Activating Your Dog – Your Guide To Dog Puzzles
Guest Post by Nina Ottosson
Dogs as well as humans need a certain amount of activity. But it’s important to find a balance of activity and inactivity, so the dog does not get stressed by under- or overactivity. Walking is a great activity, but dogs also need mental stimulation. All dogs need to use their head in order to feel good, and some working dogs like Border Collies have a greater need. If energetic dogs don’t get to channel their energy into an organized activity, they can create their own “fun”, which is not always appreciated by the owners.
Activation of your dog can be anything from tracking in the woods to hiding treats in a room. In the summer when the weather is nice, dogs normally get more stimulation. In the fall and winter it is often hard to vary the activities indoors and think of fun activities that are entertaining, simple and stimulating.
How To Mentally Stimulate Your Dog
Mental activation is something many dog owners may not have time for, or have difficulty coming up with ideas for, and they may not realize how important it is for the dog’s overall health. It would significantly reduce the number of “problem dogs” if everyone understood how important it is for the dog to use both its head as well as its legs. My philosophy is that the dog has four legs and one head, and all five need activity in different ways – every day.
When my two kids were born a year and a half apart, I didn’t have time to activate my dogs the way they and I were used to. I had two Bouvier des Flandres that I used to train and compete with. My bad conscience made me start thinking about how to activate them in a simple, fun and varied way indoors, and since 1990 I have worked with development and design of dog activity toys and games that stimulate the dog mentally, or “brainteasers” for dogs. The toys are fun and creative, easy to play with indoors or outdoors, and are developed with the dog’s natural movements and instincts in mind.
The activity toys and games, which most dogs love to play with, are designed for the dog to work with problem solving in different ways, finding hidden treats by lifting blocks, turning discs etc.
The purpose of these games is that the owner can activate the dog in an easy and fun way at home. While using the games, the dog and owner will get a chance to bond and strengthen their relationship. At the same time, they can train everyday obedience in a fun way, such as: sit, stay and wait.
Wild animals get natural mental stimulation when hunting for food, which has inspired me when developing the games to match the dog’s natural movements and instincts. The dog has to work to get food or treats, not just have it served from a bowl.
What Dogs React Best To Puzzle Games?
Dogs have different drives to be susceptible to praise when learning different actions or movements, some are motivated by toys, treats, yourself, smells, hunting or movements. Eating is the primary driving force, since it’s important for survival, which is what I have based my products on. Then I have added other things like movement, hunting, object interest and touch, since the dog will get praise and pets when it works to find treats in the games. All of these components together mean that most dogs regardless of breed, size or age are interested in and can use the games.
However, dogs have different levels of intelligence just like us humans. I realized early on that my games must have different difficulty levels to suit as many dogs as possible. In addition, some dogs with a genetic disposition for fetching will find certain games easier than dogs that first have to learn how to fetch. All dogs enjoy a variety of activities and appreciate trying new things. The same goes for these games – some dogs are happy with games that are simple and easy, while others need increasingly difficult ones. It’s the same for us humans and crossword puzzles, some people are happy with simple ones, while others continue to challenge themselves with ones that are more and more difficult.
Getting Started With Dog Puzzles And Games
I recommend to start using the games with puppies, which is what I have done with my dogs. It’s important to start with games that are simple, play for a very short time, play together, be positive and give lots of praise. My dogs have learned words like wait, sit etc extremely fast because it’s fun, they get treats and we do something fun together.
These games are also excellent to use for dogs that are injured as well as senior dogs. I have a lot of experience with older dogs that were not able to go for walks due to worn-out hips and joints. Despite this, they were very alert because we played games together daily. I am convinced that their final years were enriched because of this. When my dogs have been injured I have placed the games on a chair, so they have to work with the nose and not with their injured paw. It can be challenging to keep an injured dog still for several weeks, but the games are a great activity that lets the dog get an outlet for it’s energy. They are also great for dogs that are underweight and don’t eat. Many dogs will eat more when the food is put in the games instead of a bowl.
Activity games and toys that contain treats shall always be used together with the dog or under supervision. It’s also very important to teach the dog the rules of the game – how it works.
Most games can be made more difficult by locking with blocks or pegs that the dog has to lift up to find the hidden treats. These should only be used when the dog understands how the game works, and that it should work its way to the treats and not chew on the parts. It’s important not to use games that are too difficult in the beginning, and give the dog some time to understand how they work. Most dogs quickly understand that they have to work to get to the treats and that it pays to listen to directions from the owner. This communication between the dog and its owner is very rewarding and leads to a deeper understanding while having fun.
Nina Ottosson Puzzle Games
My puzzle games and toys are made of toxin-free plastic, and some are made of a composite material of wood and plastic. They are sturdy and easy to clean, which is great for dogs that drool, and can be used with both wet and dry food. This means that you can use most of the games to make “doggie ice cream”: Mix meaty dog food with water, pour some of the mixture in the compartments, put the game in the freezer and let it set. This is perfect for hot days or when the dog needs extra activity. Note: only with supervision.
The games and toys can also be used by other animals.
My final thought to all dog and pet owners – have fun together!
Nina Ottosson is the designer and developer of the Nina Ottosson range of dog activity toys. You can find out more about the brand here https://www.nina-ottosson.com/ or can visit our online store to shop our range of Nina Ottosson products for your dog.