Keeping your dog mentally stimulated is just as important as physical stimulation, such as walking. A lot of people may assume that as long as your dog gets a good run then that’s all the exercise they need. This may be the case for some dogs, but younger and more energetic breeds need a “job” to help keep their mind busy throughout the day so that they don’t fall into bad habits and become destructive or bored. At Get Set Pet we have put together a list of toys, treats, games and tips to help you and your dog have lots of fun and feel calm and content by the end of it.
A dog’s nose possesses up to 300 million olfactory receptors compared to only around 6 million in humans and the part of the dog’s brain that analyses smells is 40 times greater than ours, which to put it simply, means that dogs rely on their nose much more than we do. Allowing your dog to sniff on walks is essential as they gather so much information this way and not allowing this is pretty much equal to blindfolding a human whilst they go for a walk. Having a good sniff of the lamp-post next to their house is like us checking our Facebook news feed; they can smell who’s recently walked past, what sex they were, how healthy they were etc. With this in mind, as well as allowing your dog to stop and sniff on his daily walks, it’s also great to play scent-work games with him. There are lots of toys out there which you can hide your dog’s favourite treats inside and then allow them to sniff them out. Dog puzzles, Kong toys, buster cubes and doggy mazes are great fun for both you and your dog as you get the enjoyment of watching your dog problem solve whilst he gets self rewarded by earning the treat once he has figured out how to release it.
Hide & seek
Hiding treats around the house and garden couldn’t be simpler. Children love playing this game with their dogs and it’s a fantastic way for the entire family to bond.
Start off by holding onto your dog and placing some smelly treats around the house in sight of him. Allow him to see where you’re hiding them at first so that he gets the hang of the game.
Release him with a “find it” command and watch him gobble up the treats he just watched you “hide” in easy-to-reach places.
Do this a few more times so he knows what “find it” means and then pop him in another room, hide the treats and then release him with the same command. He should now know what to do but this time he will have to use his nose to sniff out the treats as he didn’t see where you hid them.
You can make this game as challenging as you like but remember to keep it simple and easy at first and always hide the treats in easy-to-reach, dog-safe locations. Once your pooch becomes a hide & seek expert you can up the game by hiding treats both inside and out, covering them over and just making your pup work that little bit harder.
Chewing exercises your dog’s jaw muscles, help scrape away dental plaque, provides relief for teething puppies and releases endorphins which can help relieve stress and anxiety. If you’ve ever come home to an anxious pup and a chewed up table leg, you can bet that the chewing was as a result of your dog getting worked up and was looking for a stress reliever. It’s therefore important to provide our dogs with lots of appropriate and safe chew toys. The classic Kong, Antlers, Nylabones, rope toys and tough rubber toys are all brilliant products that are designed for chewers. You must always choose the right toy for your dog though as a powerful chewer can easily demolish a toy that’s only suitable for puppies or light chewers. Black Kongs, extra large Antlers and extra tough rubber toys are good for the more powerful chewers. The red classic Kong and mid-strength Nylabones are great for your average chewer and the puppy teething starter kits from Nylabone, pastel coloured puppy Kongs and rope toys are perfect for delicate puppy teeth.
Teaching your dog tricks isn’t just about showing off, it’s also an awesome way to bond with your pooch and really gets him thinking. You can teach your dog basic things such as sit, down, stand, stay, leave, drop, stop etc which helps in your day to day life but you can also jazz it up a little by teaching him more exciting party tricks such as spin, weave, jump, hug, wave, speak, walk backwards, dance, crawl… the list is endless but you get the idea. Teaching your dog tricks needs to be fun for both of you so keep training sessions short (around 15 mins each time), fun and always finish on a positive note. Positive reinforcement works best so treat your dog when he offers the desired behaviour and if he doesn’t quite get the hang of it, simplify it and break the trick down into easier to understand nuggets until you reach your desired goal. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun and rewarding for both you and your dog so if either of you are not enjoying it, take a break and drop it down a notch until you’re both feeling more confident.
Agility is great fun and you can buy lots of basic agility kits which usually includes a few jumps and weave poles to get you started. Keep the jumps low to the ground at first until your dog understands what is being asked of him and use treats or his favourite toy to lure him through the course. Again, keep it fun, lighthearted and exciting. Agility is good for your dog both mentally and physically so practicing this in your back garden is a fab walk alternative. Due to the fact that agility involves jumping, always ensure your dog is old enough and fit enough to be able to carry out this type of activity and if in doubt, have a word with your vet first.
As you can see, the variety of games, tricks and toys for your dog is huge and constantly expanding. Owning a dog doesn’t just have to be a daily walk to the park and back. Have fun, mix it up and enjoy one-anthers company. Your dog will thank you for it and you won’t ever have to come home to a bored, destructive pup.