Using Dog Toys for Mental Stimulation
A dog’s mind needs exercising just as much as its body. A bored, unstimulated animal can create havoc in a very short space of time: garden plants dug up, slippers and shoes chewed, newspaper shredded, incessant barking or whining, and even claw marks gouged into walls and doors. Of course, not all dogs do this; younger animals and high energy or working breeds, such as border collies and springer spaniels, are more prone to such behaviour but any pet dog needs mental exercise to help ensure he lives a fulfilled and happy life.
Dogs are born with the need for mental stimulation – and you only have to watch a young puppy exploring the confines of first its whelping box and then the area immediately beyond it to see this in action. However, pet parents can do a great deal to ensure that their dog enjoys enriching and appropriately challenging play. Before you start, remember that whatever method of mental stimulation you choose, it should not set him up to fail: his learning experiences must always be positive if he is not to become discouraged, bored or compelled to seek entertainment of his own making.
One of the best ways of ensuring your pet has appropriate mental stimulation is to think about his senses, and consider how to get him to use them. The best mental exercises often engage more than one of your dog’s senses. Although more often associated with physical exercise, some of the panoply of dog toys on the market are also a brilliant way of providing your pet with mental stimulation.
The most powerful of the canine senses, dogs learn a great deal about the world around them via their noses. You can utilise this in many ways. The trick is to keep activities varied, interesting and within the dog’s comfort zone.
- When out walking, make sure your pet has plenty of time for sniffing (because that’s the canine equivalent of sending an email or receiving a phone call) and leaving his own scent.
- Try introducing scent work games at home. A mentally well-exercised dog is often physically tired as a result. This makes scent work ideal for a dog who never seems tired after his works or for exercising one who can’t be walked for whatever reason. Do remember, however, that this doesn’t make it a long-term alternative to taking your pet for a walk but it can be a stop gap for an animal recovering from an operation or where, for some other reason, you can’t take him out for his usual exercise. Try scattering tiny scraps of moist food – tuna in spring water works well and is appreciated by most dogs – over a couple of square metres, and let your dog put his nose to work.
Sight and Smell
The popular pastime of retrieving is a great way of getting a dog to use sight and smell, as well as giving him some physical exercise. Sticks or tennis balls are easy to use or, if you prefer something that can’t be chewed up as quickly, try the Gor Tough Ball. It may take a little (or even a lot of) effort and repetition to teach a dog to retrieve, even one of the so-called retrieving breeds, but success means you’ll always have a way to give your pet some quick-fire mental and physical stimulation.
Hide and seek is another way of combining sight and smell, and an activity that many dogs love to play with their owners. You’ll need to be careful with nervous dogs and patient with newcomers to the game but the result should be a fun game that both you and your pet enjoy. You may need to use a treat or favourite toy to get your pet’s attention. Once he’s watching you, move away, while calling his name, and hide somewhere nearby. Keep calling until your pet comes to you. After a few games (how many depends on your dog), you should be able to stop calling and allow your dog’s nose and eyes to do their jobs. Whenever your pet finds you, make sure you reward him in a way that has meaning for him. You can also play hide and seek with favourite toys. Something like the Gor Toons work well, and have the added advantage of a built-in fleecy ribbon that you can use for a game of tuggie as a reward for good finding.
Rather like young children, puppies often appreciate a snuggly toy. With their minimal stuffing, the Gor cow or squirrel or the Gor Hugs Goofy Family are perfect. Both have the added bonus of a built-in squeak and, in the case of the Gor Hugs Goofy Family, a rattle as well. For some animals, their liking for cuddlies extends past puppyhood, although you’ll need to watch for anything that gets severely chewed and be prepared to replace it.
Many dogs are very food-motivated. Even those that aren’t often appreciate the mental challenges involved in persuading a feed dispenser to give up a treat. In the beginning, it’s best to use treats your dog will find easy to get out but you can make it harder as they get more skilful. Some dispensers can even be used to feed an entire meal. Others can be frozen, which can be a great way of keeping a dog occupied at a busy time. There are any number of dispensers on the market, and it’s a matter of finding one that suits your pet. If you want something that’s a little more multi-functional, the Gor Treat Ball also works as a ball you can throw and emits a satisfying squeak when chewed.
Anyone who’s watched a dog get excited when he hears children or other dogs playing knows that sound can be a strong stimulant for many pets. It’s something that needs channelling in an appropriate way, and squeaky toys are excellent at doing this. Obviously, they need discarding once heavily chewed but there are plenty of robust models on the market. We like the Gor Flex Squeaky Ball for its easy to grip nodules and the design that means it continues to squeak even if pierced by an enthusiastic tooth.
To check out our full range of dog toys available accross the UK, please visit our website www.watchmychops.com