Why We Need Mental Exercise
Have you heard that saying in the dog-human world that "a tired dog is a good dog"? Burn off that morning stockpile of energy and your dog will be well set for the day!
100% - yes. Exercise your dog every morning: this is one of the most important tenants of owning a happy and well-behaved dog!
That just being said, what we really should be saying is "a happy dog is a good dog". A happy dog is a dog that has both been physically AND mentally stimulated.
Mental exercise is one of the biggest oversights we make as dog owners. Most of us have a daily exercise routine for our dog, whether it's a run in the morning or a nice long walk in the evening. The majority of us, however, do not have a routine for mental exercise.
So why is mental exercise so important?
Picture your dog on a treadmill for 20 minutes, versus your dog on a hike. On a treadmill, they're limited purely to just movement. On a hike, they're going to sniff, search, communicate, and engage in a whole bunch of social and mental interactions we're not even fully aware of.
Did you know, for example, dogs peeing on certain objects on walks is their version of Facebook? They communicate socially through the messages they smell and then leave in their own urine. A dog's olfactory system is countless times more intricate than ours: there's a whole other world down there for them!
And as a quick side note on that, no, dogs do not pee on every second tree in a never-ending battle for 'territory' marking. That's a conversation for another time, but think on this: you know how dogs will sniff another dog while their urinating, then take their place and pee on top?? That wouldn't happen if there was some serious resource/territory dominance going on: they would try prevent each other from the act. Instead, it's a pee party.
In this sense, dogs are engaging in some full on social interaction and mental stimulation while they're walking around getting their groove on. In circumstances that allow, let your dog stop and sniff away! 10-20 secs of a thorough sniff, multiple times on a walk, will do wonders for your dog's brain.
5 Minutes of Mental Exercise a day
Practice putting a little bit of mental exercise into your dog's routine. This doesn't have to be a super structured training session, nor does it even need to be outside. Quite the opposite in fact. A game of tug is great: it teaches impulse control and the ability to listen. Scent games test memory, and requires the dog to infer where treats are based on what knowledge it's receiving from it's nose.
Anything that requires communication and activity between you and your dog is encouraging mental stimulation.
Do you have a dog that's a level 3/3 on the energy scale? That after a 5 km run, will have a quick break then be ready for action, yet again!? Try a mental game with him, directly after the run. 5-10 minutes of engagement, and I guarantee she'll be pooped for much, much longer.
Commit to 10 minutes a day
Commit to 2 x 5 minute training sessions a day - just before work and when you get home, after your evening exercise. Guaranteed, your dog will be much happier and less hyperactive or anxious than what they usually might be.
Combine this with 10 minutes of exercise 2-3 times a day, and you're away laughing.
Try it out for a fortnight and see how you go! Check out a simple spreadsheet I made and download it to mark of your progress. Stick it on the fridge and make sure it happens!
Let me know how you get on ;)