Certain breeds of dogs (particularly sight hounds, herding breeds and retrievers) love to chase moving objects as this fulfills their working instincts. However, this working drive can have its disadvantages in that the dog becomes so hooked on the excitement and adrenaline that is produced from these games that its body does not recognise when it is tired and gets over stressed. As with all things that are enjoyable -
"a little of what you fancy does you good, but too much can do you harm"
I like to use the analogy of humans who become addicted to smoking - if they don't get their next "fix" of nicotine then they begin to have cravings. This is true with dogs who become addicted to too much stimulation and excitement, they get withdrawal symptoms and make their own "entertainment" to get their next rush of adrenaline....
Therefore, here are some other examples of Mind Games that can be used to mentally stimulate and fulfill a dog's working instincts without raising a dog's long-term stress levels.
Remember do not break your dog's confidence - start off with an easy "Find It" game (such as "Scatter Find It") when teaching him these Mind Games, then gradually increase the difficulty over the weeks, months and years as the dog rises to the challenge and enjoys a more demanding and mentally stretching exercise.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD....!
- SCATTER FIND IT
- Dogs love to scavenge because they are using their senses to find high value rewards - food.
- Take a hand full of your dog's daily ration of food and scatter it either out on the garden, or a location where you walk your dog. Please be careful where you choose to drop the food, as it could be contaminated by chemical sprays or fertilizers on the ground, or the pollutants from nearby traffic, and these toxins can be absorbed into the dog's body when it digests the food.
- Allow your dog to watch you dropping the food the first time so that it understands what you are doing. Very soon your dog will be able to recognise the visual triggers to play this game and you will be able to leave your dog in the car or house while you scatter the food. They will enjoy the challenge of working harder without the "clue" of watching where you dropped the treats and dog food and will make sure that every single bit is found and eaten up!
- I recommend taking a book to read, or a radio to listen to while your dog is busy finding all the treats on the grass. Do not be tempted to "help" the dog by pointing out where a stray treat has gone. Its your dog's game, let him enjoy it at his own pace!
- It is quite normal for a a dog to search the area for the very last morsel of food for over 15 to 20 minutes. All this mental exercise is very tiring and your dog will sleep like a baby for a long time once it has a chance to rest when it gets home. Far healthier than an a long walk or a frantic session chasing after a toy, time and time again.
WAIT ..... THEN RETRIEVE
Rather than chasing after a moving object, here are a variety of different methods to hide the toy (or retrieve article) so that your dog has to use its sense of smell to find them.
Be aware of which direction the wind is blowing before you start playing a "Find It" game - see "What effects a dogs ability to scent?" for further information.
- DROP & FIND IT
- Teach your dog to retrieve an article (eg a glove, a key ring with a leather fob, a handkerchief, etc) and train it to put the article in your hand (see Hand Starters for a variety of different methods on how to do this).
- Once it is able to do this, hide the article inside your clothing when you go for a walk.
- When your dog is not looking drop the article on the ground and walk a little further before calling the dog to you and asking it to run back and find the article for you.
- Reward and praise the dog when it brings the article back to you. Remember not to praise the dog or distract it while it is looking - all this must be kept until the end of the exercise when dog has actually brought the article back to you and placed it in your hand.
- Another option is to leave items behind when you go for a walk and then send the dog to find them on your next walk there. Use items that you will not mind losing, just in case your dog is unable to find them (or another dog finds them first before you begin your walk!).
- SPLASH & FIND IT
- Some dogs really enjoy retrieving from the water (eg Labradors, the Retriever breeds, Newfoundlands, Poodles, Portuguese Water Dog) and so their favourite Find It game would be retrieving articles either floating on the water or under the water. These can include empty plastic bottles, floating toys (including those made of sponge), ropes tied to buoys, and gundog floating "dummies".
-Try not to encourage the dog to jump into the water straight away. The dog needs to calmly assess the situation and find out whether it can safely jump in, or walk, into the water.
- NIGHT-TIME FIND IT
- Take your dog for a walk when it is dark (so that it can't see where you are throwing the object!).
- Hold your dog's collar or harness and throw the article some distance from you - preferably into the wind to begin with so that your dog can easily track it upwind and find it. Once again, it may be better to use an article that you don't mind losing if the game is not a success!
- Wait a few seconds and then allow the dog to go off and find the article.
- Do not speak to your dog once it is concentrating and searching, you may distract and frustrate it just at the moment when it was picking up the scent.
- Do not move from the spot where you threw the article. Dogs use immovable objects to remember and assess directions and this helps them with their own spatial awareness and sense of direction.
- Once the dog has found the article it will probably bring it back for its reward. Praise your dog and then perhaps throw a toy or the article for the dog to chase after (just the one throw mind!). This is just enough excitement for the dog to want to play the game again.
- Three goes is usually more than enough for most dogs.
- TRACK & FIND IT
- A harder version than the above is to leave your dog in the car and hide the article or toy so that your dog has no idea where to look.
- I recommend that you do not throw it to start with, so that you leave your track for the dog to follow and find the object more easily.
- As the dog's confidence improves you may like to try throwing the article while the dog is not around so that there are no telltale tracks for the dog to follow in order to find the article.
- Take the dog out of the car and bring him down wind from the article (eg. about 5 paces away to start with) and encourage him to sniff the ground and find the article.
- Praise and reward him when he has found it, as described above.
- TRASH & FIND IT
- Why not encourage and train your dog to find and pick up litter when out on walks - particularly plastic bottles which so many dogs love as they make such a wonderful noise when squashed in the dog's teeth! Very environmentally friendly!
- Take a plastic carrier bag with you and fill it up with all the litter that your dog brings to you in exchange for a reward.
- WARNING! Be careful what you train your dog to pick up. Sharp objects, or small items (such as bottle tops) that could be swallowed, should not be used.
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