Your Dog's Mental Health - 5 Ways to Exercise A Canine's Mind from Home
You have been cooped up in the house with your dog for a month and he is bouncing off the walls. You have done everything you can to make sure he is getting enough exercise, but have you done enough to exercise his mind?
“Dogs benefit from new learning experiences and challenges, and will look good, feel good, and live longer as a result” says Sharon Elber – Professional Dog Trainer at Wileypup.
Psychology Today reports that up to 25% of canines display signs of depression. Turns out that our canine companions are intelligent and social animals that need to exercise their minds just as much as their bodies.
If your dog is engaging in anxious, nervous, or even destructive behaviors, try these 5 ways to be sure they are getting the mental workout they need to stay balanced and happy during COVID 19 quarantine:
1. Train a New Trick
One of the best ways to get your dog thinking without leaving the house is to used positive reinforcement based training to teach your pooch some new tricks. Now that you have some time on your hands, it is a great time to perfect rewards-based training techniques, such as clicker training, to get your dog thinking and build a bond based on trust and joy.
Here are a few tips to make training your dog a new trick fun and rewarding for you both:
• Keep sessions positive by ignoring the wrong behavior and rewarding the right behavior with food rewards and praise.
• Use a marker sound or word to let your dog know exactly when they are doing it right, always followed by a reward.
• Set your dog up for success. Break the trick into small parts and reward any behavior that gets closer to your ultimate trick. Rewarding success often is what will keep your dog motivated to learn more!
2. Doggy Puzzle Toys
Many people find themselves working from home for the first time. While you may be getting some extra time with your dog, you may also need a way to keep your dog occupied while you get some work done.
One of the best solutions to this problem is to invest in some dog puzzle toys. These innovated dog toys are the next generation of dog toys – they use positive reinforcement training to get your dog thinking through a series of puzzles to earn their rewards.
Dog puzzle toys are a great hands-off option to keep your dog from going stir crazy due to boredom during quarantine. If you are worried about your overweight dog putting on some pounds, simply use a portion of their regular kibble rations to get them working a little harder for their din-din.
3. Find It!
Playing games with your dog has benefits for both you and your canine companion. It helps you to access the joy and stress relieving benefits of time spent with dogs. One of the best games to play is “Find it!” which is easy to train and will provide hours of fun for your dog.
Hiding a favorite toy or treat can be a great way to get your dog using their head and sniffer. Start by making this game really easy, even letting your dog see you hide their reward. Then, increase the difficulty for more of a challenge once they “get it.”
4. Impulse Control
Training your dog to learn that patience can have its own rewards is another way to stimulate their mind and build focus. Training tricks such as stay, wait, leave it, and holding a down are great behaviors to have on tap and they also keep your dog’s mental gears engaged.
The trick to teaching any of the delayed reward behaviors is to start by rewarding even the smallest success, even as little as a second or two. Don’t expect your dog to “stay” for 5 minutes right off the bat. Instead, reward a few seconds of a stay 5-10 times before raising the bar.
If your dog is failing a lot to meet your criteria, then it is your job to lower the criteria to set them up for success. Over time you will keep your dog’s attention when they are rewarded often for success rather than failing often because you set the bar too high.
5. Dog Obstacle Course
If you happen to have kids in your household, here is a dog physical and mental exercise that will help everyone stave off the boredom of quarantine. Use household items such as sheets, buckets, broomsticks, pillows, doormats and even furniture to make a homemade doggy agility course in the house or back yard.
Teach each of the obstacles to your dog using positive reinforcement. Once they have mastered each of the individual obstacles, line them up to create an agility course of your own. Keep the tone positive and exciting, rewarding often, to keep your dog engaged in the process while activating his mind and body.
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