It’s not uncommon for pet owners to reach out to me about feeling frustrated and they usually have a laundry list of complaints about their pet that includes:
- Counter Surfing
- Jumping Up
- Pulling on Leash
- Not coming when called
- Roaming when left outside alone
Very often they have the following in common:
- Young dog (anywhere from 4 months to 2 years old)
- A family that is very busy (owners work long days, kids have activities, etc.)
- Their previous dog was “perfect” aka would be happy sleeping/relaxing all day and evening with only minor exercise or play needs from the family (or at least the family remembers it being this way).
The family has often attempted to train the dog and ended up feeling frustrated by the destruction of property, the inability of their dog to relax and the increasing resistance from the dog to listen to obedience commands. They are usually at a loss on why this is so hard especially when compared to previous dogs.
Well here’s what is usually going on (not always but most of the time).
They have a young working dog that needs mental enrichment.
Most dogs require mental stimulation and owners can really struggle here. If you have a breed that was purposely bred to do a job and you aren’t meeting that mental need then you’re going to have lots of problems.
Walking your dog for an hour or two every day does not provide mental enrichment (besides if you are checking out new smells). What you’re doing here is increasing your dog’s stamina so that their exercise need becomes greater and greater. Exercise is truly important but it’s not everything.
So how do you provide mental stimulation? Well the good news is there’s lots of ways and depending on your dog you might need to do lots of different ones!
- Puzzle toys for feeding meals
- Chewing activities like dog safe bones
- Training complex behaviour where the dog has to think (this can include teaching fun tricks, obedience cues, playing dog sports like agility, disc dog, etc).
- Scent detection (also called Nose Work) or Tracking (we offer that class by the way!)
- Giving your dog a daily job that they do with you (hunting, carrying objects for you, carting, etc.)
- Taking your dog to new and interesting places where they meet new people, dogs, smells, etc. Every dog will have individual needs on what types of new experiences will work best for them.
- Dog to dog play (between two appropriate dogs – please note this isn’t the same as dropping your dog off into a large open concept daycare)
- Dog to human play (tug, flirt pole, fetch, etc).
I like to work on mental stimulation that includes both arousal increasing as well as arousal decreasing experiences. This means that if I do an off leash hike somewhere new that the dog will likely experience arousal increasing vs. if I do a training session at home where my dog has to learn a new behaviour this will likely be an arousal decreasing behaviour. Doing both is important. Avoid doing all arousal increasing experiences or your dog will be over stimulated and will have trouble relaxing.
If you need help coming up with ways to give your dog the mental enrichment they need please reach out to an accomplished and experienced dog trainer. An experienced trainer will be able to assess your dog’s breed, background, and lifestyle needs and be able to create a roadmap for you to meet your dog’s needs. It’s a key component of eliminating all those pesky behaviour issues you’re experiencing.