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Enrichment: The Real Recipe For a Tired Dog

“A tired dog is a good dog”.  We’ve all heard the saying.  A better phrase would be “a tired dog is a well-behaved dog.”  For the most part this is true. What many people are now learning is that enticing them with challenges and activities that work their brain rather than cutting them loose at a park, is a much quicker route to that tired, well-behaved, calm dog we all long for. At Dog Tired we use “dog enrichment” along with the traditional running and chasing that takes place in group play at our doggie daycare. Most people still believe the best way to tire out a dog is through physical exercise. We tend to forget how intelligent these animals are. They need to exercise their brain and use their body to get true mental stimulation. We use activities that require strong focus and attention from dogs to put that intelligent brain to use. Believe it or not these activities will tire your dog much faster than running after a ball in a half hour game of fetch. Mental stimulation enriches a dog’s life by presenting them with something meaningful and challenging to do. And since these activities alleviate boredom they decrease the likelihood of the dog developing behavioral issues such as excessive barking or chewing. There are tons of activities that could be used to make a dog problem solve or “brain games”. Here are a couple simple and easy games that can get you started down that path to a calm, happy state of mind.

When it comes to canine enrichment it doesn’t get any easier than using a frozen stuffed Kong. Easy to prepare, and they’ll keep your dog enticed long enough for a relaxing break for yourself.. Giving your dog a frozen treat may seem overly simple, but don’t underestimate the amount of effort he will put forth to finish it. Doing this is mentally stimulating, and keeps your dog engaged. It’s as simple as filling it up with treats, yogurt, or peanut butter, in the evening and letting it freeze overnight. The next day you’ve got an interactive toy that will keep your dog busy for at least 20 minutes.

Another wonderful activity is a “nose work” game. Nose work is very reliable for keeping your dog mentally stimulated, while using their enhanced sniffing abilities. A simple game to start would be the “which hand” game. With a couple treats, have your dog sit in front of you, while noticing that you have treats in your hand. Let him watch as you place one treat in one hand behind your back. Extend both of your hands out with closed fists and say “which hand.” If your dog gets it right away and points his nose at the correct hand, let him have the treat. If he chooses the wrong hand, open it and show him the empty hand and ask “which hand” again. You will see a clear “nose point” to the hand. At first your dog may be relying on visual cues, but after a few rounds he’ll start figuring out that he can easily smell it in your hand. When he’s mastered that you can move on to a more complicated nose work game such as “go find it”. Get some smelly treats and have him sit in the stay position while you go off and hide the treats around the house. If you can’t get him to remain in the “stay” position, use a gate or have him in another room while you do the hiding. When he comes out make a big deal about the game to get him exited and associate finding those first treats with this fun game. Just say “go find it” or “find the treats”. Keep it fun and encouraging for your dog by praising him when he finds a treat. It won’t be long before he knows exactly what “go find it” means.

If you’re giving your dog plenty of physical exercise but they’re still ‘amped up’ acting like a lunatic, try using these mentally stimulating activities. Soon you will notice, rather than bugging you every 20 minutes for more attention, he’ll start to settle down for an hour or two at a time. Finding the right balance of physical and mental exercise for your dog will not only enrich his life, but yours as well.

by Jason Aft

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