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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:

  • Nylabone!" make great chew toys for dogs that like to chew. I don't recommend using rawhides because there is a danger of the dog biting off large pieces and swallowing them, and these can cause internal obstructions which can lead to surgery or even death.
  • You can also take rope toys and soak them in chicken broth and freeze them for a tasty, chilling treat during the summer.
  • Dogs need a variety of textures to chew on: something that can be torn apart (rope, stuffed toy), something that has "give" to the power of his jaw (ball, rubber toy), and something that is very hard to scrape teeth against (knee bone, marrow bone, knuckle bone, hard Nylabone!").
  • Some dogs love tennis balls, both chasing them and chewing on them. Do be aware, tennis balls made for the sport contain harsh chemicals which allow them to bounce better on the court, and these chemicals have been known to wear down a dog's tooth enamel after many years of chewing on them.
  • Always assess your dog's toys 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. Some dogs will go nuts trying to tear squeakers or noise-makers out of toys so you want to be sure that you supervise play with these toys and remove them when they get damaged so that the dog cannot eat the squeaker.

Working for dinner. It's fun and natural:

  • Get old rags or socks and wrap up your dog's dinner or treats, and let the dog work on tearing it up to find his dinner As your dog gets better at this, tie tightly with lots of knots and then put the bound rag inside a box or old Tupperware container, let him work really hard for his dinner, after he eats he will want to take a nap.
  • 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.
  • Purchase raw marrow bones or knuckle bones from your butcher. Give them to your dog frozen to make them last longer (and stay neater) and refreeze between use.
  • Look for food dispensing toys at the pet store that can that be stuffed with your dog's food. There are balls, cubes, and various other shapes that your dog has to roll, whack, or shake to try and get their dinner out! There are other toys like the popular Kong which you can fill with something soft like peanut butter or canned food and kibble mixture. Again, try freezing to make it last longer for your dog.

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.