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Training Articles

Keeping your dog busy and stimulated

by Maureen Haggerty

Dogs need activities to keep them busy. If we do not direct them to appropriate activities and keep their minds stimulated, your intelligent, healthy dog will find things to do on his own. Normal dog behavior includes chewing, jumping, digging, running, hunting, chasing, and tearing things apart. Dogs need to exercise these behaviors to maintain their health physically and mentally. We need to redirect these behaviors into appropriate activities we can live with.

Satisfying the need to chew:

  • Dogs need a variety of textures to chew on: something that can be torn apart (rope, stuffed toy, cardboard), something that has "give" to the power of his jaw (ball, rubber toy), and something that is hard, but whittle-able (and edible) to scrape teeth against, such as the Power Chew Nylabones, a raw knuckle bone or antler. Remove items once to the size they could be swallowed and always supervise. Avoid marrow bones which can splinter into sharp peices. I don't recommend using rawhide "bones" because this is actually dried hide and there is a danger of the dog biting off large pieces which rehydrate if swallowed and can cause internal obstruction. The same can be true of a bully stick which is actually musle meat, so be careful and always supervise.
  • A fun summer treat is freezing water or chicken broth in a tupperware containter with a few carrot sticks inside. Empty the ice chunk out and give outside!
  • The popular Kong toy is great for filling with soft mixtures of food like peanut butter, canned food and kibble. Ttry freezing to make it last longer for your dog.
  • Always supervise and assess your dog's chewing habits! Is the toy appropriate for the dog's level of chewing? A dog that is an aggressive chewer should have toys made of sturdy, tough rubber with no little knobs or buttons that he can pull off and accidentally swallow. Does your dog like to consume anything that is in his mouth? These dogs must only be given things that are far too large to swallow and cannot be torn, broken in inot parts to swallow. Never leave your dog alone with items that could be consumed.

Working for dinner. It's fun and natural:

  • Look for food dispensing toys at the pet store. There are balls, cubes, and various other shapes that your dog has to roll, whack, or shake to try and get their dinner out! It will expand the time it takes your dog to eat and dogs LOVE working for their food.
  • Take your dog's dinner, go outside, and throw it chicken feed style all over the yard! This is a very fun and draining exercise for a dog. They get to use their natural instinct to sniff out food. A very large portion of a dog's brain controls their olfactory function, therefore, the more we create activities where they get to use their nose, the more stimulated and tired they will get.

Stimulating exercise, that doesn't involve a walk:

  • Games that utilize your dog's nose are great exercise. A very large portion of a dog's brain controls their olfactory function, therefore, the more we create activities where they get to use their nose, the more stimulated and tired they will get. Teach your dog to find small dog biscuits around the house. Start really easy (where she can see where you put the treat) so she can catch on to the "Find It" game. Gradually increase the difficultly. As your dog catches on, work towards her not seeing where you put it and tell her, "Go find it!"
  • Fetch, Hide and Seek, and Recall Games are some fun activities for your dog. When done properly they are also excellent at improving your dog's obedience and attention to you.
  • Teaching your dogs tricks is another fun activity that will stimulate your dog, and they're a lot of fun, particularly for children. If you teach the tricks with "free-shaping" (ask me) they are particularly draining as it makes your dog think!
  • For dogs that enjoy digging, set aside a dirt or sand area that is a legitimate place for them to fulfill this need. Bury toys or treats in this area and teach your dog to search for them, which will encourage him to dig in this particular spot. If your dog begins digging where he is not allowed, use a startling "Eh!" and quickly bring him over to his digging spot where the buried treats will reinforce this place.
  • A lot of dogs love water and providing them with a small kiddie pool is lots of fun for the dog. If you have a pool, many dogs enjoy swimming and playing "fetch" in the pool.
  • Many dogs enjoy running an obstacle course as can be seen with agility competitions. You can create your own agility course in your yard. Tunnels can be bought from children's toy stores and you can make jumps very cheaply and easily with PVC pipe from your local hardware store. You can also purchase agility equipment often for great prices from Ebay or use your picnic table benches to go over and walk along, a table to go under, garden stakes to weave around.