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Mental enrichment for dogs

Discussion in 'Dog Behaviour and Training' started by JudyN, Dec 9, 2020.

  1. JudyN

    JudyN Moderator Moderator Registered

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    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!
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2020
    Heloise, RGC, niamh123 and 4 others like this.
  2. JudyN

    JudyN Moderator Moderator Registered

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    Scent work and other calming activities

    This is from an earlier post by @Hemlock.

    "Fill a spray bottle with water and add something stinky like a sardine, piece of raw liver etc. Shake bottle vigorously, then lay a track around your garden squirting at ground level every 3 or 4 paces. Leave a treat by some of the squirts, then at the end, a jackpot of treats. Put dog on lead, say a word e.g. "track" and follow the trail together. Make jackpot time really happy. Day by day make this harder by squirting less often and phasing out most of the treats. Make the jackpot smaller. The dog can't get this wrong, so it doesn't matter if she 'cheats' by going straight to the jackpot. The point is she is doing this WITH you so you are not the Fun Police. You are the source of all good things. Thus she works WITH you not in spite of you.

    Save all your cardboard boxes, big envelopes and cardboard rolls from inside loo rolls and kitchen paper. Hide tiny treats in newspaper, cram hard into rolls, etc. cram into boxes, seal boxes. Obviously remove anything dangerous like staples. Give puzzle toy to dog and let her rip her way in to get the treats. She'll be very fulfilled and tired after one or two of these, so no more than that per day. Again, be company for her when she does this."
     
  3. Hemlock

    Hemlock Well-Known Member Registered

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    Just to add this one, which can be indoor or outdoor:

    The flowerpot game. You need three small plastic flowerpots, paper cups or similar.

    With your dog watching, put a tiny treat under one flowerpot, give a specific command that you don't use in any other context, then let her knock it over and eat the treat. That's day one. Don't be tempted to do any more that day.
    Progress to dog being out of room, being let in, flowerpot indicated by you with command, treat found and eaten. Next day, two flowerpots, only one of which has a treat under it. Move pots further apart, add third, but still only one treat. When dog is fine with that, hide flowerpots behind furniture but still point one out IF dog is not searching hard enough. Note that dog cannot get this wrong -- whether she sniffs out the treat, races in to knock all the pots over or waits for you to point at the right pot, the idea is that you are doing something rewarding and fulfilling together. The more things like this that you do together,, the more confidence she will have in you for the outside world.
     
  4. JudyN

    JudyN Moderator Moderator Registered

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    Treat balls: Your dog can enjoy these while you're doing something else, and you can vary the difficulty. I like rubber ones as they're less noisy, and as the dog can grip them, it's easier for him to get them out of tight corners. (Might not be good for heavy chewers though.)

    Interactive toys: Nina Ottoson do a large range of interactive activity toys, and you can find plenty more online. They're often expensive, but you can make your own versions at home, e.g.: DIY Spinning Plastic Bottle Dog Treat Game
     
  5. RGC

    RGC Active Member Registered

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    We have a post meal searching game. While the whippet’s eating her main meal in the kitchen I hide a Lily’s Kitchen chew in a fire gauntlet or fluffy toy that’s devoid of stuffing somewhere in the sitting room. It’s now got to the stage that she legs it to the sitting room while I’m washing her dinner bowl and is well into the chew by the time I get to her. I take the point that sighthounds will frowst for England and will study the brain games.
     
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  6. RGC

    RGC Active Member Registered

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    PS. I meant that I’LL study the brain games, not the whippet. I have no illusions re her mental ability. Sorry for any confusion.
     
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  7. Heloise

    Heloise New Member Registered

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    Ivy didn't really get the Hide and seek, but oh my goodness the video is amazing!! What is this magic! She got it in a few seconds!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 24, 2021
  8. Inka

    Inka Active Member Registered

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    The first time you do this, you put the dog on a lead, you 'hide' the toy/treats in plain sight, using the same command word so you can lead Ivy to 'find it' the second time you do it you 'hide' it in the same place and generally once the dog understands the game, you don't need to lead her to it...then you can hide in different places, some in sight, some not and just use the command word...Ivy will 'get it' then and enjoy her new game
     

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