Let's say you walk your dog twice a day for over an hour each, play games like fetch for 45 minutes, and on top of that give your dog all the toys and bones he could ever want to chew on. But still he is hyper and bouncing off the walls. You're thinking, "How is this possible?!"
Well let me help you to understand how all that exercise isn’t helping you get what you want, a calm dog. In order to have a calm, well-behaved dog you must first, drain the brain. I know I know, your thinking "but I put in at least 3 hours of exercise per day!" EXACTLY, you physically exercise your dog, this is not the same as mentally challenging your dog. Yes, physical exercise is very important though mental exercise is the golden ticket to calm, it takes half the time and the result last 3 times as long as a regular walk. Think of it like this, in school we had PE period for an hour, by the end we needed 10-15 minutes to recoup ourselves then were ready for the next activity. On the Flip side of that put us in a challenging math class and by the end we need an hour nap to recharge our brain. Same concept.
Also, keep in mind when increasing physical exercise with our dogs, if we do not also provide them with adequate mental exercise we continue to increase their stamina, making for a super athlete. A side effect, which can lead to unfavorable behaviors, like hyperactivity, adrenaline seeking behaviors, destruction and more. This is like shooting yourself in the foot, if your want a calm, well-mannered dog, yes you can provide vigorous physical exercise but it must be combined with mental exercise.
Here are 5 ways to Mentally Exercise your dog
- Structured Walks
- Puzzle Toys
- Structured Play
- Scent Games
A structured walk is where your dog is walking with you, calm on a loose leash by your side or slightly following behind you. Not in front, pulling on leash, zig-zagging all over the sidewalk and marking every leaf. Forward movement only happens when the mind is calm. Yes it sounds impossible, but with patience soon this will be the most enjoyable walk for you and your furry best friend.
There are tons of puzzle toys available in the market today. These games are designed to make your dog think and problem solve to produce the reward. These style game provide so much for your dog, it provides mental growth through problem solving and the coping skills that come hand it hand, with success it build confidence and it drains the brain. These can easily be bought in store, on amazon or for you DIY fanatics out there you can easily make your own.
All this means is adding rules and steps to your game. When playing class games like “fetch” and “Tug”, teach your dog an “out” or “give” command. At random times through the game ask your dog to “out” the toy then maybe request a “sit” or “down” command before re-engaging the game. Adding rules and steps like this to your game teaches your dog how to play responsibly vs crazy. In the long term this benefits you as well as drains your dogs brain the right way.
This is a fun and great way for you and your dog to work together. Begin by hiding your dogs favorite toy or treat somewhere in your home where it can be fairly easy to find. Increasing difficulty as your dogs succeeds. Start by having your dog on leash, on “place” or “ “down-stay” while you hide the treat/toy out of your dogs sight. When your ready pick up the leash and use your cue word to start the game, for example: “Search”, “find it” “go get it” etc. Let them have the entire leash to search your just following as a supportive shadow in the search. When they discover the hidden item, have a party; give lots of affection and approval with your dog. Rinse and repeat. As your both successful making harder hiding spot and eventually working to off leash with a recall to bring you the item. There are no limits to scent games, most important have fun!
Have a treadmill sitting in the corner collecting dust from a new years resolution a few years ago? I know it’s a crazy concept, but treadmill training done properly is an excellent mental outlet for your dog, that also takes little to no effort from you. The key to treadmill training, is do not turn it on and start running your dog at high speeds. A slow, calm controlled pace is what is going to drain their brain. Once conditioned to the treadmill find your dogs natural walking pace or slightly SLOWER than that pace. It creates for a meditation pace, your dog will be required to think about their paw placement and movement. These styles of treadmill work will both drain the brain and the body within 15-20 minutes and can all be done while you are having your morning coffee or cooking dinner etc. it can easily be worked into any schedule. Though keep in mind it is not replacement for regular walks.