Challenge your dog’s mind this spring

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Challenge your dog’s mind this spring
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By Kim Gilliam

As the weather begins to thaw, it’s time for you and your dog to emerge from winter hibernation. It’s more than likely that your pup has some extra energy to burn. Engaging their mind and challenging them to try new things will help tire them out twice as quickly as a romp at the dog park. Plus, it’s a great way to build your bond.

Here are some ways you can mentally challenge your dog outside of the house.

Teach a new trick: Every time you embark on a training session with your dog, whether it be focused on obedience skills or learning a new trick, you are providing them with a mental challenge. Once you’ve mastered basic commands, why not try teaching them to high five, salute, army crawl or dance? Tips for training these can easily be found online, and yes, old dogs can learn new tricks.

Use scent games: Scent is a dog’s most powerful sense; it’s fun to see a their natural ability kick in as they track something using only their nose. Place their food in multiple locations around your yard or play hide-and-seek with treats.

You can vary the hidden items to keep them guessing, like a feather rubbed with cheese or a frozen cube of meat or broth. You can even enlist the help of fellow pet owners to borrow towels with their animal’s scent; watch how hard your dog works to locate it.

Set up a backyard obstacle course: Obstacle courses are a great way to bond with your dog, promote exercise and prevent boredom. You don’t need expensive equipment. You can construct a safe and fun course for dogs of any size with a few supplies.

Jumps can be built with PVC pipes — be sure the bar can easily be knocked down to avoid injury. Repurpose a flexible children’s play tunnel as long as it is heavy enough or pinned down so it doesn’t move around. Weave poles can be created by sticking PVC pipes into the ground or using traffic cones.

Go on therapy visits: Does your dog love people and voluntarily approach strangers? Are they calm enough to tolerate when someone does not want to greet them or a toddler hugs their neck? If so, therapy work provides a rewarding job for both the dog and the owner as they visit nursing homes and hospitals or read with children at schools or libraries.

First your dog must pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test — evaluators listed on their website, www.akc.org — which covers 10 areas, including walking through a crowd, the sit, stay and come commands, reactions to other dogs or distractions and separation from the owner. Once certified, find a local therapy organization that needs your help, also listed on the AKC website.

Give them a job: A working dog is a happy dog. The next time you go for a walk or hike, make it your dog’s job to carry the water bottles in a backpack. You can have your dog retrieve the newspaper and the mail or tie their favorite toy to a rope and have them chase it across the yard. And did you know there is an International Weight Pulling Association for dogs? There are all sorts of jobs to help tire your dog when you are out and about.

Visit new places and faces: Every time your dog meets a new person or fellow pup, they encounter new sights, sounds and smells. Taking your dog to new destinations like parks or even on errands also provides ample opportunity to engage their senses.

So don’t just sit there, get out and enjoy the nice weather with your pup but do so with a purpose. Have fun trying new ways to tire them out both physically and mentally; it will enrich your relationship and reenergize you both.

The writer is the co-owner of Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in the Eisenhower Valley.

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