Enrich your canine’s life by turning every interaction into an opportunity to learn.
rather than sleep their day away until their paw-rent comes home, our furkids prefer to live active lives filled with playtime, socialising and entertainment. Bored or under-stimulated pups will find alternative ways to burn off excess energy, be it by gnawing on furniture or raiding the laundry basket. If you’re having difficulty finding out what makes Fido’s brain tick, here are some fuss-free ways to keep both your dog’s brain and body in shape.
WORKING FOR FOOD
Turn every meal into an engaging experience by changing how your pupper eats! Switch out that food bowl and keep your furkid’s nose and brain engaged.
To start, place your pooch’s favourite treat under a blanket or laundry basket. “This game helps timid dogs experiment with unusual objects and be rewarded for their boldness, thus building their confidence,” writes Kyra Sundance in 10-Minute Dog Training Games. You could also tease your pooch by presenting him with his favourite treat or toy, show him as you put an upturned laundry basket on top of it, then encourage him with an animated “Go get it!”. Just be sure not to make things too complicated too soon, as Fido could get frustrated and not want to try again. Kyra’s tip: When he shows interest in the basket by nosing or pawing it, help him by slightly lifting a corner of the basket.
Pups aren’t meant to be lone wolves—they learn best in a social network. “Not only are dogs tolerant enough to live in a group, but they thrive by watching others solve problems they could not solve on their own,” writes Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods in The Genius of Dogs. This not only gives our dogs the socialisation they need, but also simultaneously provides them with complex mental stimulation.
For starters, allow your dog to make friends with other canines while on its
daily walk. Make trips to the dog park or organise supervised play dates with other furkids. You could even go for obedience classes or bring your pup to the beach for some time in the surf! A wider exposure to new people, dogs, objects and places will help Fido hone his social and adjustment skills.
THE FURRY INTELLECTUAL
There’s no limit to what your furkid can learn, and there are so many quick games you could play at home to train your pooch’s cognitive skills. Get your furry companion to hold eye contact with you—this trains his mental focus and self-control—or stuff treats in a muffin tin, cover it with tennis balls, and watch as your dog sniffs them out—this trains his scenting ability and logic skills.
Hone his memory skills by putting a treat in one of two identical pails and if he goes to the wrong pail, don’t allow him to check the other pails. Place him back in the starting position and start all over. “This game is surprisingly difficult for dogs, but provides excellent training for their focus and memory,” writes Sundance. “Even when your dog has mastered the two-pail game, he will find it quite difficult to be successful with three pails.”
When starting out with choosing the right game for your canine, be it whether to train your pooch’s memory and logic, or ability to retrieve, jump and balance, think about what your dog was originally bred to do. Retrievers were born to fetch and thus love a game of ball; herding breeds such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds excel in agility circuits; and hunting dogs such as Labradors and Spaniels do well in tracking and field trials.
FEAST FOR THE SENSES
Textures, scents and sights aren’t lost on dear Fido—it’s essential to enhance our pup’s surroundings into an allencompassing experience through introductions to novelty and opportunities to learn. “Dogs should be allowed to investigate their environment as much as possible,” writes Dr Lisa Radosta in a study titled Canine Environmental Enrichment published in 2014. “They can generally be divided into the following categories: Visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory.” Bring your furkid out for drives, or add mint and cinnamon to pet toys to encourage sniffing. You could also leave the television or radio on, play music and outdoor sounds to provoke your pup’s curiosity, or give it a massage with diluted pet-safe lavender oil.
“The importance of doing sensory enrichment is that our pets are almost always kept indoors with us,” shares dog trainer Maureen Tay from KasPup UniFURsity. “By bringing them outside of the house or introducing new senses to them, it helps to enhance the quality of your dog’s life by reducing stress, anxiety, and boredom. This keeps them occupied, which they like very much and it also helps to keep them tired as well.”