Wouldn’t it be great if our dogs came with an “off” switch? We could work long hours without guilt, stay out as late as we please and even hold dinner parties while the dog simply was stored in a back room.
Unfortunately, life is never that easy. Besides, what seems to make us love our dogs the most is exactly what can cause us the most problems in caring for them: intelligence. Dogs are so intelligent and adaptable that they have evolved to become mankind’s closest animal helpers and companions.
Ignoring your dog’s need for mental stimulation can lead to excessive barking, destructive chewing or even obsessive, compulsive behaviors.
Here is a list of “environmental enrichments” that can be given to your dog as “projects” to occupy her mind when need be. These tips are great to use while you are at work, gone shopping all day, on car trips, while you are entertaining guests or even during times when you just need a little time-out from your dog. These tips won’t take the place of exercise but can be a great addition to your overall dog management plan.
Stuffed and frozen Kongs – They take time to manipulate and empty. They come in various sizes and are made of durable rubber. There even is a special Kong made for aggressive chewers.
Treat balls – Toys that dispense kibble, treats or Cheerios a few at a time as the toy is rolled around the floor. You can even put your dog’s meals in this. Examples include the Kibble Nibble by Premiere, Amaze-a-Ball, Tricky Treat Ball and the Buster Cube.
Stuffed sterilized bones – Same idea as the stuffed Kong with the added benefit that most dogs will continue to chew a bone after the goodies inside have been eaten. Freezing the bone will make it last longer.
Frozen butcher bones – These come with the marrow still in the bone and with bits of fat and gristle attached. Some dogs find these to be too rich for their systems.
Frozen chunks of apple or carrot – A healthy option and great to chew. If your dog pulls up her nose at these at first, reintroduce them four or five more times before giving up.
Backyard sandbox – Cut two 2x6x8s in half, nail together to form a sandbox and fill with sand. You can use this to hide treats and toys so that your dog can look forward to digging for “treasure” later.
Rawhides – Choose compressed rawhides, twists, chips or strips. Stay away from rawhides with knots on the ends. The knots can be chewed off and swallowed, causing intestinal blockage. Supervision will let you know if your dog tends to swallow large pieces. Chewing rawhides helps relieve stress, provides mental stimulation and even can help clean teeth.
Puzzle toys – These are toys that have spaces for treats or are hollow and can be stuffed. Examples include Kong’s Stuff-a-Ball, Premiere’s Twist ’n Treat, Nylabone’s Rhino Stuff & Chew and the Hol-ee Mol-ee.
It’s best to choose a number of environmental enrichments; that way you can rotate them and give your dog a wide variety of challenges and puzzles to occupy her mind. Pick them up each day to ensure they don’t become too familiar and boring to your dog.
Julie Winkelman is a certified pet dog trainer and a certified dog trainer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.