by Denise Mazzola, CPDT – KA
Exercise is so important for our dogs and also for us. There is very little that can replace a good romp through the woods or chasing a ball in the back yard. Dog’s need the large muscle movements. If you live in the northeast you know all too well how cold it can get in the winter, so here’s another way to exercise your dog – Brain toys.
Brain toys were first designed by zoos when they realized that captive animals needed more than daily food tossed at them. Wild animals spend their entire existence looking for food. What a disservice to feed them from a bowl. The food is gone in sixty seconds and there is still 23 hours and 59 minutes remaining to their day. It’s no wonder that zoo animals get sick or destroy enclosures and it’s certainly no wonder our dogs tear apart our couch, chew our shoes and remote controls and play chase with the dish towel. They are bored.
I think we’ll all agree that boredom isn’t good for humans or dogs. I know when I’m bored I start looking around for unhealthy food to eat. When kids are bored they get into trouble, and when our dogs are bored they destroy things. Rummaging through the trash and dragging it around the house is a favorite. Chewing up cell phones and remote controls is another. Chewing dirty laundry is also high on the list. (all these items have a high scent concentration, which is particularly attractive to your dog).
Feeding them a cup of kibble from a dog dish maybe delicious but very unsatisfying. Dogs were all breed to do something, hunt, chase, shake, tear apart even kill rodents. Feeding from a brain toy can’t meet all your dog’s instinctual needs, but it can sure help.
Brain toys are food puzzles. They need to solve a puzzle in order to get the food out. It doesn’t require large muscle movements, but it does require brain power. Some dogs will be exhausted after eating out of a brain toy. I like to say it’s similar to how I feel after reconciling my checkbook. That behavior uses a different part of my brain and it exhausts me.
Begin with a very easy toy such as a large Kong that is stuffed lightly. Initially you want the
food to come out easily, so your dog will have that instant gratification. If the toy is too difficult most dogs will give up, especially if they’ve never had to work for their food. Gradually, you can make it more challenging. The Busy Buddy Twist ‘n Treat is another favorite toy, it’s two purple discs that you screw together. You can stuff each side with something sticky like peanut butter, almond butter, cream cheese or wet dog food, then add their regular kibble and freeze it. You have control of the difficulty by how tightly you close the toy. For a new learner, I would suggest leaving it open so they can have easy access to the food. As they get better, you can tighten it more and increase the challenge.
When the cold weather hits or you just need your dog to be busy, brain toys can provide you with the relief you need from a destructive dog and they can provide your dog with some much needed brain exercise. Remember, a tired, appropriately stimulated dog is a good dog.
For more on Brain Toys and ideas on how to stuff and use them check out our Doggie Dilemnas TV episode, The Power of Brain Toys for Your Dog.
Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 25 years. Everything Dog provides services to clients throughout the Monadnock Region of NH by offering private lessons, group classes, board and train, as well as day training services. Denise has been published in the trade journal, Chronicle of the Dog, and writes a monthly column for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript. She also hosts a monthly “Ask the Trainer” radio show on WKBK. Denise lives in Keene with her life and business partner, Amy Willey CPDT-KA, and they share their home with three dogs and three daughters. For more information, visit www.everythingdognh.com.