Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Mental Exercise: Let's Get Creative!

Expanding on last week's blog post, let's talk about how you can keep your pets mentally stimulated, particularly if they are receiving less physical exercise with the "shelter in place mandate" in effect in your area.  While dogs love new toys, it isn't always easy (or in your budget!) to provide them with new toys all the time.  What you will want to do is to rotate your pet's toys and activities to keep them novel and interesting over time.  And in a pinch, you can revitalize an old toy by washing it to change it's smell! Giving your pets enrichment opportunities throughout their day is ideal, but doing so shouldn't break the bank.  Here are some simple ideas you can apply to create enrichment opportunities for your dogs and cats every day:

1.  Boxes:  both dogs and cats love exploring boxes.  Put out boxes of different sizes and shapes and let them have fun.  For dogs and cats, you can add treats to one of the boxes you are having them sniff out.  If your cat likes catnip, add that to one of the boxes.  And for those of you rolling your eyes and worrying about ripped up boxes?  So what!  That was fun too and better than destroying your couch cushions or eating your TV remote!

2.  Muffin tins:  for your dogs, put treats or their food into the 6 or 8 muffin cups in an old muffin tin.  Cover those spaces with balls.  While it may not seem like much of a challenge to knock the balls out of the way to get to the food, it's still fun!  The next time around, flip the muffin tin over so now there are 6 to 8 little "hills."  Spread their kibble around those hills and let them nose around to get the food.  And, yes, some dogs will just grab the muffin tin and flip food (and balls!) all over the place.  No worries.  They still have to forage around to find every last piece of food that they flipped on the floor!  In a pinch, just spread the food on a cookie sheet for them to forage around.

3.  In your yard:  both dogs and cats like to sniff and explore (see #1 above!), so simply spreading out their food or snacks in your grass or even in a flat of ground cover on your porch, allows them to use their noses as nature intended.

4.  The shell game:  this one is a favorite when I teach classes for kids and their dogs.  Get three cups.  Show your dog (or cat!) that you have a treat and then place it under one of the cups.  Move the cups around and then let your pet use their nose (or a paw) to find the treat.

5.  Which hand is it:  another classroom favorite!  Ask your dog to sit.  Show them that you have a treat.  Move your hands behind your back and switch the treat from hand to hand.  Offer your dog two closed fists and have them bump your fist with their nose or a paw to try to find the treat. If they pick the wrong hand, that's okay, just try it again!

Interactive toys and puzzles can be purchased and added into your enrichment plan as your budget allows, of course, but this should give you a good head start.  Playing with your dogs and cats every day (fetch, lure toys, hide and seek, etc.) is important too as this enhances your bond with them. Finally, if you are out there walking your dogs, please please PLEASE let them sniff.  Sniffing is their favorite activity!  It expends energy, stimulates their brains, and reduces anxiety.  So what if you only get 2 blocks on your walk, your dog got to catch up on all the neighborhood goings on because you let them sniff out the information left behind.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie and Desi like to forage together for treats scattered on the lawn!

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