Monday, 24 January 2011

Mind Work

Dogs need mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. That is one of the reasons, apart from the obvious, that some “obedience” training is beneficial for any dog. I don’t like the word obedience, neither do I like the idea of teaching your dog to do “tricks”. Training your dog is a way of enjoying your dog’s company first and foremost – both in the process of training and due to the results. It improves communication between you and your dog, strengthens your bond and establishes you as pack leader, not to say as an interesting person for the dog to be around and listen to.

Training your dog is not all about teaching it commands, then. A lot of it is about teaching your dog to do fun things. In fact, that kind of training is very beneficial to any other “obedience” training, as it allows your dog to understand that listening to you and following your instructions is rewarding and enjoyable. This is particularly important to get through to many retired racing greyhounds, as they don’t have any experience of this kind of training – more about that here.

Mental stimulation is beneficial for any dog’s welfare. Some breeds, especially working dogs like sheep dogs, must have something to do with their brains, or they will be positively unhappy. My mother used to play a game with my dachshund Bilbo every day, where she made him wait out of sight, and hid tasty morsels around the house. On her command, “Seek!” he would rush around sniffing them out – a perfect task for a tracking and ferreting dog.

Greyhounds will, to all appearances, take it or leave it when it comes to these kinds of games. I think, however, that apart from helping immensely with any training, they can add a whole new dimension of pleasure to retired greyhounds’ lives. Also, as I have found the last few weeks when Cassie has been down to minimal exercise with a broken toe, games will give injured dogs something to do. And greyhounds tend to have their fair share of injury time.

I have always made my own basic games. I hide treats in the cardboard insides of toilet paper rolls, scrunching up the ends to make it harder, and encourage my dogs to try to extract the treats. Empty egg-cartons are also good. Remember, this game often ends up with the roll or carton ripped up, so anything precious or toxic is not suitable. Another favourite is hiding treats under plastic cups. The dogs need to either push them over or lift them to get to the treats. Added interest, once they have worked it out, is to hide treats only under some cups and not others. I am yet to get them interested in the kind hide and seek that my mother played with Bilbo, though. Greys aren’t tenacious seekers, but I think once they get used to the cup game they I may be able to expand the “search area”.

With Cassie I have started to make her wait while I move into another room with a toy, then calling her to come and get it. Simple, but adds something extra for her to do when in the mood for toys. Like many greys, she likes hoarding her toys in her bed, so she will fetch the toy from me and return it the her lair. Fetching things to me is a future project!

This post was really precipitated by me finally purchasing a dog game designed by Nina Ottosson that I have had my eye on for a while. They aren’t cheap, but since Cassie has been confined indoors most of the time, I thought I’d give it a go. It really is quite good. Nina Ottosson has designed a range of dog games and puzzles, and the one I got is called “Dog Brick”. It has eight compartments with slidy lids, under which you can hide treats. To make it harder, it also comes with four bone-shaped cups that can go between the sliders. The dog then has to pick up the bone before being able to slide the compartments open. The games come with thorough, informative instructions.

After the initial wariness, Eddie and Cassie have really got into the game. At first, I needed to slide the lids open a little so they could get their noses in where it smelt nice and so slide them open. Cassie decided that turning the whole thing over would be a good idea, as perhaps the treats came out from underneath, and you can’t fault her logic. Eddie’s approach was methodical and thorough sniffing, before any force was applied. They seem to have started to get the sliding idea now, but we’re not yet up to bone level! But they are quite keen when they can smell treats and I get the game out. They certainly understand the point of it.

Whether it is because a dog is injured or simply because the weather is just to bad to go out in, it is always useful to have some tricks up one’s sleeve to entertain a bored dog. And encouraging a dog to play games which involve rewards for some thinking and tenacity lays the foundation for all kinds of training.

No comments: