Mental stimulation

Mental stimulation – Why is it important?

Enrichment and mental stimulation is something you hear a lot about in the dog world these days.

But why should you give your dog mental stimulation.

What is all the fuss about?

The benefits of mental stimulation

Scientific studies have shown that by providing your dog with enrichment and mental stimulation on a daily basis you decrease the risk of them developing problem behaviors and even decrease current problem behaviors in your dog.

Mental stimulation or enrichment tires out your dog in a different way than physical exercise. It also keeps their brain strong which is important both during their development as a puppy, but also to keep their brain sharp during their golden senior years (Read more here about how to keep your senior dog’s brain strong).

Mental stimulation also strengthens the bond between you and your dog. Your dog sees that you are the creator of fun things and that you are helping them, which makes them grow closer to you. Spending time with your dog is also good for you as it creates a higher feeling of happiness. Read more about how happy your dog makes you here.

But what exactly is mental stimulation?

Mental stimulation can be anything stimulating from play sessions, to searching for items or dog training. Anything where your dog have to use his/her brain to figure out a problem.

Dogs are individuals and stimulated and motivated by different things. As a dog owner you will quickly learn what your dog finds motivating and stimulating. Just like humans, dogs need stimuli in order not to grow bored. If a dog is bored he/she will find ways of entertaining themselves which might interfere with your idea of what a fun time is.

Before I started studying animal behavior and learning about dogs’ needs I would be so frustrated with Chester sometimes completely destroying my apartment. Once I came home and was greeted by the happiest dog completely covered in feathers along with the rest of the apartment.

mental stimulation

He had decided to destroy all pillows within range. He had had a blast creating his own feather party, whereas I viewed the remains of my pillows a little different. I know now that it was completely my fault. I was not providing what Chester needed – I was not making sure he was stimulated, so he found ways to do it himself.

Many expect their dogs to be fine being left alone for an entire day without any stimuli of any kind, and then get frustrated with their dogs when they come home to a destroyed house.

One of the first things I always do in my consultations is to make sure that the dog in question gets enough stimuli on a daily basis. Most of the times that solves half the behavior problem. A tired dog is a happy dog right.

Get ideas on enrichment here.

What mental stimulation toys should I choose for my dog?

The dog world is filled with different puzzles and toys to stimulate your dog. You can basically get anything and for many that creates confusion about what to choose.

Dogs, as mentioned above, are foremost individuals. It is therefor important that you find mental stimulation toys that your dog will use and enjoy. That being said, you should also expect a learning curve for your dog if they have never seen an enrichment toy before.

When I first got Belga, she had never seen an activity ball before and just looked up at me completely puzzled by this artifact I had put in front of her, not knowing what to do to get to her food. So down on the floor I went, pushing the ball around, until she finally one day started doing it herself.

Many tell me that they have tried different enrichment toys but their dog is simply not interested. What they have missed is the learning curve that comes with a new toy. They simply haven’t taken the time to introduce the enrichment toy to their dog and shown them how to work it out.

Dogs trust us to teach them about our world and introducing different mentally stimulating toys is part of that learning. I should mention that the key rule with mental stimulation is to make your dog think it is a game. Make it fun and light and don’t be disappointed with your dog if they cannot figure it out right away. Set yourself down on the floor and help them work it out.

Another reason as to why you should mentally stimulate your dog is that it gives them a confidence boost. That is IF they are successful in solving the challenge. This is why both when it comes to enrichment toys and dog training in general you should always make sure that your dog leaves the game with a feeling of success. That way they are more likely to come back to it and try it again (More about happy associations here). If you get angry or disappointed with your dog, he/she will sense it immediately and the stimulation will become a negative and something your dog will avoid.

MUST HAVE enrichment toys

But what should you choose? From my experience the 3 best activity toys to have for your dog is:

Kong enrichment
Mental stimulation - Why is it important? 1
Mental stimulation - Why is it important? 2

These activity toys I have found most dogs to enjoy, but again every dog has specific tastes and likes. Some are happy with the toy as long as they can get treats or food out of it, others are more selective and prefers search games for their food.

Finally, I would like to give you a challenge.

Challenge: Remove your dog’s food bowl for a week and only feed him/her using different mentally stimulating toys and try to observe if you see a change in your dog’s behavior.

If you need help getting started with enrichment ideas for your dog, or you have a problem with your dog then contact me for a consultation.

Don’t forget to download our FREEBIE 24 enrichment ideas send right to your inbox!

Kong toy

Kong toy – 3 super fun ways to use one!

This weeks blog will give you 3 super fun ways to use a Kong toy. A Kong toy can be used to enrich your dog’s daily life and can be made more difficult as your dog learn to figure it out. This will keep your dog engaged in their Kong Toy and give you a well balanced happy dog.

Kong toy

Here are 3 ideas for how to use your Kong Toy:
  1. Put your dog’s kibble meal inside and let your dog roll the Kong around to get the kibble out. This is a great way to get your dog started with their Kong Toy. If you have trouble getting your dog interested with just using their kibble then start out with putting some treats in the Kong Toy and then as your dog has grown an interest mix in some of his/her kibble.
  2. Put your dog’s kibble either soaked in water or with some wet food in the Kong and let your dog lick it out (to make it harder and last longer, freeze the Kong for a couple of hours before giving it to your dog).
  3. Smear peanut butter or wet food on the outer side of the Kong and let your dog spend his /her time licking it off (this will also last longer when frozen first).

If you are interested in more enrichment ideas check out our Youtube channel where we give you over 20 ideas for enrichment for your dog.

Enrichment is a great way to keep your dog from developing problem behaviors and should be given to all dogs on a daily basis. If you are having some problems with your dog don’t hesitate to contact me for a consultation – the faster you get the problem solved the happier both your dog and you will be. Contact me here.

Happy enrichment to you all!

Enrichment

24 super Christmas enrichment ideas to entertain your dog

Spoil your dog this season and give them some daily enrichment. They want to feel it is Christmas too!

The Christmas season is upon us and its time to prep those advent packages for the kids, buy the presents and decorate your home. It is also time to spoil your dog with these 24 Christmas enrichment ideas for your dog.

I have gathered 24 of my favorite dog enrichment ideas below to keep your dog entertained during this busy season. Some you can even make yourself and it won’t cost you anything. In each one you can watch a video with how to make the enrichment. Open a new video each day and give your dog a daily present all the way up until Christmas Eve.

24 dog enrichment ideas

enrichment

  1. Tricks for treats

    Come up with a few tricks and have your dog do them before serving their food. You can start with training the tricks with treats to keep your dog’s motivation up. Once your dog has learned the tricks you can start using their kibble and have them do the tricks before they get their meals.

    Watch how here:

  2. Pick a cup game

    A great mental exercise for dogs that also teaches them a little patience. Get two cups and hide treats or food underneath, spin them around in front of your dog and have your dog chose the cup that holds the food.

    Watch how here:

  3. Doggie snack box

    Make a delicious snack box that will keep your dog busy for a long time. Treasure boxes are the best, filled with different enrichment that makes the doggie brain work while the mouth is filled with tasty treats – a true treasure indeed!

    Watch how to make your own snack box here:

  4. Go search!

    Break up your walk with a little fun food search out in nature. It stimulates your dog’s mind, makes the walk a little more fun as well as tire them out. You can do it wherever you are and whether you have a garden or not. Let’s go search!

  5. The yummy play rope

    In the video below I will show you how to turn a play rope into a delicious treat that will keep your dog busy and tire them out. Remember always to start easy and then as your dog masters the challenge you can make it harder. That way the dog is always successful and get a boost of confidence.

  6. Give your dog a job!

    Dogs love to work and help you out. It makes them feel good and boosts their self confidence in general to have a job they can do. So why not let them! Find out what your dog likes – be it pulling, carrying or getting you your newspaper every morning and let them do it!

  7. Play with your dog

    Playing with your dog does not only strengthen the bond between you, it also helps your dogs brain stay sharp, and then it is fun!

  8. The eggtray game.

Don’t know what to do with those old eggtrays? Use them as an enrichment toy for your dog. You can make them however difficult you want. Turn the eggtray upside down and fill the holes with treats or kibble, or open it and fill it on the inside and then close the lid.

9. Try a dog Spinny

The dog Spinny is a dog puzzle game that makes your dog work for their food. You can get many different dog puzzles with different difficulty. Easy to use and fun for your dog.

Watch the video to see how we use ours:

10. Fun with activity balls

You probably already have an activity ball for your dog. If not, then I would say that that is definitely a must have in your doggie kit. Fill your dog’s treats or kibble in the bowl and let them roll it around to get the food out. If you are introducing a new enrichment toy it is always good to start with high value treats. That way you make the toy interesting and worth figuring out.

11. Bottle enrichment

Do you have some old soda bottles lying around? Why not let your dog work out how to get his/her kibble out of the bottle and reuse it? For this enrichment I would definitely recommend using hard plastic soda bottles as dogs can bite through the soft plastic and cut themselves.

12. Tug and roll

Use a blanket or a duvet and spread your dog’s kibble or treats out on top. Then roll the blanket/duvet from one end to the other and let your dog unroll it to get to the

13. Make a Kong

A Kong toy is another essential you must have for your dog. You can get them in different sizes and durability. Read this blog if you want to know how to best start with your Kong toy, setting your dog up for success.

14. Fun with toilet paper rolls

Save your old toilet paper rolls and use them for dog enrichment. Again the difficulty can be varied. Start with just filling a few treats in the roll and give it to your dog. As your dog has mastered that, then close one end and finally to make it harder close both ends. Your dog will have lots of fun with this. Make sure to observe your dog when you give them these, as with any enrichment toy, to make sure he/she doesn’t eat the cardboard.

15. Hide and Seek

You can hide your dog’s food or treats around the house, in their basket or in your garden. If your dog is trying this game for the first time, start with some easy hiding places and then increase the difficulty as your dog gets better and better at finding the hiding places.

16. The snuffle mat

Make your own snuffle mat or buy one as a christmas present for your dog. They are fun and easy. Just pour kibble over it, give it a little shake to make to hide the kibble and let your dog sniff his/her way to the food.

17. Cups on a string

This fun and easy homemade enrichment will challenge your dog. Watch the video to see how to make your own.

18. The baking tray game

If you have a baking tray or a muffin tin, then fill up the holes with your dog’s kibble and cover it with toys that they have to move in order to get to their food. This can also be done with some balls in their regular bowl.

19. Fun with old paper

If you have some old paper that you are taking to the paper recycle then why not give it one more use. Scrunch it up in a box, pour the kibble in and let your dog roam through it to find the food. A free and fun enrichment game for your dog.

20. Fun with old socks

Have a pair of socks that you have to throw out anyway? Tie them up and pour your dog’s kibble inside and let your dog work it out. It is a great use final purpose for a sock 😉

21. The box game

Have some old boxes lying around, or maybe you just bought some new shoes for that christmas party? Why not use the box to enrich your dog? Pour in the kibble and close it and let your dog work out how to free his/her food.

22. The bucket search

Fill the bucket up with kitchen paper and toilet paper rolls and then pour the kibble over. Your dog now has to lift up the rolls to get to the food.

23. The Buster activity mat

This might be the perfect christmas present for your dog. The Buster activity mat is great fun and you can keep adding new things on it so your dog stays challenged. We are definitely wishing for new things this christmas.

24. Give your dog a massage

You can finally take a breath and sit down and enjoy christmas Eve with your family and dog. Give your dog a good massage to release all the christmas stress. It will relax you both 😉

Happy holidays to you all <3