We all have an idea on how important physical exercise is for the dog we’ve brought into our home and family. What we may not have put much consideration into is the importance of both mental and physical exercise during those long winter months when so much time is spent indoors!
As you know, some breeds don’t mind playing in the snow for extended periods. They are getting the exercise they need to be well-rested and mentally alert. But many get chilled easily and lose interest in the outdoors on a cold winter day. And outside of missing out on the physical exercise they normally get in the warmer months, they also are missing out on the mental exercise that benefits their well-being. Think about it like this: if all we did as humans was go through the same motions and action every day, without thinking or being challenged and stimulated, how far would that get us? We would get bored, and possibly get ourselves into trouble! Sound like a familiar situation at home?
What does mental exercise mean?
Simply put, mental exercise is making your dog think. In their natural habitat, dogs have to constantly be thinking and problem solving for survival. Many of their natural instincts include what we consider to be nuisance behaviors such as digging, pacing, barking, chasing, biting, and being destructive. Being able to filter these instincts into energy level-appropriate games will keep your dog physically and mentally healthy.
How much is enough?
“But wait, my dog gets plenty of exercise, he runs around the yard all day.” While that may be true, ask yourself if running laps around your house is adequate physical exercise for you. Dogs need to get out and explore, to get the proper physical and mental stimulation they need. Taking walks in public places, going to the park, and taking car rides are all ways your dog can get some of the stimulation he needs.
My dog “sits” before he eats, is that adequate mental exercise?
That’s a great start! Asking your dog to perform tasks for reward in your day-to-day life is a great way to make your dog think. We call it “train as you live.” Rather than allowing your dog to act impulsively on everything he does, make him think before he acts. This is not an easy task for most pet owners, especially those with dogs that are high energy or have a habit of doing things their own way. Asking your dog to do simple things such as sit before he gets what he wants will help your dog’s mental health long-term. Ask him to sit before going through doorways, going in and out of his kennel, getting a pet, getting on the furniture, and getting in the car. This will teach him to look to you for permission rather than acting impulsively on what he wants to do. And remember, reward does not always equal treat, either. Reward is giving the dog something they value. In this circumstance, the reward would be getting that pet or cuddle, going through the door, or hopping on the couch.
Other types of mental exercise would be stationary games for dogs to play. There are hundreds of YouTube videos that show you different games you can make at home to occupy your dog mentally when you’re busy or away. For example, putting a muffin tray in a box or putting kibble in the pan and then putting tennis balls over the holes. This makes the dog figure out how to move the tennis balls to get the food underneath. That’s a beginner game to play, and once your dog figures that game out, there are tons of other games you can create for your dog to get the brain boost he needs!
What are some ways I can do physical and mental exercises with my dog?
Some of the most effective methods of properly stimulating your dog are activities that combine physical and mental exercise. Anything that will make him think and physically move at the same time. A great toy you can make at home is called a flirt pole. Take a narrow PVC pipe and loop a piece of rope through it. Tie a toy to the end of the rope and, voila, a “giant cat toy” for dogs! What a fun way to use some of your pet’s natural instincts to hunt while exhausting him physically and mentally. Another great exercise is teaching your dog how to walk on the treadmill. It takes a lot of thinking to keep themselves on the moving belt and it is a great way for them to walk or run for miles without ever leaving your living room!
A physically and mentally healthy dog is a happy dog. Keep up the good work with your dog year-round and let us know if you need more ideas for physical and mental exercise! If you’re interested in learning more about upcoming training sessions available at The Pet Beastro, give us a call at 248-548-3448 and we’ll let you know the scoop!