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Work that Body, Work that Brain

Many of the species-specific enrichment opportunities that I described last week--like sniffing and chasing--work your dog's mind and body. This week I'm focusing on even more ways to give your dog the exercise and mental stimulation that she needs.

Not all dogs require massive amounts of exercise to stay happy, so for those dogs a casual stroll around your neighborhood works well. On the other hand, some dogs, especially those bred for work like huskies, border collies, and Australian cattle dogs, have more intense exercise needs. For these dogs you can take longer walks, go on hikes, play with toys like a flirt pole, bring them swimming (with appropriate safety equipment), or let them play with other dogs (if they enjoy it). When we don't meet our dogs' exercise needs, they may channel their energy into finding their own fun, which could include destroying things around your house.

Dog sports like agility and flyball offer excellent sources of exercise for your active dog. In agility training, your dog moves through an obstacle course, jumping over gates, running up and down ramps, weaving through poles, and dashing through tunnels, all with guidance from you. Flyball is a relay race with teams of four dogs that also involves running and jumping over hurdles, but with the added twist that at one end of the course the dog presses a spring-loaded pad, which releases a tennis ball for the dog to catch and then bring back to their handler, retracing their leaps over the hurdles. Once one dog returns, the next one starts. For the dog who enjoys herding, you could try treibball, also called urban herding, where dogs learn to move balls into a goal.

Agility, flyball, and treibball provide both exercise and mental stimulation for your dog. You can also work your her mind with anything involving sniffing such as foraging, puzzle toys, or snuffle mats. Daily training practice sessions give your dog a great mental workout. Mental stimulation is crucial because exercise alone will not mitigate behaviors stemming from overstimulation like jumping on people and mouthing at them. In fact, some forms of exercise, play with other dogs or exciting games of tug for example, can increase your dog’s stimulation level. One of my favorite ways to give my dog mental stimulation is to let him make choices about where we go on walks. Of course, when he decides we should cross right in the middle of a busy street, I redirect him toward the next crosswalk. Letting your dog make choices not only works his brain. It also gives him some agency in a world where he has very little, which is itself enriching.

When your dog gets to work her body and her brain, she is less likely to find other ways to work off her energy (no one wants a disemboweled couch!). She'll also be healthier and happier.

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Thanks very much Beth! I really love reading your fun and educational suggestions!

It's such a joy to have a pet dog and it's good to give them a happy home. I''m sure Ralphie has an exceptionally happy home and family!!!!

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