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Think Outside the Kong

23/08/2018 - Enrichment and Activities


I have to admit it, I hate the gym. Going to the gym every day would be my worst nightmare. I’d much prefer to be curled up on the couch with a good book or putting my problem solving skills to the test. This is why I probably get how important mental stimulation is to dogs.

Just like us, dogs are individuals. Some are gym junkies, they love nothing more than their daily romp in the park. But what about the dogs like me? They may not mind the park if it is their only option, they may even seem to enjoy it, but would they prefer to be doing something else? A good sniffing adventure or puzzling out some tricky food enrichment toy for example?

It is also about balance. Most people like a balance of physical and mental stimulation. Even I enjoy a small amount of that physical stuff! So do our dogs. What kind of mix do you think your dog would enjoy? Are you providing the right balance?

And what do they like to do? What mental stimulation can you provide for your dog? We need to think outside the Kong! Whilst Kongs are great, there is a squillion other things we can do.

Below are some ideas, but you are really only limited by your imagination. Try to mix it up too – doing the same activity day after day lowers its value. When presenting a new challenge or food toy to your dog, start easy. Let them see you scatter the food, have the food in a ball easily drop out etc. Then, slowly increase difficulty.

A quick note – some people get worried their dog will put weight on, however, I recommend using most or all of your dog’s daily food through enrichment or training. Research has shown that dogs prefer to work for their food. Throw away the food bowl!

Scent games: Play lots of sniffing and treasure hunt games. These are calming and relaxing – remember that 10 minutes of sniffing games is worth 50 minutes of exercise. So, if you’ve had a bad day you can do sniffing games and enrichment instead of a walk if need be (obviously a short toilet walk might be required!). Two easy scent games are food scatters and toy hides.

Food Scatters: Put simply – scatter your dog’s food around the house and/or garden. Make it easy at first, have them watch you do it, then slowly increase difficulty. Remember that foraging for food can help develop the frontal cortex of the brain – the part responsible for good decision making – so this is a great, easy exercise.

Two words of caution: be wary of food going under furniture (and the required doggy renovations to then remove it) and don’t use food that could potentially spoil if not hunted out by your dog.

Toy hide: You can even teach them to find toys. Get them excited about a toy, then let them see you go hide it somewhere easy – say “go find” they get it and you play. Then you slowly make it harder. You could even choose two toys for them to play with each day.

Stocking hunt: Pop some smelly treat like cheese or sausage in an old stocking, tie the end, then drag it on the ground making a scent track (then leave some treats at the end). Release your dog and watch them follow their nose!

Recycling Art: I use my recycling box to make fun and free food puzzles for my dogs. A few treats in a box, maybe some scrunched up paper with a treat in it inside a box, a few treats in an empty milk carton, the list is endless. You can make them very tricky – box within a box within a box! Even hide them around the garden for them to find.

IMPORTANT:  make sure they are safe for your dog to use. Some dogs will not only eat the treats but also the container – so supervise your dog at first and see what they do. For example, my dogs are fine with cardboard of any kind but plastic containers are not safe.

Snuffle Mats – If you have never heard of a snuffle mat or ball – get googling! They are an awesome investment that will keep dogs entertained for hours.  You can also take them with you in the car, café or out visiting as a way to keep your dog entertained and calm. You can make them yourself or buy one – if purchasing I recommend online from Sniff n Snuff (www.sniffnsnuff.com.au) or in person from Morley VetCentre. Simply pop the treats in the folds of the material. My beagle will spend hours chasing his snuffle ball around the house.

Recycling Box Art:  boxes, bottles, milk cartons, anything safe (always supervise a few times before leaving them alone). I love to make some box within box challenges. You can even hide them around the garden for them to find. This means they have to hunt them out, “kill” them, puzzle out how to get the treats out and consume their prey! Very good for all their doggy needs.

Activity toys: There is a myriad of food puzzles and toys available for purchase at most pet retail outlets. Find what suits your dog and budget. Whilst this blog is entitled “Think outside the Kong”, I thoroughly recommend Kong products and have a large array for my own dogs. I also love Starmack green treat balls and pickles. My dogs have a fresh banana in an activity toy every morning and I even freeze vegetables in them in summer as a lovely icey treat.

Digging: If your dog enjoys digging, you can get a clamshell paddling pool and fill with clean sand – then hide their toys in there etc so they can dig, dig, dig!

Towel hide: If you have any old teatowels or towels, it is really fun to roll up some treats in a towel. Place a couple of treats at one end, fold it over, and add another, fold it over etc etc.

Shaping Games: If you haven't tried shaping games, get your friendly force free trainer to teach you how. These are great for mentally stimulating the smart dog. After scent games, this would be my labrador's favourite activity!

Organised Activities: Find the right activity for YOUR dog. There are so many fun activities you can enjoy together – agility, lure coursing, scent detection, tracking, obedience, doggy yoga, herding games, doggy gym, the list these days is growing. Don’t forget – you can even try out scent detection, doggy gym or herding games at my private sessions – check out https://www.thedoggylady.com.au/private-classes/ for more details. And don’t forget Sniffer Dog School https://www.thedoggylady.com.au/sniffer-dogs/

Try different activities to find what suits your dog. Remember to always check safety and supervise at first. Think outside the Kong!

Fiona Cowie IMDT
Qualifed Dog Trainer
The Doggy Lady
Tel: 0417 949 635