Beating Boredom with Mental Stimulation for Dogs… Or, How to Make your Dog Happy!
Does your dog:
- Chew the furniture
- Bark excessively
- Dig up the garden
- Generally behave badly?
If you answered “Yes” to any one of the above, then you may have a bored dog on your hands. Bored dogs lack mental stimulation!
Why Boredom Leads to Bad Behaviour
Consider a dog in the wild. He tracks down his supper, gives chase, makes a kill, and then eats it. This engages all his senses and burns energy.
Contrast this with the modern pet and a bowl of kibble placed in front of him twice a day. Now what…?
Do dogs get bored?
Whilst his physical need for food is met, vital sensory stimulation is missing. The bored dog makes his own entertainment, which results in chewing, barking, digging, or being generally obnoxious.
However, there are ways the savvy pet parent can redirect that excess energy into appropriate activities, to turn the destructive dog into a contented canine.
What is Mental Stimulation for Dogs?
Brain games for dogs aren’t about Sudoku but engaging those canine senses through ‘environmental enrichment’, providing an outlet for behaviours such as sniffing or digging.
“While we often envisage enrichment in the context of zoos, it has an important place in pet homes.” L Haug, DVM, MS, DACVB
With a destructive dog stop thinking about what he can’t do, and shift the emphasis onto what he can. For example, your Beagle loves to shred the sofa. What do Beagles love best (apart from destruction!)? Why, following a scent of course.
Lay a scent trail in the garden for your eager Beagle to follow. Simply hide a favourite toy beneath one of two, up turned buckets, and have the dog sniff it out. Then drag the toy over the grass (to lay a scent trail), hide it under a bucket and tell the dog to “Go find…”
This makes a great game, and as the dog learns what’s expected you can make the trail longer and more complex.
“The average pet receives low levels of environmental stimulation, and most of this is repetitive and predictable.” Haug, DVM, MS, DACVB
Mental Stimulation Games for your Dog
Beating boredom is easy and frees up time, when you know how.
Look at the following suggestions for brain games for dogs that keep both of you happy.
Food and Feeding
From now onwards, make your pet work for his food by engaging his mind. Here’s how:
- Scatter his food on the lawn so he has to go searching for it.
- Divide his dinner into several pots and dot them around the garden.
- Place kibble inside a taped, rolled newspaper – Let the dog chew to the food.
- Drill holes in an empty plastic bottle and put biscuits inside. The dog bats the bottle to get the kibble to drop out.
- Put his treats inside empty cereal or cardboard boxes and tape them up, so he has to chew to get the goodies.
- Investigate the exciting range of commercial puzzle feeders. These include the Buster Cube or Activity Ball, or Kong for wet food (A top tip is to pack the Kong with canned food and pop it in the freezer overnight. Licking out the frozen food keeps a dog busy for hours.)
The Importance of Play
Play might appear frivolous fun, it provides vital stimulation. For example:
- Plush toys: Some dogs love the feel of fur in their mouth and love the role play games with a cuddly toy.
- Squeaky toys: This plumbs into the squeal of a creature in distress (Oh no!) and is a strong trigger for hunting and chase behaviour
- Balls and Frisbees: Lots of lovely chasing…just like a wild dog after a rabbit.
- Tug toys: The fun of dragging prey to ground
A Healthy Mind and Body
A played-out dog is a happy dog. Exercise keeps both body and mind fit, and lack of exercise is a common cause of boredom. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise that is appropriate for his age and breed. But that doesn’t have to mean doing circuits of the park. Branch out and look for stimulating experiences for both of you:
- Swimming: Enrol in a dog-swimming class and teach him a new skill.
- Play Parties: Arrange for meet-ups with other doggy friends for them to romp around and wear themselves out.
- Canine Clubs: Look for a local agility or Flyball club. These days there are all sorts of unusual activities for dogs including Canicross, Bikejoring, Scenting, Tracking, Treibball, and weight pulling.
- Easy Options: The easy way to wear a dog out is to teach him a love of Frisbee catching or fetch!
If you Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
If your dog is a chewer, channel that energy to an appropriate chew toy. Find a durable, long lasting dog chew and praise him for chewing on it. Remove the chew in-between times so that it remains novel and exciting.
If your dog is a digger, then designate a digging patch in the garden. Invest in a cheap kiddie’s sandpit and fill it with earth. Bury a favourite toy in it and encourage the dog to dig and find it.
Dog Brain Games
Use reward-based training methods to have your dog use his brain to work out what he has to do to earn that treat. Not only does this stimulate him mind, but it bonds you both.
Make him work for everything from putting his leash on to feeding. So get him to “Sit” before supper, and “Look” when his lead is attached. it is all about creating that mental stimulation.
What hints and tips do you have for mentally stimulating your dog?
We’d love to hear your ideas so please share them by leaving a comment below.