Brain Games for Your Dog

By Jennifer Lueck
Like it or not, winter is on its way. For many of us in Southeastern Wisconsin, winter means we’re going to hibernate and our dogs aren’t going to get the exercise they got in the  summer. As we all know, a dog with pent up energy will find a way to use it, but rarely in a way we like. Don’t fret! Physical exercise is not the only way to use up your dog’s energy. Have you ever gone to an all-day seminar and come home exhausted? That’s because your brain is working extra hard and guzzling up energy. You probably won’t find many seminars for your dog to attend, but there are many ways you can stimulate his brain to burn up some energy.
Here are a few ideas to keep your dog out of trouble this winter:
  • Play games like hide and seek, fetch and tug of war (see Amy’s“Boredom Busters” article in the January 2009 Newsletter for more details on these games).
  • Trick training: a half an hour of learning a new behavior can have almost the same effect asa one-hour walk! Combine 15 minutes of training with 15 minutes of fetch or
    tug and you will be well on your way to having a tired pooch!
  • Treat/food dispensers: instead of feeding your dog his dinner in a bowl, challenge his natural scavenging skills by feeding him from a food dispensing toy such as a Buster Cube, Tricky Treat Ball or Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble. Gabe and Casey, eat a home-prepared diet, but they get kibble once a week just so they can chase down their food in their Buster Cubes.
  • Chew toys: working on a stuffed chew toy or a meaty bone can keep some dogs busy for hours. As I write this, Gabe is busy chewing on a beef knuckle bone. He’s been completely engrossed in it for the past two hours!
  • Nina Ottosson’s Interactive Dog Toys: these toys were designed to challenge a dog’s mind by concealing treats (or kibble!) beneath objects they have to push, pull, spin or lift. There are several toys available, with varying degrees of difficulty. Gabe is a natural problem solver, so he took to the interactive toys right away. Casey, however, is sensitive to noise and things that move unexpectedly, so she was a little apprehensive at first. She actually spent the first few sessions just barking at the toys in frustration. I finally put liver treats in the compartments instead of kibble to motivate her to figure out how they work. She’s no longer afraid of the toys and works with serious determination to get every single treat.

Mental exercise isn’t a replacement for physical exercise, but it might help take some of the edge off this winter when the weather turns nasty and you can’t get out for a walk in our winter wonderland.

For the Love of a Dog and The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell
The Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson
Treat and food dispensing toys are available at many pet stores, as well as on-line. Loving Paws is now selling Nina Ottosson’s
Interactive Dog Toys at incredible prices. Please see the Our Products page on our new web site for pricing and details.