Every dog owner is used to ensuring that their beloved pooch gets enough fresh air and exercise to keep them happy, healthy and in tip top condition. However, people often overlook just how much a dog needs to exercise their brain too. Dogs are intelligent mammals which is one reason why such a close relationship has blossomed over the past 10 000 years between them and human beings. In their current status as pampered pets, they have bypassed the need to hunt, defend territories or, in most cases, find a mate and reproduce. This leaves dogs with an active, perceptive and resourceful brain yet nowhere to focus their intellect. As a dog’s guardian, you need to be prepared to engage their minds for more than just mutual adoration and the odd game of fetch; read on to find an array of methods to keep your furry best friend’s mind sharp and active.
The most obvious solution to an underfed doggy brain is increased training. If you’ve already got the basics like ‘sit’, ‘heel’ and ‘come’ covered, try branching out into more inventive territory. Just as you might give your brain a gentle workout with the activities found at Sudoku.com, Pokerstarscasino.com or on the Headspace.com, it’s important to keep your dog’s brain regularly occupied and stimulated.
Incorporating routine training sessions into everyday life can have many benefits for both you and Fido. For one, it will strengthen your relationship, allowing a deeper bond and greater trust to build between the two of you. This in turn will decrease stress levels for everyone and make life together more enjoyable.
Secondly, it keeps their minds active and their boredom in recession. As every dog owner knows, dogs are basically like large, furry, enthusiastic children; they have endless love to give and always want to play. Rather than seeing this as a nuisance, instead use their boundless enthusiasm and channel it into learning new commands and tricks. Your dog will thank you for it.
Following on from that, why not indulge your pet’s natural playfulness and provide them with a selection of boredom-busting games? You may not immediately see the long-term benefits to this exercise, as you would with training, but games can teach dogs just as much as they teach us. Activities like Hide & Seek, Treasure Hunt and Red Light, Green Light engage dogs’ most developed sense, their incredible sense of smell, and their hunting and tracking instincts.
Whilst you’re out, you can leave toys and activity centres behind to keep your dog happy during their time alone. A simple muffin tin provides the perfect ‘find the treat’ game; simply hide a few of your dog’s favourite treats in the tray and cover every depression with an object. Tennis balls work perfectly! Your dog will then have to work out how to access the treats, keeping them occupied for a good few minutes at least.
Plenty of brands have caught on to this phenomenon and come out with their own specially formulated interactive toys. Kong are especially good at combining mealtime with puzzle time, selling a wide range of toys designed to slow down speedy eaters and keep even the cleverest of pooches stumped for a good while. You can even freeze their original Kong toys for added difficulty!
Perhaps something that we can all be guilty of doing is not allowing our pets enough time around their own kind. Supervised socialising with other compatible four-legged friends activates part of a dog’s brain that sometimes doesn’t get a whole lot of use. Many dogs only see other canines from afar on walks, or during accidental meetings in the park. This can lead to problems in the long term. If spending time with other dogs is an unfamiliar experience, then our pets can become reactive through a combination of fear, anxiety and uncertainty about acceptable behaviour.
Allowing your pooch to spend time around their fellow well-behaved pups gives them chance to have a good run around together, learn that unknown dogs can be friends rather than a threat, and can even teach them to be better behaved. If there isn’t a local dog park or doggy day-care near where you live, consider organising a park meet-up online with other likeminded people and pups.
Whilst much is made of ensuring that your dog is well fed, well exercised and healthy (and rightly so!), let’s not forget what’s going on between those adorable fluffy ears. Dogs deserve to feel fulfilled in all areas of their life and, as they’re unable to provide well for themselves in this way, it’s up to us to do it for them. If you have a dog with problem behaviours like destruction of property, separation anxiety, bad reactions to other dogs or excess energy, you will find that paying a bit more attention to training their brain can work wonders. Dogs are naturally smart, inquisitive creatures so make sure you give them the right tools to exercise their extraordinary minds.