You’re walking your dog, and by walking I mean actually taking walks which engage your dog and encourage them to interact with their surrounds, a couple of times a day to the point where when you get home they want nothing more than to lay down and sleep.
This is only part of the equation though.
If you were to jog daily but never exercise your mind, you wouldn’t feel very fulfilled. Your dog isn’t any different! By exercising your dogs mind you’re not only benefiting them, but you’re benefiting yourself. A physically tired dog will nap for a while, but a physically tired dog could still be a bored dog, and bored dogs are likely to be destructive dogs. If you not only entertain but encourage your dog with mental games and mentally challenging toys your dog will be focused and less likely to have time to be destructive.
There are several ways to do this.
The first, and simplest for you, is through treat dispensing toys. These can be as simple as a kong chew filled with peanut butter the dog can easily get or they can be more challenging puzzle toys which cause the dog to pull or push pieces around in order to retrieve the toys. With treat dispensing toys you want to challenge your dog, but not to frustrate them. Always be aware of your dogs abilities, and always be present and conscious of your dogs actions while playing with these toys. You do not want to leave them alone for too long, just to discover that they’ve even all of the treats and half of the plastic as well.
These are great to use in addition to crate training as you can encourage your dog to enter and stay in a crate by giving them a treat filled toy. Everytime they leave the crate with the toy, take the toy away and put it back in the crate. The dog will quickly learn that if they leave the crate, the toy goes way, but if they stay in the crate they’ll get to keep it.
Another way to challenge your dog is by playing “Find it” games. These are really easy to play and are a fun way to teach, bond, and train. One way is by having your dog find you, which can help strengthen their recall abilities, and the other is by having them find treats and toys.
The first person finding game will start just by you calling your dog to you while in the same room. You could even join friends and other family members in the “game” by having them call the dog and reward when the dog gets there. This can then develop into you calling them from another room, and then into actually hiding from the dog. You’ll be amazed over time by how intelligent your dog is and by how ingenuitive you can be in hiding.
The other way begins very similarly, only you hid a treat or toy while in sight of your dog. Preferably your dog will be in a stay position, but you could also have them held by a friend while watching you. You would then release your dog and ask them to “find” the treat or toy. You will eventually be able to hide the toy in more difficult places. This will also help you if you want to teach your dog to differentiate toys. You can hide a few toys and ask for a specific one. If they bring the right toy, loads of praise and a “Jackpot” reward. If they don’t, you can use a simply “Uh-oh” or “not it” command which you already use in training to say that they didn’t do something correct and then repeat the “find it” command asking for the toy.
These games and others like it will be the subject of a future post. These are just a basic introduction. Always only go so far as to the point where your dog is enjoying themselves, and sometimes you can make it up as you go along.
If you believe you are exercising your dogs both mentally and physically and they are still “acting out” please contact your veterinarian. There might be a health or physical problem, and if there isn’t then your vet would be able to help you get in touch with a trainer who they trust.