Have you ever heard that dogs need jobs? It’s true. After all, a lot of breeds were initially “working” dogs, bred to herd or protect or pull or guard or hunt. Most of them are no longer given those tasks to perform, at least not in our part of the world, but they still require mental and physical exercise in order to be well adjusted.
If you don’t stimulate Rex’s brain, he’ll be more likely to make up his own jobs, and chances are you won’t appreciate his choices. Stealing the remote, jumping up on counters, demanding attention, barking at neighbors, pulling on leash, and bolting down the street are not the tasks we want our dogs working at.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to keep your pup’s brain in shape – toys, for instance. Treat-dispensing ones – such as Buster Cubes, Kongs, and Leo Canine Genius toys – all require dogs to use their brains. They also address dogs’ need to chew and can save a lot of wear and tear on the furniture. (Of course, don’t give Rex his full ration of food in a bowl if he is getting lots of kibble out of his toys.)
Obedience training is also great mental exercise for dogs. Learning to sit, lie down, stay, walk nicely, and come when called puts their brains to the test. Making Rex practice or “work” for attention or affection can keep those skills finely tuned. When you begin training, minimize distractions for best results, but add distractions as he becomes more proficient and responsive. Then really challenge him. When you take him to dog parks, make him perform all of his commands while other dogs are running around nearby. The kind of focus this requires is very good for your dog’s brain.
“Hide and Seek” or “Find the Treat” are other great ways to stimulate Rex’s brain. They give him a job to perform that uses his natural olfactory abilities. It’s a fun process to watch. And how about having the kids play along? What a wonderful way to have fun as a family. (Scent hounds like Bloodhounds and Beagles will particularly appreciate this job.)
Agility, flyball, canine disc, tracking, obedience, rally, and other competitions are all great “jobs” for dogs, providing plenty of mental and physical exercise. And how about training Rex to pass the Good Citizen Canine test? Doing therapy work is another great mental stimulation, and allows dogs to share their love of people with folks who, for a variety of reasons, don’t have their own pets.
Of course, not every dog is good at every thing. Just as we humans naturally excel at particular things, so do our canine companions. What are your dog’s natural talents and how can you utilize them to stimulate his brain?
Dogs are life-long learners. They like being taught new commands or tricks. If you start with something they already know, and then modify or add to it, the process can really be fun for everyone. For example if Rex knows how to find his favorite toy, teach him to find it and then “bring” it to you, and finally to “give” it to you. Working together on this kind of training is a great way to enhance your relationship with your pup.
Dogs are highly intelligent, but we have to help them develop and grow. And remember: just running around the dog park does not challenge Rex’s brain.
Discover things that utilize his natural abilities and make the training fun. The rewards will be well worth your time and effort.
Gail Chadbourne lives in Castro Valley. She is one owner in a network of over 250 Bark Buster franchises in the U.S. She is also the proud owner of two rescue dogs, Angel and Trey. You can find her bio at: www.barkbusters.com/page.cfm/ID/50/id_directory/1354. To contact her, call Bark Busters Home Dog Training at 510-228-8973.