important to keep providing mental stimulation for dogs at any age?
It’s absolutely important to provide mental stimulation for a dog of any age, even an older dog. An older dog may tire faster but they will still enjoy it and appreciate you for it.
In fact, mental and environmental enrichment is important for all animals!
Consider: Do you have another pet that may be bored?
Young puppies need mental stimulation too and the younger you start, the faster your dog will learn things you want to teach them later on. Ins saying that, you can definitely teach an old dog new tricks! Like elderly dogs, pups may tire quicker so keep sessions short and fun.
Training these kind of challenging tricks not only helps your dog to get tired and satisfied, it also continues to make them smarter as they develop their skills and learn how to learn. And best of all, giving your dog mental stimulation through training increases the bond between you. So it’s a win-win for everyone involved.