Keeping your dog's mind healthy during cold weather months

A mentally exercised dog is a happy dog.

We all have an idea of the needs of physical exercise for the dog we’ve brought into our home. What we may not have put much consideration into, is mental exercise, or even physical exercise during the winter months!

As we know, some breeds don’t mind playing in the snow for extended periods, but many breeds get cold easily and lose interest in the outdoors on a cold winter day.  Some dog owners are also not aware of mental exercise needs of their dog.  Think about it like this: if all we did as humans was acted all day, without thinking, how far with that get us? We would get bored, and possibly get ourselves into trouble! Sound like a familiar situation at home?

What does mental exercise mean?

To start, let’s talk about mental exercise, what is that anyway? Mental exercise is making your dog think. In their natural habitat, a dog would have to constantly be thinking and problem solving for survival. Many of our dog’s natural instincts include what we consider to be nuisance behaviors such as digging, pacing, barking, chasing, biting, and being destructive. Being able to filter these instincts into energy level appropriate games will keep your dog physically and mentally healthy.

My dog gets plenty of exercise, he runs around the yard all day.

Would running laps around your house be adequate physical exercise for you? Dogs need to get out and explore to get the proper stimulation they need.  Taking walks in public places, going to the park, and taking car rides are all ways your dog can get some of the stimulation he needs. However, that’s still not typically enough for most dogs. Especially in the cold weather months, its not always easy to take your dog out if it’s too cold for you both!

My dog sits before he eats, is that adequate mental exercise?

That’s a great start!  Asking your dog to perform tasks for reward in your day to day life is a great way to make your dog think.  We call it “train as you live”. Rather than allowing your dog to act impulsively on everything he does, make him think before he acts.  This is not an easy task for most pet owners, especially dogs that are high energy or have a habit of doing things their way.  Asking your dog to do simple things such as sit before he gets what he wants will help your dog’s mental health longterm.  Ask him to sit before he gets anything he wants, such as going through doorways, going in and out of his kennel, getting a pet, getting on the furniture, getting in the car, etc. This will teach him to look to you for permission, rather than acting impulsively on what he wants to do. Reward does not always mean treat, either.  Reward is giving the dog something they value.  In this circumstance, the reward would be getting the pet, going through the door, or hopping on the couch. 

Other types of mental exercise would be stationary games for dogs to play.  There are hundreds of YouTube videos that show you different games you can make at home to occupy your dog mentally when you’re busy or away.  For example, putting a muffin tray in a box, putting kibble in the pan, then putting tennis balls over the holes. This makes the dog figure out how to move the tennis balls to get the food underneath. That’s a beginner game to play, and once your dog figures that game out, there are tons of other games you can create for your dog while you’re away!

I don’t have a lot of extra time to exercise him in the winter, what are some ways I can do physical and mental exercise together?

Some of the most effective methods of properly stimulating your dog would be activities that combined physical and mental exercise.  Anything that will make them think and physically move at the same time. A great toy you can make at home is called a flirt pole. With a narrow PVC pipe, a piece of rope through it, and a toy tied to the end, this “giant cat toy” for dogs is a great way to eliminate some of those natural instincts, while exhausting them physically and mentally.  Another great exercise is teaching your dog how to walk on the treadmill.  It takes a lot of thinking to keep themselves on the moving belt, and is a great way for them to walk or run for miles without ever leaving your livingroom!

A physically and mentally healthy dog is a happy dog.  Keep up the good work with your dog year round, and let us know if you need more ideas for physical and mental exercise! We offer training for all ages, breeds, and behaviors. Servicing Oakland County, Livingston County, and Genesee County, MI.  

October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month!

We're thinking about adopting a dog, what's the first thing we should know?

First and foremost, everyone in the family needs to be on board and committed to adding a new family member.  Adopting a new dog is a big responsibility, and everyone needs to do their part. Everyone should sit down and discuss responsibilities for each member of the family so everyone is clear what their job is pertaining to the new dog.

We've agreed on adopting a dog, what kind of dog should we get?

Most people make a decision based on looks.  Before you starting looking for a dog to adopt, you should research the breed(s) you're interested in to make sure it'll be a proper fit for your home.  Make sure you ask yourself a few of these questions when looking at different breeds:

-Energy level: what energy level are you capable of living with? Understand the difference in physical stimulation and mental stimulation, and how much a certain breed will need on average. 

-Training commitment: how much of a training commitment you're prepared to make? This goes along with energy level! A higher energy dog will require more stimulation, which training falls into the "mental stimulation" category. 

-Personality: what type of companion are you looking for? Think about long term, would a more independent personality or a "ride or die" buddy fit your lifestyle?

-Medical care: have you looked into pet insurance? Certain breeds are more prone to health problems. Make sure you're prepared for acute/emergency care, as well as long term/chronic problems that a dog may suffer from. A small monthly insurance payment on your pet may prevent you from major expenses from illness or injury down the line.

-Finally, ask yourself what is a realistic expectation of adding this dog to your life? Is this a graduation present for a senior that's going to college next year? Are you planning to have children in the next 5-10 years? A dog is a 10-15 year commitment, make sure you've asked yourself all these questions!

We know the type of dog we're interested in, where do I find one?

We recommend you start by looking at local shelters and rescues near you.  Keep in mind, there are small rescue groups that do not have a facility, but survive solely on foster homes. You can find shelters and rescues by searching on the internet, or visiting your local pet store. You can see when adoption events are scheduled at local pet stores, which typically take place on weekends.  You can also search the internet for breed specific rescue groups, although some travel may be necessary to meet the dog you're interested in adopting. There are also many big shelters locally where you can go see several dogs at once, taking them out one at a time to play with them.  

What do I look for at the shelter?

There are several behaviors a dog might exhibit at a shelter.  If the dog is hiding in the back of the kennel with "sad eyes", chances are you will need to spend a lot of time establishing a relationship and building trust to help him overcome his nervous tendencies.  If the dog is jumping on the door, barking and clawing, he'll likely need to work with a trainer to build self control and learn how to have an appropriate outlet for his energy. If the dog approaches the kennel door with a calm manner, you're more likely to have a middle of the road dog. 

What can I expect with a rescue group?

Most rescues have foster programs, where the dogs live in a home with a family until finding their forever home. The fosters of these dogs may have a better history of expected behavior of their adoptable dogs, since the dog has had a chance to get more comfortable and show its true colors. They can tell you about the dog's strengths and weaknesses, and what it's like to live with the dog. 

I found my perfect dog, what's next?

We're glad you've chosen a rescue dog to adopt!  Make sure you meet qualifications for the certain rescue or shelter you're adopting from; some require things such as a training class be attended or a fenced yard at your home. If you have another dog at home, you should allow the dogs to meet on neutral ground, such as a park, before bringing your new dog home.  Take a trip to the pet store and obtain all the essentials for your new dog, such as a kennel, a high quality dog food, a bed, toys to keep him busy, and an adjustable collar and leash to walk him.  Also consider looking for a dog trainer to work with you if you have concerns about integration with another animal, or if you have questions about adequate mental and physical stimulation. Einstein Dog Training can help with basic and advanced needs, please contact us at 248-733-3776 to schedule your consultation!