Dogs are intelligent, active creatures. Many of the breeds that are popular today were originally bred to do something – herd livestock, help us hunt game, guard their property from intruders, or exterminate vermin for example. While many of us don’t really have a need for a working dog to help us gather our sheep or pull our carts down to the market, that doesn’t mean that our dogs no longer have the desire or instinct to do the work. That need, coupled with spending long periods of time home alone while their owners are at work, can result in a lot of dogs getting themselves into trouble. Not sure if your dog needs more mental stimulation? Check out the list below:
Chewing and digging are normal pieces of dog behaviour. However, they can definitely get out of hand if your dog isn’t getting enough mental stimulation. Digging and chewing are naturally reinforcing to a lot of dogs – they are fun activities and give your dog something to do when he is bored. Unfortunately, those same behaviours can be very annoying to humans, especially if our dogs happen to chew on our favourite shoes or dig up a large chunk of expensive landscaping. If your adolescent or adult dog is still getting into as much trouble as he did as a young puppy, it’s definitely time for a new training regimen that includes lots of mental stimulation.
Walks Don’t Tire him Out
Many pet owners are good about making time for physical exercise for their dog, whether that’s a long walk around the neighbourhood, a hike, or a trip to the park so that their dog can just run. Physical exercise goes a long way to tiring out your dog, but it’s not always enough to fully satisfy him. Sometimes we humans can’t go as far or as fast as our dogs would like us to on our walks. Furthermore, many humans are creatures of habit that take the same route through the neighbourhood every single day. While your dog probably does appreciate just getting outside, he’d probably appreciate some new sights and smells even more. Some dogs come home from a walk and are still looking for more ways to entertain themselves, and some dogs come home from a walk even MORE energised than they were before they left. These are the dogs that would benefit from mental exercise in addition to their walk around the block.
Excessive barking can be another manifestation of excess mental energy. For a lot of dogs, barking is fun and it gives them something to do! Plus, many dogs get a reaction from their humans when they bark. Even if their human is telling them to be quiet, it’s still attention and that little bit of attention can be highly reinforcing to a bored dog. Remember, behaviours that are reinforced are more likely to be repeated in the future. In order to break the cycle of barking, try adding giving your dog a different job to do, like hunt out hidden treats and toys in the living room while you supervise from the couch.
Can’t Settle in the House
Do you ever find yourself wandering from room to room in the house when you are bored? Well, a lot of dogs will do the same thing. Just like us, they are looking for something to catch their eye and give them an activity to pass the time. If your dog is pacing from room to room, constantly ruffling through items left on the floor or gets up from a resting spot every five minutes, it’s a good indication that something is lacking in his routine. Time to increase his daily amount of mental stimulation before he finally finds his own way to entertain himself.
Dogs that are chronically under-stimulated often become easily excitable. Any little change in their environment is so over-stimulating that they temporarily lose control and begin to act out by jumping up, barking, mouthing, or zooming around like maniacs. These are not bad dogs; they are just so excited to finally have something to do and someone to interact with! Imagine if you lived within the same 4 walls all day every day. How excited would you be to have a visitor come over and break the monotony? Probably really excited!
If your dog is demonstrating any of the above behaviours, it’s probably past time to add more mental stimulation to his daily routine. A big part of being a responsible pet parent is finding an appropriate outlet for our dog’s natural instincts and drives. There are lots of ways to add more mental stimulation to your dog’s routine. Consider investing in several different interactive toys. You can rotate different toys throughout the week so that your dog has a new puzzle to work on each day while you’re away at work. You could also find a new hiking trail to visit or schedule a play date with your dog’s favourite playmate from the dog park. You could also contact a local dog trainer and sign up for a training class to learn some new tricks!