What basic things does a person need to provide for their dog? Well in every TV show and movie ever made where a kid brings home a dog and begs mom and dad to keep it, they use this argument: “Please mom, I promise I’ll feed them and walk them and clean up after them!” The fact that this theme is so popular in media tells me two things: 1. Dogs are amazing so everyone can identify with wanting one. 2. When we think of taking care of a dog, we tend to think about their physical needs.
Now there is nothing wrong with thinking of your dog’s physical needs. Food is pretty darn important. But once those basic needs for physical well being are met, it is time to think about your dog’s emotional and mental well being. After all, how happy would you be if your entire life consisted of only eating, going to the bathroom, and sleeping? (Okay, so I might have had a few wonderfully lazy weekends that looked a lot like this but I wouldn’t want to do it every day.). After a while the lack of stimulation would probably get a bit dull or even make you anxious and depressed.
Dogs need things to occupy their minds just as much as we do in order to stay mentally and emotionally fit. So what are your options? Well frankly there are tons of them. Some are super easy and some require practice. Which ones will work best for your dog is something that may require some trial and error. I’ve listed my three go-to’s below. For more examples and information on the benefits of mental enrichment, you can check out the articles linked below.
- Field trips! Going out and exploring the world is a great way to mentally stimulate your dog and get them some exercise to boot. Gotta love knocking out two birds with one stone! The key to your outing being mentally enriching as well as physically stimulating is to let your dog explore. Instead of just focusing just on cardio and moving forward the whole time, let your dog do that sniffing thing that dogs do best. Unlike us humans, dogs’ eyesight is not their primary sense, smell is. So instead of going out with a power walk on the agenda, try enjoying what I have nerdishly dubbed the stroll n’ sniff. If your dog isn’t too stressed by strangers and has decent manners, you can also switch up your adventures by going to different dog friendly places like local pet stores. Social interaction is great enrichment for the dogs that can handle it!
- Agility training and tricks. Like with walks, agility is great for brains and bodies. And while other types of tricks like sit, lay down, and roll over may not be a workout, trick and agility training both stimulate the mind by asking dogs to learn tasks. Just like with people, learning and practicing skills requires brain power and can be highly satisfying (especially when you are rewarded for performing those skills with pets and treats). Trick and agility training also have the added benefit of building helpful skills for public outings and distracting situations. Several of the dogs I’ve walked, if left to their own devices, would pulls my arm off trying to get to a dog in the distance. But if I step off to the side and make a fun game of doing tricks and eating treats then that passing dog loses some of its interest. (This of course is not true for all dogs. One of my own dogs is terribly anxious around strange dogs and no number of treats in the world will make her forget their presence.)
- Puzzle toys. There are a number of different dog toys on the market that require your dog to use a little problem solving in order to get some treats (I’ve included pictures below of some different store-bought variations, but google can also show you TONS of DIY options). I personally use these types of toys not just for treats, but to feed my dogs the majority of their meals. That way one of the basic things I do for my dogs’ physical well being doubles as a good mental workout too. These toys are also great if you have a dog that eats too fast or is susceptible to bloat because the effort they have to put in to getting to the food makes them slow down as they eat.