I'm posting this as part of a set of helpful 'easy reference' articles for common questions and problems. Feel free to add your own favourite activities. Mental enrichment for dogs We all know that physical exercise is important to a dog’s health, but getting their brains ticking is just as important, if not more so. A bored dog is likely to find his own entertainment, or pester you to distraction – neither of you will enjoy life. Dogs’ need for mental activity varies – a lurcher may be quite happy to spend most of the day languishing on her daybed like an Austen heroine, whereas a spaniel might come in filthy from a long muddy walk, and by the time you’ve washed him and made yourself a cuppa, will be dropping a soggy tennis ball on your lap telling you he’s ready for more fun. Teach a saluki a new trick (yes, it’s possible, honest!) and he’ll say, ‘Got that – no need to do it again, I’m back to my bed,’ whereas a collie will be asking you for harder sums, I mean tricks... Here's some of my (and Jasper’s) favourite games. Do feel free to add your own suggestions. Hide and seek This involves a number of separate skills, that you can work on separately as well as in the complete sequence. 1) I show him a toy, tell him ‘hide and seek’, then ask him to wait. 2) I go into another room and hide the toy (you can make this really easy to start with, and adjust according to your dog’s ability or level of persistence - that saluki isn’t going to search as thoroughly as a spaniel). 3) I call, ‘OK! Find it!’ 4) Jasper comes in, and I gesticulate/encourage as necessary till he’s found the toy. 5) I say, ‘Oh, WELL DONE! Good find! Bring it to me!’ 6) Jasper brings me the toy in exchange for a treat. Shutting doors/drawers I open drawers and cupboard doors in the kitchen, and Jasper pushes them shut with his nose. This requires a bit of self-control (and vigilance!) if there’s food in the cupboard. I taught this a long time ago, but I think I started by teaching him to target small Post-It notes with his nose, then stuck Post-It notes on just slightly open doors and drawers which close very easily once pushed. Impulse control I love impulse control games – not only are they the basis for much ‘good’ behaviour, the dog’s brain really has to work as he’s controlling himself, his own urges – ‘I really want that treat, and I could, but it’ll be even better if I hold off...’ One of the best places to start is the video It’s Yer Choice’ on YouTube: Then you can develop the skill in lots of ways. I had some old carpet tiles and trained Jasper to stand on one when directed. Then I put him at one end of the kitchen and a treat at the other end. I put a carpet tile in front of him and ‘released’ him to stand on it, then put one in front of him and moved him onto that one. Then I picked up the one behind him and put it in front, moved him forward again... and so we proceeded, all the way down the kitchen till we got to the treat. Clicker training Clicker training is an excellent way to get a dog thinking - there's lots of detail here: Training with a clicker Clicker training never quite worked for us, doubtless because of my rubbish timing, but we did enjoy playing ‘101 Things to Do with a Box’: 101 Things to Do with a Box | Karen Pryor Clicker Training Basically, the dog gets a click and treat for any interaction with a box, which can be a great confidence boost – there are no wrong answers! You can also extend this to click and reward any other action, such as a paw in the air, a bark, a playbow... There is a downside here: Jasper just settled on the action that involved the least effort possible and whenever I got the clicker out he would bark and then look expectantly for his treat. But we had fun, which is the main thing!