You go for long walks, let your pup run it out with their friends at the park, play fetch in the backyard and they are still full of energy. You do your best to tire them with activity and nothing seems to work. They still are begging to play and when ignored, cause excessive barking and destruction around the house. You don’t know what else to do. Sound familiar?
Don’t worry, you are not alone. I take my dog Penny for a long walk every morning, but the truth is that she’d tire more from 15 minutes of training or scent games than from our hour long walk around the neighborhood. Mental fatigue makes dogs (and humans) feel more physically tired than a physical effort alone. The good news is when you incorporate mental challenges into their day there is minimal effort and time commitment on your part. And these activities can be really fun – for both of you!
Try some of these ways to make your dog concentrate and they’ll be ready for a nap in no time:
Ditch The Bowl
Embrace your dog’s natural scavenging habits at meal time and stop dumping their food in a bowl for them to gobble up in 5 seconds flat. Instead, you can use their kibble as motivation for training time, try scatter feeding and/or provide your dog’s meals in fun food dispensing toys like the Bob-A-Lot, a favorite in our household. Whether you scatter their food across a large area, use a puzzle feeder or ask for them to do tricks, they have to problem solve to get their food. This takes effort and brain power! Make sure to get a few different food dispensing toys and vary your feeding method from meal to meal to keep your dog guessing.
Never Stop Learning
Training your dog should be a lifelong journey. You’ll be surprised what your dog can learn (and how tired they can get) from spending as little as 5-15 minutes a day training. There’s always a behavior to enforce or new trick to teach. Pick something of the appropriate level for your dog and go for it! Your dog will want to perform the desired behavior. Getting there will require thinking and concentration which will tire them out, all while strengthening your bond.
Not A One Trick Pony
Apply the tricks you’ve taught them in other creative ways. Ask your pup to retrieve various objects around the house, once they have mastered a solid retrieve. Ask them to drop the ball in all sorts of objects, from tall to tiny containers. The options are endless as long as you are just as excited as they are about every success!
Adventures In Sniffing
In large part, dogs “see” the world through scent. This allows them to interact with their environment through their noses tapping into an often-overlooked processing tool. It’s easy to take a scent walk. Just set off on a path, and when your dog stops for a sniff, let them. Be fully engaged, which means: put away your phone and pay attention to your dog. This is needed because there are still hidden “treasures” you may need to avoid. As you stroll, allow your dog to select the path and the amount of time they spend on each odor. It will add enrichment to their day.
How’s That to Chew On?
Dogs have a natural desire to lick and chew so make sure they have a healthy daily outlet for these behaviors. Discover a favorite chew like a Himalayan Cheese Chew or Bully Stick. Provide layers to lick with Lick mats and treat dispensing toys like the Qwizl, Kong and Toppl which can be filled with Creamy Treats, peanut butter, yogurt or pumpkin. For added interest and difficulty you can layer them with items of different textures and to make them last longer, you can freeze them!
It’s All Fun & Games
Providing mental stimulation for your dog is really just playing games! Here are some more you can try:
- Find It: Put your dog in a stay, in another room or in their crate. Then hide a few treats that have a strong scent. Start with somewhere close by and simple, at first. Then release your pup and say, “Find it!” They will need to use their senses to locate all the treats. As you play this more often, and your dog understands the game, you can add complexity — hiding the treat in another room, under a table, on a bookshelf, etc.
- Hide & Seek: Have a partner ask your dog to sit and stay while you go hide. Start somewhere easy – behind a door, behind a couch, behind a curtain, in the bath tub – and increase difficulty as your dog becomes familiar with the game. When you are ready, call your dog’s name. Be sure to reward your dog when found as you both enjoy the surprise of the moment.
Puzzles are a great way to mentally stimulate your dog’s brain. Here are a few versions you can make yourself:
- Put treats inside a toilet paper tube and fold the ends. Watch as they try to free to the treats.
- Place treats in a cupcake tin and cover with balls of different sizes, shapes and textures. Watch as your pup figures out how to remove the balls and get to those tasty treats.
- Lay a towel out flat and scatter treats in different positions on the towel. Roll the towel up and give to your dog. Watch as they use their nose, teeth and paws to unroll the towel more and more and discover the treats inside.
- Take an old cardboard box and fill it with items full of treats or kibble of different size, texture and difficulty and watch as they discover what’s inside. Some items in the box can be there as a barrier or distraction and not actually contain any food. Examples include: bunched up paper, other boxes of different sizes, packing materials with holes or divets, towels, treat dispensing toys, paper towel rolls, etc…
The more you exercise your dog’s brain, the happier and calmer they will be. Pick a few of the above ideas to incorporate in your dog’s routine and enjoy some alone time as they snuggle up for a much-needed nap!
Tag @passionatelypets on socials to let us know what you tried and how it went or share what works for your dog in the comments below!