Now that we are nearly a year into lockdown, life can be pretty dull (for us and our dogs)! A lot of people are working from home or still furloughed and we are able to spend more time with our pets than ever, and lots of people have rediscovered the great outdoors with their dogs. However, as much as physical exercise is great for our dogs, mental stimulation is equally important.
Some people struggle with dogs that have "too much energy", or dogs that are destructive around the home, and the answer is usually that they are lacking some mental stimulation. A lot of our pet dogs are working breeds that thrive by having jobs to do, but now they live in a home environment and need a proper outlet for their energy. I've put together some ideas with clear pictures to inspire you to create some activities to get your dog's brain (and nose) working!
Badger has a very full toy box. We needed to get her a bigger one for Christmas because she has so many toys. I'm a fan of Ditch The Dish, making mealtimes more fun so for some mealtimes she eats her food from the purple/pink bone toy and she usually had a midday snack in the form of her favourite thing ever - peanut butter. I either spread some on her lick mat (the green square in the top left picture), inside a plastic bowl, or the yellow treat ball and it lasts her quite a while and makes her very happy. Some mealtimes I will hide her kibble in the snuffle mat (bottom right) and put her wet food in her Kong or spread on her lick mat.
If you don't have any toys at the moment then don't worry, there's plenty of activities you can make with things you have around the house. You will need:
Your dog's favourite treats...
(NB: if you are going to give your dog peanut butter please make sure it does not contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is toxic to dogs. If in doubt, buy doggy peanut butter)
Some empty loo rolls...
Fold the bottom in, put a treat inside and fold the other end in. If your dog is new to treat puzzles or is not very confident, just poke a hole or two in the side of the tube so they can have a better smell of the treat inside.
Some recycling bits...
Raid the recycling bin and find items of different materials, textures and strengths. Poke holes in boxes and hide treats inside, scrunch up paper, spread peanut butter or wet food in tubs and turn them upside down, add bottles and cans that will make different noises when moved around. Collect all your bits together in a container and make an activity box!
Activity boxes are especially beneficial to dogs with low confidence levels. As they push the items around the container looking for treats, they will experience the different sounds and feel of the different objects. There is no pressure or time limit so your dog is free to explore at their own pace. We found that doing activity boxes a couple of times a week really helped Badger with her noise sensitivity and helped to build a more positive association with strange noises. Sniffing is a naturally calming activity for dogs, lowering their heart rate and helping them feel more grounded (you may notice dogs sniffing the ground in uncomfortable situations).
There is no right or wrong way for your dog to do this activity, so just sit back and let them explore. Some dogs may look to their owner for guidance because this is all new to them, so it's okay to point out where a tasty treat is hidden or give them some gentle encouragement but we want them to be able to take the lead once they feel comfortable doing so.
Our activity box we made today...
The great thing about this activity is that anything goes! Whatever you have lying around can go in, but make sure if you have a dog that is a chewer that you supervise them just in case. Here's a video of Badger enjoying her activity box I made for her this afternoon:
Centering enrichment around treats or meals is great for some dogs but some dogs may be watching their figure. Another fun way to keep your dog's mind active while strengthening your bond with them is to do some training incorporating toys.
In September, Badger was attacked by a terrier on one of our walks and it had an impact on her behaviour. We had to go back to basics with some aspects of her training including recall, but with the right incentives we made it a fun experience for her.
Finding the right toys can be trial and error but I found that the most exciting toy for Badger on our walks was a Tug-E-Nuff fluffy bungee tugger (which you can find here: https://tug-e-nuff.co.uk/products/bright-fauxtastic?variant=30421588279393)
I found that if I gave the cue to come and showed her the tugger, she would leave whatever she was doing (chasing birds in the sky usually) and come running for a little game of tug. I would ask her to leave the toy and then say "let's go" so we could continue our walk. What works for one dog may not work for another so have fun figuring out what your dog loves.
Proximity games are a fun way of strengthening the bond you have with your dog while also reinforcing the fact that it's fun to be close to you on walks. I've included some links to videos for examples of fun games to play with your dog:
I hope you've enjoyed this latest blog entry and now you have plenty of inspiration to create some fun and engaging activities to make their daily lives more fulfilling.
Thank you for reading and if you have any questions or photos of your own doggy enrichment, please get in touch!