It’s a pawse in many people’s lives all around the world right now. However, dogs are the ones who can’t stop wagging their tails – owners are 24/7 at home, woop woop! But not everything is rainbows and butterflies, far from it. Next to other daily challenges we have to keep taking care of our dogs and face a huge problem if we cannot tire them out outdoors.
Good news is – there is a solution – mental games! Relatively calm indoor activities can tire your dog at the same level as throwing the ball outdoors. Moreover, it has even more benefits than that.
Shaking your head now? Read on!
What Are Brain Activating Games?
Mental or brain activation games are activities that require your dog to move less but think more. It means that it’s all about their brains rather than muscles. Not that much of a brain work is needed while being off-leash in a park & playing frisbee. It’s all about the physical activity once dog learns what he is expected to do – bring the frisbee to you.
Exercises that actually require brain effort is just a sweet spot you want to tackle now – all activities including actions that your dog is not aware about in the beginning and needs to work hard to get the desired result (uuum… treat :)). It is considered that mental activities are at the same importance as physical ones, especially, if your dog has challenges to focus when needed and is very active.
Why Are They So Important?
It’s proved that mind activities help brain neurons to perform longer, so in a way, we are age-proofing our dogs by constantly employing their mind. Moreover, such exercises:
- Prevent memory loss for older dogs
- Develop dogs to be smarter and more obedient
- Nurture and strengthen relationship between a dog and you, human
- Help a dog to stay calmer and more focused in a long run
And we can use this stay-at-home opportunity to kick-off brain activating games routine.
Try Out Our Top 3!
Harvoola to the rescue – here are the Top 3 my Italian Greyhound Harvey’s well-tested & approved ideas of how to spend some quality time indoors. Find your favorite!
#1 Developing patience
These games are my personal favorite ones! They are relatively easy yet impactful if your dog, similarly to mine, is hyperactive. Teach a dog to wait for something good – a treat or a toy.
Success criteria: dog patiently waits for your keyword until takes the treat.
- Ask your dog to sit in front of you
- Show him the treat in your hand
- Once he moves towards you, move your hand away
- As he’s back to a sitting position expose the treat again
- Repeat the steps until you can keep the treat in front without him reaching to get it
- Lock the good behavior with a keyword (mine is Yes!) and let him take the treat
- As your dog starts to get the rules, prolong the waiting time, move treat closer to his nose, leave it on the floor or variate any other way you like!
Increase the difficulty!
- Employ dog’s brain by saying different words instead of your keyword. Instead of Yes! use Yellow! Yeppa! Yahaha! and hide the treat if he moves
- Teach him to make eye contact with you once you show a treat. You want him to look you directly in the eye and wait for the magical word. Start slowly, cheer when he’s catching your sight at least for a second. He’ll understand what you’re asking for soon. Lock good behavior with a keyword and cheerfully greet him for a well done job!
- Use this learning every time when feeding the dog. Teach him to wait until you say the magic keyword to get to the food. Make him earn the food. It works!
#2 Getting used to a pawdicure
Most dog breeds require nail clipping. At least for me it feels like Iggies’ nails grow quicker than mine do, oh god why!? But it’s plain and simple – dogs just hate getting their nails trimmed, it causes stress & anxiety. Usually both for the dog and owner. But make it a brain game and it won’t be a purely stressful experience anymore.
Why it’s a mental activity? You’ll need patience and invest a loooot of time whereas your dog will need to develop the patience and tolerance to your touch. Start small, one step at a time!
Success criteria: dog is calm when you touch his paws and allows to trim the nails.
- Start from ‘accidentally’ touching the paws. Most dogs don’t like it and move them away asap. Start slow, use the opportunity when your dog is relaxed. Treat! It might take few days
- Massage paws, a few seconds at a time and add up time occasionally. You want him to start feeling comfortably and stay relaxed once you touch the paws. Good job now! Treat!
- After a while (it might take days depending on your dog and the effort you put) take out nail clippers or nail file and start touching random nails with it.
- Lock the good behavior by saying the keyword (again, could be a cheerful Yes!) if he’s patient enough to allow you to touch the nails at least for a second and give him a treat
- Repeat a million times :) but at this stage do not trim the nails! Your dog has to feel confident before moving on
- When he’s confident and stay relaxed, start giving a treat every second time, then every third and then from time to time only
- Now you’re good to try clipping the nails. Prepare a lot of his most favorite treats here. Be cheerful! And just go with it
- Buuuuuut make sure you know how to do it – you have one attempt only. Clipping the nail too deep will hurt your dog badly and it’s super hard to start all over again when there’s a negative experience tied to it. If you’re unsure, check for video instructions online of how to do the pawdicure in the safest possible way
#3 Sniffing Exercises
Sniffing games develop the strongest dog sense – smell. By the way, did you know that dog has approximately 20 times more smell receptors compared to humans? And there are so many sniffing exercises! Here is the one that Harvey loves – Lucky hand.
Success criteria: your dog chooses the fist which holds a treat just by sniffing it.
- Sit in front of a dog, your eyes should be on the same level
- Put a small treat your dog loves in one hand, leaving the other empty
- Show him both hands
- Allow dog to sniff the treat but move your hand away if he tries to take it (if this happens, practice a bit on a patience development game described above)
- Make a loose fist with your hand holding a treat. Tell your dog to ‘Find it!’
- Once he sniffs your fist, open the palm, praise the dog ‘Good dooog, get it!’ and give him the treat. Repeat this a few times
- Now you’re ready to add your second hand. Again take a treat to one of your hands, make loose fists, move your hands around to get the attention and offer him to choose from both fists
- Make sure he made the decision (intensively sniffing your fist or trying to catch your sight), then open your palm and praise the dog ‘Goood dog, get it!’ if guessed right or make a sad voice ‘Oh no!’ exposing empty hand
- Repeat this while changing the lucky hands, so that it stays challenging to sniff the treat! You want him to really smell the treat in your hands rather than guessing randomly
You see? Those games could be really easy but spending quality time together will nurture your relationship with a four-legged friend. This is what we’re aiming for, right?
The last but very important note – know when to stop playing. Your dog has to still be engaged, do not wait until he gets bored or you’ll lose him.
And be understanding – our lovely friends might need time to get into the games we offer.
Now go ahead & have a great time together <3
P.S. Let us know how it’s going, tag @harvoola in social!