May 8, 2013
Providing dogs with mental stimulation, as well as physical and social interactions are critical factors for maintaining their behavioral health.
I have my annual “season’s changed” cold, so visions of sugarplums are truly dancing in this congested, heavily medicated, pet sitter’s head.
When you’re under the weather and your desire to move from the couch is roughly the same as your desire to do your taxes, exercising and entertaining your dog can be hard.
Luckily, Chauncey’s favorite activities and daily expectations are easy to meet. He’s a perfect companion for me on a day like today. But managing our guests’ range of mental and physical needs is harder.
This has me seriously relying on my favorite entertainment tricks of the trade, which are so good and so helpful that I’ve decided to share a few with you in today’s post.
Providing dogs with mental stimulation, as well as physical and social interactions, are critical factors for maintaining their behavioral health. Enrichment activities can help relieve a dog’s boredom and stress, which can make a major difference in their daily life. For most dogs, the best types of activities involve interaction with people or other dogs. This works great for Rover-Time’s boarding program but can easily be matched in your home while you’re away, or immobile and dealing with a seasonal cold that’s attempting to destroy your will to live.
All of the (super inexpensive) enrichment activities below will help to keep dogs busy, so they are less likely to do things we DON’T want them to do.
Will Work for Food
Food puzzle toys are sturdy containers, usually made of hard rubber or plastic, which hold food or treats inside but don’t give dogs easy access to the food. They usually have holes on each end or on the sides, and dogs must work by shaking, pawing, rolling, nibbling or licking the toy to get the food to come out. Food puzzle toys require time, patience and problem solving – all skills that are good for your dog and will help him enjoy quiet time alone. Puzzle toys also encourage chewing and licking, which can have a calming effect on dogs.
Feed your dog at least one meal a day in a food puzzle toy to give its brain and jaws a great workout. You can also stuff these toys with your dog’s favorite treats or a little peanut butter, cottage cheese, cooked oatmeal, yogurt, or cream cheese.
Hunting for dinner
You can make your dog hunt for its meals by hiding stuffed food puzzle toys or small piles of kibble around your house. Hide one of your dog’s meals right before you leave him home alone, and he will have a great time hunting for his food while you’re away. To try a variation on this activity, scatter a couple handfuls of kibble around your yard so your dog can search for it in the grass.
Dogs of all ages need to chew and will spend hours doing it to keep their jaws strong and their teeth clean. They also chew for fun, for stimulation, and to relieve anxiety. Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, it’s important to provide a variety of appropriate and attractive chew toys, like hard rubber toys, natural marrowbones, rawhide, and pig ears.
Giving your dog a chance to use his powerful nose can really wear him out! It’s easy to teach your dog to find hidden treats. When you introduce the Find It game, start out by choosing hiding spots that allow your dog to find the “hidden” treats easily. Try placing treats behind the legs of furniture, partially in view. After you’ve hidden the treats, go get your dog and say “Find it!” right before letting him into the room. Encourage him to look around for the treats. (You might have to point them out the first few times you play the Find It game.) As your dog becomes better and better at finding the treats, you can hide them in more difficult places, like behind pillows or underneath objects.
Some dogs love to chase things, but have no interest in bringing them back to people. The Chase Game is perfect for these dogs. Try tying one of your dog’s favorite toys to the end of a sturdy rope. You can attach the other end of the rope to a stick. Use the stick to drag the toy around on the ground. Many dogs find this game exciting and will chase the fast-moving toy until they’re exhausted. Be sure to let your dog catch it at times! You can buy tennis balls on a rope for this – or put a squeaky toy in a sock and tie the sock to the end of the rope. Then twirl the rope in a big circle and let your dog chase it. Your dog can get a good workout in a relatively small space.
Google is another fantastic place to research more you can do with your dog to keep him occupied.
In the comments below this article, I’d really appreciate hearing from you!
- What are the other “rainy day” activities that work for your dog?
- What DIY toys or games have you made that entertain your dog for hours? And if it’s simple to make, how’d you do it?
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Images by Bethany Fritz, Maypole Studios Photography and Sera Hayes