Due to our busy lives, our pets sometimes end up spending a lot of time alone, which is totally dullsville. But there are easy ways to enrich their daily routines, even if you can't be home with them. Below are just a few examples.
One thing I like to do is fill food puzzles with portions of my dogs' regular meals. These toys are specifically designed to hold food, which then dispenses morsels as the dog interacts with it. If you think about it, why would you feed full meals out of a bowl? For many dogs, that lasts all of 5 seconds and then there's no other meal in sight for another eight hours!
The are dozens of options for food puzzles (also referred to as interactive toys at some sites), from very simple to diabolically challenging. Some are designed for dry food only, while others can be stuffed with moist/soft foods. The dog must lick at, paw, or nudge the toy with his nose in order to get bits of food to fall out.
If your dog is new to food puzzles or is delicate about physically interacting with objects, choose something that's easy to empty so success is quick. As your dog becomes skilled at emptying the food puzzles, you can upgrade to more challenging toys.
In this video clip, my clever little pinscher uses her paw to extract food from the center of a bone, where her tongue can't reach.
Some other fun tips:
Hide special treats and toys around the house when the dog can't spy on you, and then let him use his fabulous nose to find these treasures while you're away.
Does your dog enjoy digging? Create a sand-filled digging pit in a corner of your yard, then bury treats or favorite toys there for your dog to find.
If your dog likes water and the weather is warm, fill a kiddie pool and then toss in some treats and toys so your dog can bob for the goodies.
Take leisurely walks where your dog has plenty of opportunity to sniff and explore, which provides lots of mental stimulation and pleasure.
Invest in a flirt pole. This is the #1 toy I recommend to my clients. Many dogs are wildly excited to engage in this game, and are quickly tired out with minimal effort on the person's part. And best of all, this fun game requires your participation, so it's a great relationship-building activity.
Schedule playdates if your dog loves to interact with other friendly dogs.
Enrichment is an important part of daily life for zoo animals, to help keep them happy, healthy, active and mentally stimulated. Let's do the same for our own critters!
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, puppy matchmaking services, and pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120
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