Monday, July 12, 2010

If You Love Your Dog, Let Them Nose

I am a huge advocate of "games" for dogs. Not just tug or chase, but games that stimulate their senses. While I am no scientist, researcher or veterinarian, I am of the personal opinion that dogs need mental exercise maybe just a bit more than physical exercise. This in no way suggests that physical exercise should go to the bottom of your dog's to-do list, but chat with me a moment while I discuss your dog's mental stimulation and perhaps you'll see why it is so important.

Many of us take our dogs for walks, sticking to the sidewalk or the beaten path, on a journey that our dogs have taken countless times before. To us, it often becomes a chore and so we choose to walk up the sidewalk, down the block and call it a day. Done. Dog walked. On to our next chore of the day.  Or worse yet, there are those of us with a yard big enough for a dog to roam and smell, so we skip the walk thinking the yard is sufficient exercise. The bigger the yard, the less exercise our dogs tend to get. When clients tell me this is the exercise their dogs get, I literally feel a sadness in my heart. For this is not what dogs were built for and as much as we have bred dogs to serve our needs, their superior senses have survived to be passed down through the centuries.

Whether they're small, extra-large, designer or country born and bred, your dog has senses that blow ours out of the water. They can smell something miles away. Miles. Think about that. And while you're outside on your porch enjoying your cup of coffee in the morning, your dog sitting next to you could probably tell you what your neighbor a block away had for breakfast yesterday - if only they could just get the words out. (I often wish I knew what my dogs were thinking, but immediately retract that.  I like that I don't know whether my dogs are judging me or not. Ignorance is bliss). Exercise that is restricted to playing in the yard is like telling a marathon runner they can only run on the treadmill. It's not the act of exercising that's so stimulating, it's the experience.  The smells, the sights - your dog has these senses and yet they often go to waste as your dog lies on the couch awaiting your return home.

I told a client once that his dog needed more mental exercise because he was destroying things in the home. I suggested taking his meals and tossing the kibble in the yard, scattering it everywhere and letting his dog use his nose for "the hunt". The owner was disappointed in my suggestion. He'd saved this dog from the shelter and planned to let him live in the lap of luxury for the rest of his existence. He wasn't about to let his dog eat out of the dirt. When I explained that pigs aren't the only animal happy in dirt, he started to loosen up. :)

I don't want it to sound like walking your dog or letting them enjoy the yard should be restricted from your dog's schedule. Walks are great - try making them better by choosing different paths and leaving the sidewalk when you can. Playing in the yard is good too - interact with your dog with a fast-paced game of fetch, toss treats/kibble out in the yard for them to find, hide tupperware with food throughout the yard and provide them with lots of things to do. What I want to encourage is your creativity.  I promise you, the more creative you get, the more you'll get to know your dog. You may discover you've got a smarter dog than you thought! And when the games are over and your dog is exhausted, you may also be surprised to find they aren't getting in as much trouble - because who has time to chew on socks when you're dog-tired?

Happy training!


1 comment:

  1. I love nosing around in the hedgerows on my walk.

    You are so right.

    Listen to the lady people!!!

    Love and licks Winnie the greyhound