Most dogs don't get enough
mental stimulation to be satisfied and happy. Behavior problems are
nearly always the result. Please read the article
"Top 5 Reasons You Are
Mental stimulation is NOT the
same thing as physical stimulation. Many websites, books and dog trainers
preach the religion of "a tired dog is a good dog." I do not accept this
as the truth, and as a matter of fact I feel that this is possibly a dangerous
assumption. Dogs that are heavily physically exercised but do not have
adequate outlets for mental stimulation suffer from an imbalance...an imbalance
that can potentially create larger behavior problems.
For example...you take your dog
jogging 5 miles every day. His physical exercise needs are met, and met
well. But you don't give him any mental stimulation, and he's bored.
Now you have created a marathon athlete who is BORED and looking for stuff to do
to meet his mental needs. He certainly has the stamina to find bad stuff
to do now, since he's so amazingly physically fit! This means he'll be
able to chew up
20 shoes instead of just one!
Think about it in a human
perspective. I will use myself as an example...I love to read books, watch
movies, write, surf the Internet, shop on Ebay, paint, talk to my friends, have
a few drinks now and then around the fire, etc. Do you think that I could
replace the satisfaction that I get from these activites with physical
stimulation? Heck no. Try telling me to run on the treadmill instead
of watching a good movie! The two don't even compare.
If you took all of the
activities I listed above and removed them from my life, isolated me with
nothing to do except eat, sleep, and run on the treadmill...I would not be
happy, and I would slowly go insane. We do this to dogs all the time, and
they slowly go insane as a result. When they start to go insane, their
behavior bothers us. We need to offer mental stimulation to have a "good
dog." If we don't offer it, they will try to get it themselves (and this
is where the shoe-chewing, wallpaper stripping, excessive excitability,
obsessive/compulsive behaviors start to show up and bother the heck out of us).
You do not need to take hours
out of your day to provide adequate amounts of mental stimulation. If you
begin to provide more mental stimulation, you will probably notice that your dog
is more settled, less restless, less hyperactive, less attention-seeking, and
guess what? He won't need massive amounts of physical exercise just to
make him tolerable to be around. Balance is key!!! Some of the items
below even allow you to kill two birds with one stone (mental stimulation and
physical exercise together). ALL of the items below increase your
interaction with your dog, as well, and that is always positive. All of
the items below increase your control and training of the dog, too.
Comes Along: Take your dog with you when you go places. Need to
return movies? Take the dog along if the weather permits you to safely
leave him in the car for 5 minutes. Return your moves, then get the dog
out for 5 minutes and walk him around the parking lot. Every outing you
can allow your dog to enjoy is mental stimulation, even if it's just for 5
minutes! Need to go to the ATM at night? Take the dog along and have
him do a sit-stay in the room while you get your money. Checking your
mail? Take the dog along, and do some trick practice outside the post
office. You can add immense amounts of mental stimulation just by allowing
the dog to accompany you wherever you go. Even if you don't take him out
of the car, the trip itself is fun and exciting and offers all kinds of new
sights, sounds, smells, and experiences. Plus he gets to be with you.
Simply starting to include the dog in your life on an everyday basis outside of
the home environment, folks, will make a HUGE difference.
Get your dog on a twice-a-day feeding routine IMMEDIATELY. Dogs are
pre-programmed to work very hard and be very excited about food. If your
dog has a food bowl on the floor that he picks at all day, this is BORING.
See article Feeding Routine
for how to switch your dog from free-choice to twice a day.
KONGS as meal replacements.
Please note: If your dog is not on a proper feeding routine, you cannot
use this as mental entertainment. Your dog will not work hard to get the
food out. He will lick at it a few times and leave it. If he is on a
proper feeding routine, he will work VERY hard to de-stuff the KONG and it is
the same as a difficult crossword puzzle or a math problem...after he's done, he
will shake himself, lie down, and probably sleep. This is high-level
mental entertainment! Even a very young puppy can easily dissect the
beginner-level KONG described below.
Dogs initially try to de-stuff
KONGS by simply licking at them and following them as they are pushed by the
licking. As time goes by, however, you will see your dog learning
extremely creative and effective ways to de-stuff. Some dogs jam them into
a certain corner of the kitchen, or learn how to fix them in place with their
paws to dissect. Many dogs actually learn to drop them down stairwells and then
clean up the stuff that falls out, or climb onto furniture and drop them to the
Because some of the items in a
KONG can be messy, please offer the KONG somewhere that you do not mind wiping
up if necessary. You can offer KONGS in a crate if you wish.
Buy at least two Kongs that
are the largest size that your dog can pick up. For most dogs above 15
pounds, the size LARGE is what you will want (about the size of a large
fist). Black is the strongest KONG, red is the next strongest, and
most other non-brand-name KONG type toys are crap and your dog will be able
to rip them to pieces easily. They cost less but it's not worth it.
Offer KONGS as meal
replacements as often as possible.
Stuff KONGS creatively and
offer as meal replacements as often as possible. NOTE: KONGS
are dishwasher-safe. Other brands of similar toys may not be.
Click here for instructions on
how to creatively stuff KONG toys!
Do you have a fenced backyard or a grassy area where you can be sure
the dog will not ingest pesticides or fertilizers? If so, measure out your
dog's kibble in a bowl and go outdoors with him. Throw the kibble into the
grassy area, making sure to spread it as far as possible. Sit down in a
lawn chair and read a good book while your dog roots around to find each kibble.
If your dog can be relied on not to chew towels, this is a fun method that
not only allows the dog to have fun hunting his food, but also can be used to
get a dog happier being in a crate.
Take dog out of the room and
place 5 large bath towels in messy layers in his crate or on his bed.
Within the messy layers, hide his kibbles and a few tasty (but dry or semi-soft)
treats. Bring dog back into room and allow him to discover the treasure
trove on his own (don't point him at it, that's too easy!), and watch as he
systematically paws through the bath towels to find every last morsel.
Rotate toys and chew items: Rather than
leave your dog's whole collection out for him to peruse, stimulate
his instinct to like novelty by putting down 3-5 different toys each
day, and keep the rest up. Simply rotate the toys on a daily
basis and your dog's interest will be peaked when he gets his "new"
toys each day.
Butcher Bones--Uncooked beef shank bones
cut to the size your dog can handle are wonderful. Simply ask
the butcher to cut you some dog bones, tell him how long you want
them, and you will get 4-5 bones in a package usually for less than
3 dollars. At first they will get all the marrow out, and
after the bones are clean you can stuff them just like KONGS.
Note: never give cooked bones of any kind to your dog.
Cooking breaks down the bones, causing them to easily splinter and
the dog is basically eating sharp shards of bone that can wreak
havoc in their gut. Only uncooked bones for dogs!
Rawhide is a favorite of most dogs and can be used to provide mental
care should be taken to supervise the dog when
chewing on rawhide, and only a certain kind of rawhide should be offered.
If you offer the wrong kind of rawhide, it presents a very significant danger to
Pressed rawhide ONLY
Buy the largest bones your
dog can possibly pick up. DO NOT buy rawhide, pressed or otherwise,
that the dog can fit well into their mouth. This includes chips,
sticks, and other widely available rawhide products.
I repeat, do not leave
your dog unattended with rawhide products, no matter what the type.
Nylabones: This line of products
offers safe, interesting chew toys that last a long time.
There are three basic kinds: a rubbery soft type, a hard nylon
chew type, and types that the dog can chew through quickly/eat.
I would advise to focus on the rubbery type and the hard type, and
don't waste your money on the type they can eat. My dog's
Nylabones are years old and are cherished chew items for every dog
Clicker Training: Training
your dog to offer behaviors using clicker training is a superb way to offer
mental stimulation without worries. A 5-minute clicker session is a "brain
drain" for a properly prepared dog. You don't even have to have a goal in
your training! Who cares if you never go anywhere with what the dog is
doing? I do this often with my own dogs. It is their absolute
favorite activity...they will leave a delicious KONG to work for the click.
They will tear down doors if they hear me working with another dog!
Click here for how to clicker
train your dog.
Teach dog a number of silly tricks and functional obedience behaviors like
sit/down/stay/stand and then ask the dog to do them throughout the day when they
want something like petting, going outside, leash walks, ball games etc.
Teach a variety so that you can ask for different things, always keeping the dog
guessing what's next.
Taking Classes: If you can
manage to take an obedience, agility, flyball, frisbee, barn hunt, formal
retriever training, stockdog, lure coursing,
Rally-O, or any other type of regular training class, do it! Even if you
don't need to "learn" anything, your dog will get MASSIVE amounts of mental
stimulation from the activity.
When it comes to taking a class, try to pick a
class that uses your dog's breed-specific instinct. To a dog,
there is nothing more fun that performing the activity for which it
was bred. You have not seen happiness until you have seen a
terrier actively hunting.
Buddies: Find a friend who has a nice dog, and arrange for a 30-60
minute play date once a week. Try to go for a free run/woods-walk with the
playmate so that the dogs can sniff out bugs and mice and read the pee-mail and
leave some of their own.
games: If your dog likes to play ball or frisbee, add a "mental
component" to it by asking the dog for a different obedience behavior or trick
before each throw. Then, throw the item creatively...sideways, out front,
backwards, straight up in the air, long, short...keep the dog guessing. A
good enriched retrieval session of 5-10 minutes can leave the dog mentally
satisfied and physically exercised (and plus, you don't even have to walk...I'm
lazy, can you tell?) You can do retrieval games with dogs that do not have
a good recall by using a long line/Flexi lead, or by going to a ball diamond or
tennis court. Click here to go see the Dog Games website for more ideas. For extra exercise, get a Chuckit and really fling that
Busy walks: Take
your dog to a busy area and hang out for 15 minutes. The Wal-Mart parking
lot, a softball game, a town fair, any outdoor event is super. If you live
in an area where there is a large pet store that allows dogs to enter, that's
great too (but please boycott any pet stores that sell puppies!). The
sights, smells, and interaction with people are all new and interesting items
for the dog to take in. Just go somewhere, sit down, and hang out. If your dog is
anxious in environments such as this, please start remedial socialization and
use less challenging environments at first.
Hiding from your dog: While free
running your dog, find opportunities to duck out of sight and let
your dog use his nose to find you. Not only will you be
allowing the dog to use his favorite sense, the sense of
smell, you will get a dog that keeps a sharp eye on you on walks.