Keeping your dog healthy involves more than just nutritious food and good veterinary care. It also takes exercise – both mental and physical. Most of us understand our dog’s need for physical exercise; we provide it by going on walks, running, playing chase, or something similar. Less well understood is our dog’s need for mental exercise, too.
Mental exercise? For a dog!?!? Yes, this is a critical part of keeping your dog happy, healthy and well behaved.
Different Breeds, Different Needs
Most dog breeds were developed to perform a specific job of some sort. Protecting the owner, herding livestock, hunting game – these are a few examples of the types of work dogs have been bred to perform. Do some breed research to find out what “life purpose” is inherent in your dog and use that information to fulfill his need for mental exercise.
Exercise That’s Both Physical And Mental
Keeping your dog healthy both physically and mentally fit is not as hard as it may sound. In fact, many common physical activities can also serve as mental stimulation. A good game of fetch is excellent mental exercise because it simulates your dog’s natural predatory behavior. Mealtime can become a mental challenge when you put food in a Kong toy instead of a bowl, or hide the food in small portions throughout the room. It’s great fun for your dog to use her nose and search for hidden treasure.
Many breeds of dog excel at more organized activities like agility, flyball, tracking, herding or search and rescue. Check with a local trainer, humane society or animal rescue organization to find out more about what’s available in your community.
Just as children benefit from playing with other children, your dog will benefit from playing with other dogs. Find out if there is an off-leash dog park in your community, or get together with your neighbor and allow your dogs to play together. Because dogs are pack animals, they are naturally inclined to social play.
Even training can be stimulating mental exercise if you keep them fun and interesting. Start with short (5 – 10 minute) sessions, making sure your dog receives lots of praise and rewards so she has fun. Once basic obedience has been mastered, try teaching her some simple tricks. You can also set up an obstacle course inside or outside the house and have fun teaching her to navigate through it.
Though combining physical and mental exercise may seem strange, it’s an important part of maintaining your dog’s overall health. If you sat around all day with nothing to do you’d be bored silly, and it’s much the same for your dog. All it takes is a little creativity and a sense of fun to add a world of enrichment to both your lives.