A solid relationship is built on trust. Engaging with your dog is a great way to do this!
Taking the dog for a walk or throwing a ball seems to be the standard that most people default to when it comes to engaging their dog. This same routine can get tedious after awhile though. A bored dog will find something to pass the time, and it doesn’t always make choices that make the owners happy. Chewed shoes or walls are bad enough, but if they eat something that can hurt them there is also the possibility of a very expensive vet visit.
Mentally challenging your dog can reduce or prevent destructive behaviors and have a positive influence on your relationship together. This results in greater trust between family members, as well. A dog who is engaged and focused on you is also easier to train.
There are many ways to engage with your dog. There are some methods to challenge them without your involvement, as well.
- Learn something new. Don’t fall for the “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” – they absolutely can, and they can have just as much fun as a younger dog. Sometimes giving an older dog something new to do is actually even more fun. This can be a new trick, or a new word, or maybe a new location. There are many tricks that you can find online if you need ideas. Or look up dog classes in your area. Classes such as recall, rally, obedience or conformation may present a new challenge to work toward.
- Hand feed them. Sounds so simple, but especially if you have a food-motivated dog, you may find that you have their undivided attention at mealtime. You can further this by making a game out of it. Toss a few kibbles for them to chase after, and then call them back. It’s a simple exercise but can encourage a strong recall! Hide and seek is also a fun favorite. Toss some kibbles and while your dog is finding those, go and hide. When they find you, praise them and repeat. (You’ll also benefit from exercise and a good night’s sleep with this one!)
- Take your dog to new environments. Have they been to the mailbox? Through a car wash? Most pet stores allow leashed pets to accompany their owners inside. What errands do you run where your dog can attend with you?
- Rotate toys. If your dog seems bored with their toys and doesn’t play with them, consider putting old ones away for awhile and get them some new ones. If they get uninterested in those, rotate them out with the old ones they haven’t seen for awhile.
Need to engage your dog but can’t do it yourself? Try some tools!
- Interactive games and toys can mentally stimulate your dog by making them figure out how to get the reward they know is waiting for them. There are toys and feeding games available to purchase, but these can be accomplished with any budget. Use an old paper or toilet paper roll and place treats inside and then fold the ends. Some dogs will rip it apart right away, while others will try to be more careful. Hide treats underneath different objects (like and inverted pot lid or other cooking utensils) to encourage them to move the items around. Place treats into a pop bottle with the lid off. There are many ideas that are available online which don’t require purchasing anything you don’t already have at home.
- Foraging can be useful to keep your dog busy for a little while. Some people will toss their dog’s meal into the grass to keep them busy. Dogs love to sniff, and this gives them time to do one of the things they love to do. If you are worried that this may encourage the behavior outside of the specified time dedicated for that activity, you can try a snuffle mat for this exercise instead. It is an oversized mat designed to hide kibble for dogs to pick through to find.
- A favorite for many dogs are stuffed Kongs. There are many designs that can be used to hide treats that they have to try to work out. If they need a bigger challenge, try using water soaked kibble mixed with wet food, and then freezing it. They’ll have to work extra hard, which makes for a tired dog after.
The most important part of these engagement exercises is that both you and your dog have fun. If one or both of your aren’t enjoying the activity, try switching to another one!