Mentally stimulating your dog is your moral obligation. It is essential for its well-being and will help to prevent many of the default behaviours that dogs resort to when it is bored and under motivated. A stimulated dog relishes the opportunity to improve and you will find that as your dog improves at each exercise that the interaction that occurs will be extremely rewarding for you both
In the home.
Put your dog in to a sit. If your dog will not remain in the sit position then get someone to hold your dog by its collar. Show your dog a small food treat, this can be a liver treat or a bit of its usual kibble. Get it excited by saying, “what’s this, what this….” Then pretend to hide it in a couple of places, behind a chair or table leg or under the edge of a cushion. Leave it in one of these places. Return to your dog and tell it to, “seek”. If necessary, go around the room with your dog and guide it using your hand to indicate possible places. This should be done until your dog has a grasp of what is expected. When it finds the treat, give it at least 30 seconds of contact and voice praise. As your dog becomes more proficient then the degree of difficulty can be increased, this could be that you increase the size of the search area as well, what your dog is finding, try a small Kong for instance and increase the number of the possible hiding places.
You can also play this game by using a person as the hiding place. Hold you dog while a second person shows your dog a treat and then goes and hides somewhere in the house. When the person is hidden, go with your dog and help find the hidden person. They must be accessible to your dog, not behind a shut door for example. When the dog finds the person, they immediately give the dog a treat and both then give loads of contact and voice praise. When your dog is proficient at this game, then the treat can be discarded, with the praise being the reward.
Both of these games can be extended to the garden or when out walking, but to start with make sure that the search area is small so that your dog gets a quick and easy result. Be careful not to over stretch your dog’s ability, otherwise you will lose all the benefits that you are trying to achieve.
In the garden.
Put your dog in to a sit. If your dog will not remain in the sit position then get someone to hold your dog by its collar. Scatter a handful of treats on the lawn or patio then quickly return to your dog and say, “search”. Let your dog run free and find the treats. This is an ideal way to feed your dog part of its daily meals. Stimulating a dog and motivating it to find its own reward is a very good mental exercise. Try this with a small Kong when your dog has grasped what your expectations are.
In the park.
Take a toy with you to the park that will be its special toy, one that will it will only have when on a walk, never at home. A correctly sized Kong is ideal for this, especially as, to start with you can put some food inside to increase the chances of your dog finding it. When your dog is not looking, drop this toy in some long grass or behind a tree and carry on walking. After about 15 yards, attract your dog’s attention and walk backwards using your hand to indicate the direction your dog should look. Use a word such as, “behind” or “back” and when your dog indicates and finds the toy give loads of contact and praise reward. This exercise should be done on an extendable lead to start with, so that your dog has complete success. When your dog has achieved a good degree of competence, you can use other items as well as the toy. Remember exactly where you dropped the article, so that you give your dog exact help.
All of these exercises can be played with all members of the family and friends. Make sure if you involve children, that they are always supervised, so that they are safe and they and your dog have 100% success.
Whenever you increase the degree of difficulty for your dog, you should decrease the search area, or the number of items to be found. This way you can be sure that you do not over stretch your dog to a point that it fails and therefore obtains no benefit from the exercise at all. Games should be fun and always rewarding, little and often is the best way. Avoid it becoming a compulsive time for your dog, if it has a great time and enjoys the rewards, stop while you are ahead.
I do hope that you and your dog enjoy these simple, rewarding exercises. I know that if your dog could say, “thank you for mentally stimulating me”, it would.