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Chapter 8. Challenge your dog’s mind – teach him new tricks

Challenge your dog’s mind – teach him new tricks

Dogs are very intelligent animals and they do very well in environments where they have plenty to do. City dogs are often required to spend substantial periods of time inactive.
But most dogs if given a choice want to be active. In fact, some dogs don’t enjoy the city life at all and will drive their owners crazy – racing around the house, tearing the pillows, chewing on shoes or worse. Dog’s have a lot of energy!

Not too long ago, most dogs lived in the country and spent their days exploring the grounds, following the tractor, rounding up the livestock, playing with the kids, and napping under the shade of an oak tree.

However, the average city dog experiences a very different reality – after a night’s sleep, they get a brief morning walk around the block to eliminate, followed by breakfast served in a bowl. The dog then snoozes while the owner prepares for his day, takes a long nap on the bed until the dog walker comes at mid-day for a 30 minute leashed walk in the park, followed by an afternoon nap until the owner comes home. The lucky dog will spend another 30 minutes walking with the owner about the neighborhood, maybe share a quick game of fetch in the hallway, have dinner in a bowl, a cuddle on the sofa watching television with the owner before bed. Then the same boring routine starts again the next morning.

Most breeds of dogs were developed to perform specific jobs for people, such as guarding, herding, or hunting; work that demands physical stamina and mental concentration. When we choose to open our home to a dog, it becomes our responsibility to meet the behavioral needs of the dog by providing appropriate outlets for his physical and mental energy.

They say that if people don’t use their brains, cells begin to deteriorate. Dogs love to solve problems, especially ones that involve food. Food toys are a great way to enrich your dog’s world. All animals enjoy spending time and effort obtaining food. It has been shown that if given a choice between free food and food that requires work, such as searching or manipulating an object, animals prefer to work for their food.

So rather than give your dog his food in a bowl, for free, give him a puzzle to solve. Offer the dog his dinner in a Kong, a Goodie Ship, or a Buster Cube. Hide small containers of food around the house and release him to go find them. Take his bowl of food and toss the kibble into the backyard so he has to sniff around in the grass to find the small pieces of kibble.

Training is another excellent way to stimulate a dog’s brain. In general dogs love to learn and even old dogs can learn new tricks. You can practice basic obedience manners, teach tricks, or set up a few obstacles in your backyard so your dog can demonstrate his agility. Short sessions of 5-10 minutes once or twice a day is best. Keep it light and fun for the dog (and for you!) by using food, play, and plenty of praise and enthusiasm.

If you want more formalized stimulation, try agility or flyball training. The sport of agility involves teaching the dog to jump, climb, and weave through various obstacles. Most dogs love to use their bodies and they love to "play" with their owners, so agility is especially popular among dogs. A well-trained agility dog responds to various commands, including turning right, left, going ahead, flipping behind, sit, down and stay.

In addition to obedience, agility, and flyball, there are unlimited activities for owners and their dogs, such as tracking, search and rescue, pet therapy, clicker training, freestyle, and so on.

Keep in mind even dogs with orthopedic problems need managed exercise to keep the muscles strong so they can support weak bones and joints. Swimming is great exercise for any dog but is especially beneficial for those with hip dysplasia. A tired dog is a good dog! Dogs need physical exercise that challenges their minds.

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