We all know exercise is important for the health of our dogs. In addition to burning calories, a daily walk also helps with socialization and building a bond between the dog and owner. But walking your dog has another benefit – stimulating your dog mentally. The following are some tips for adding mental challenges for your dog on your daily walks.
Dogs get bored with the same old routine, so mix up your route once in a while. You can do this by simply walking in a different direction than usual. You can also try driving to a new park or trail and starting your walk from there. Your dog will naturally be exposed to new sights and smells, different dogs, and different people.
All dogs should learn solid obedience skills such as sit, stay, down, heel and come. Practicing these skills in new areas is an easy way to work your dog’s brain. You may need to start out with really simple concepts like “sit” in exchange for treats, especially if your dog is just learning these commands or if he’s easily distracted on walks. With time, you can add more challenges such as a “sit-stay” for up to 3 minutes in a busy area or working on “watch me” while other dogs walk by.
I like to work on “heel” or loose-leash walking for a good 10 minutes at the start of each walk. Then, I like to reward my dog with a chance to explore an area with his nose. This is fun for him, but it also tires him out. He has to process all the information he’s taking in such as who else has been in the area, what types of animals, which dogs, and so on. I can’t even begin to imagine all the information my dog gathers by using his nose.
I encourage my dog to sit or stand on different surfaces or obstacles on walks because it helps him learn to be more aware of his own body. He has to figure out how to climb onto the object and how to remain balanced. Then, he also has to learn self-control by remaining on the object just long enough to get praise and a treat. Park benches are good obstacles to start out with because they’re flat and easy for dogs to jump on. Large rocks are also an option. Even simply walking over a new surface such as sand can be a mental challenge for a dog.
I like to use dog backpacks when I’m walking high-energy dogs because the backpacks give them both a mental and physical challenge. You can add a small amount of weight to the pack to burn extra calories. Carrying the pack also gives the dog a job to focus on throughout the walk. This drains some of the dog’s mental energy, leaving her tired.
What are some other ways to add mental challenges for a dog on walks?
About the Author: Lindsay Stordahl is the blogger behind ThatMutt.com. She writes about dog training, behavior, adoption and more.