How to Keep Your Dog Mentally Stimulated

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Understand your dog’s behavior. If you have a terrier they naturally want to bark and dig at everything because that’s what they were bred to do. Many Labs enjoy fetching sticks, balls, cats, and (unfortunately for some) skunks because they are retrievers by nature. By knowing what your dog’s breed(s) is and what his/her original intent for life is will help you curb those pesky problems to more productive activities.
Work with what you’ve got. If you have a shepherd s/he probably enjoys running around looking for something to herd. While not everyone has a flock of birds or a herd of cows you can certainly do agility with the dog that loves to run around or be chased. For tunnels take two chairs and cover it with a blanket. For a jump secure a broom or mop across two boxes. Have a hunting breed? Try hiding treats around the house or yard, using your dog’s keen sense of smell to activate his search and retrieve instinct. These activities can easily be modified for height and amount of challenge.
Willing to spend a little money? There are many toys out there that encourage a dog to work his noggin. Food cubes are great for food motivated dogs. Instead of simply giving your begging pup a treat put a few in the cube and watch your dog work at finding out how to get it out (this can take a while sometimes, my dog took 3 weeks to discover the cube’s amazing ability to magically produce food). Dogs that love to chew and tug can easily be given a tug puzzle. Most come with instructions on different ways to put it together so that your dog needs to do different combinations of tugging and chewing to undo it. Please keep in mind that any stimulating toy play should be supervised the first couple times to make sure your dog doesn’t get injured and to make sure that s/he understands the concept instead of just destroying it.
While you may not have a ton of cash to dish out for classes right now learning something new is good for both pets and people. If staying in the house is too boring for you and your pooch try finding a local flyball or dock-jumping group in your area. See if they’re willing to send someone from the group to meet you and show you the basics behind the sport. Generally, if you tell them you’re trying to gauge your dog’s interest and ability they’ll let you come for a class or two for free or meet with you personally to show you the ropes. Having the base knowledge can help you work your dog’s brain on your own or it may encourage you to join the group itself. There are many sports out there that match just about every personality and breed out there.
Remember that your dog needs mental stimulation just as much as you do. Keeping your dog thinking is easy when you first start trying but if the weather gets harsh or you get bogged down at work your dog will quickly become bored again if the stimulation doesn’t keep up. Try to have a stimulating toy reserved specifically for when you go to work and spend a little time every week physically and mentally stimulating your dog outside the house. It’ll do wonders for you and your dog. It may not completely get rid of those annoying bark-fests but it will greatly reduce it if your dog is too busy working on puzzles to notice that the wind is blowing again.
Keep in mind your dog’s size and health. Many sports organizations won’t allow you to enter your dog in events or classes without a vet’s signed clean bill of health to make sure your dog isn’t likely to get injured. This goes for toys as well. Giving your Bullmastiff a food cube is great…as long as it’s big enough that he won’t try swallowing it.

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