I write so much about enrichment, nose work and mental games on this blog, and yet I realized after a fantastic “Creative Behavior Outlets” seminar last weekend that I am not even close to taking full advantage of how great brain work can be for Johnnie! I had been so focused on walking the energy out of her that I lost track of how useful food puzzles and mental stimulation can be in tiring her out as well. Thank goodness I had the Your Dog’s Friend seminar to remind me of the gold mine I was missing out on!
The seminar was led by Leslie Clifton, CPDT-KA of Look What I Can Do Dog Training, and she spent lots of time explaining how to exhaust your dog without running them around for hours. She demonstrated lots of different kinds of food puzzles, as well as went over different “Find it!” games and home-made food puzzles. The best thing I came home with after that workshop was the idea that “seeking is fatiguing.” Whenever your dog is searching for how or where to get his food (an important natural canine behavior, by the way), he is working his brain. You can often see the concentration in his scrunched up forehead – a sure sign that those thinking wheels are turning. Twenty minutes of mental games is thought to be equivalent to sixty minutes of vigorous exercise!
I immediately went out and bought a Kong Wobbler for Johnnie that will make her work for her kibble. She no longer eats her meals out of a bowl, ever. She either eats them from a stuffed kong (kibble & pumpkin mixed together and frozen), from her Kong Wobbler, or through “Find It” games. You can also use old Gatorade bottles or other various food puzzles. I have known about these tricks for so long, and yet I hadn’t been regularly implementing them with Johnnie! Doh! Now it takes her about 15 – 20 minutes per meal to finish all her kibble, instead of the 2 -3 it was taking out of a bowl before, and I can really tell the difference in how it keeps her energy levels lower (check out the photo below – she was so sleepy she knew there was food left in her puzzle and she still tucked herself into bed. . . an enrichment miracle!). I am still kicking myself for not consistently using these puzzles for the first few weeks I had her :-).
Toy puzzles for dinner give us another opportunity to practice Johnnie’s “wait” cue as well.
Later this week I will go into other ways we keep Johnnie’s puppy brain occupied so that she expresses her natural behaviors in an appropriate manner. Stay tuned!
To adopt Johnnie Cash the food-puzzle-lover, email firstname.lastname@example.org.