By Sandy Modell
Alexandria, VA – Does your dog return from a long walk more ramped up than he left? Does it sometimes feel as if no amount of exercise will satisfy your canine Energizer Bunny™?
The fact is that many dogs simply want to run full tilt as soon as they leave the house. One way to bring his arousal level down is to let your dog sniff at points along the walk. Smell is a dog’s strongest sense and sniffing (checking his “pee-mail”) provides mental stimulation while letting him gather information about neighborhood doings.
Did another dog pass by earlier? Was it male or female? What mood was the dog in? All this information just from a few sniffs? Yes, a dog’s sense of smell is amazingly powerful—up to 100,000 times better than that of humans. So powerful that some breeds can detect the presence of half a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
When you and your dog return from a walk, don’t wait for him to expel pent-up energy with zoomies up and down the halls or bouncing off the furniture. Scientists tell us that physical activity is critical to your dog’s health but dogs both need and love to exercise their brains as well. Mental stimulation is often called “enrichment.”
In my December 2019 Training Time article, “Cold Weather Boredom Busters,” I outlined several games and toys you can use to engage your dog’s mind. Many fun and challenging toys and puzzles can be found in stores and online. But you can make your own, too. Some require little more than a handful of treats.
1. The Rolled Towel Game – Lay a hand towel flat, spread a row of treats or kibble down the center, roll it up leaving a treat or two exposed, then put the towel on the floor with the rolled edge down. Encourage your dog to investigate the exposed treats and soon he will be unrolling the towel with his nose to get to the rest.
2. The Bunched Towel Game – Toss some treats on the floor and cover them with a scrunched-up towel. Your dog will smell the treats and maneuver the towel to get to them.
3. Search Games –Put a few treats down in front of your dog, then release him to get them. Repeat, placing the treats farther away. Then hide them behind chairs, tables or bookcases. I guarantee that this will be your dog’s favorite. You can play search games outside in the yard or at a park, too.
4. Scent Discrimination Games – Put a treat in one hand, close your fist, and let your dog sniff it. Open your fist and let him have it. Now put a treat in one fist, place both hand behind your back, then show them to your dog who will sniff out the correct hand to get the treat.
5. The Shell Game – Hid a treat under a plastic cup and tell your dog to get the treat. Once they figure it out, add a second (treatless) cup and then a third. Move the cups around. Let them use their olfactory abilities and their brains to find the hidden treat.
6. Ball Pit – Fill a kiddie pool with plastic balls or water bottles. Show them that you’re tossing treats into the pool. Let them get comfortable getting into the pool, then wade around to find the treats. This builds confidence, especially for dogs with sound sensitivity.
These are just a few of the many super fun DIY enrichment games and toys that will work your dog’s mind, bring out their natural scent abilities, and tire your dog out. Remember, a tired dog is a good dog!
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder and CEO of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports and canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes starting soon! Visit www.wholistichound.com to enroll in our programs, and like us on Facebook.com/wholistichound.