Exercise your pet mentally this year!
New year, new you! What is that new you going to look like? Something awesome, I’m sure. Let’s up our pet parenting a notch this year, since you are killing it already. Often we think about physically exercising our dogs. However, there is something to be said for mentally exercising your dogs. The first advantage to mental exercise is that it can be done regardless of the weather. You can be indoors (less distractions) or outdoors (slightly challenging depending on your pups attention span). The second advantage is that it nurtures the mental stimulation that your dog needs.
The most common, and maybe not viewed as mental exercise, is COMMAND WORK. When you are training your dog with the most basic commands of sit, down, off, stay, come or wait you are helping exercise their brain. The dogs need to be attentive and follow the cue to get that tasty reward. Most of us work on cues and commands in the beginning, and let it drift away. This year pick a couple of commands each month to work on and get creative with your sequence of commands. Not only are you exercising the mind, but you are improving your dog's behavior as well. It is always best to keep these sessions short when they are younger. It helps keep your dog successful and your frustrations at a minimum. Because if the owner isn’t having fun the dog isn’t either.
Another option is PUZZLES! You can either buy dog puzzles or make your own at home with what you have (muffin tin and tennis balls). Puzzles can be used with their meal to give them stimulation or you can utilize them when you need to keep your dog occupied for 10-15 mins. Make sure you have a couple of options for your dog to help keep things fresh and entertaining. Keep in mind that some puzzles can offer different levels of challenge. Start simple for your dog and work your way up.
The last option is SCENT WORK. Allowing your dog to explore the neighborhood or trails with their nose is a fantastic way to exercise their mind. I am all about a structured walk as well. Every now and then mix up your routine. You can focus part of your walk on the physical efforts then give your pup some “free” time to sniff. You can also incorporate different commands on your walk to keep up on obedience training and helping your dog’s brain switch gears. If you are looking for an indoor option, you can play hide n seek with treats/toys. You can also use paper cups to hide treats under. It allows your pup to search and discover with their wonderful nose. You know your dog gets excited when it locks onto a smell! Help them have that fun in the house too. You can read more at the AKC website for ideas and tips to do with scent work. You can also check with your local clubs/kennels or trainers for scent work classes.
Get creative with your activities and rotate. Remember, when you start anything new with your pets, begin with small steps and short sessions. Would you run a marathon if you haven’t even run 3 miles? You will need to build up the length of the activity and the difficulty as your pets master each level. Use it so you don’t lose it! Happy brain games.