Mental Games: Expanding Your Dog’s Mind

Think of it like this:

You decide to go on a road trip.. You pack up the car, stock up on snacks and organize all of your favorite 90s road trip songs and at 7:00am sharp you hit the road!

Now, fast forward 8 hours. How do you feel? Are you tired? Drained? You didn’t really do anything all day, right?

Wrong! Maybe your physical movement was restricted to whatever dancing space you had, but travel fatigue is directly correlated with mental stimulation. All day you were concentrating on roads, reading maps and signs, listening to the news or radio and processing more information than you would be able to recite back by the end of the day.

Just like in humans, being mentally stimulated is a necessary part of canine health. It’s becoming more and more common knowledge that there are physical exercise  requirements for our furry friends, but providing proper mental exercise is just as, if not more, important.

If you are seeing boredom (barking, chewing, digging), anxious (pacing, licking/chewing, panting) or hyperactive behaviors, adding a heathy dose of mental stimulation will give your dog the job they need to live a better, more comfortable life! Here are three of my favorite mental stimulation outlets:

  1. Interactive FeedingPuzzle Games, Kongs, Kibble Balls and all food related toys are a great way to kick start your dogs mental stimulation routine. Full meals from interactive feeders is one of the best and low maintenance way to provide mental exercise.  Take the treat games one step further and instead of just a spoon-full of peanut butter, add a little bit of chicken brother to your pups kibble and freeze it in a kong! Be creative, changing up the routine and additional tastes will keep your dog engaged and enjoying the process!
  2. Training GamesTraining your dog new skills or tricks is a great way to engage their minds. Instead of measuring your pups kibble out and plopping it into a bowl, feed it piece by piece in a training sessions!
  3. Nose work/Hide and SeekDogs have a natural ability and desire to use their noses. By allowing them to do so on walks, during games or for dinner we are enhancing those experiences. It is absolutely okay to let your dog do a little sniff-exploring. It is absolutely okay to run and hide and then call your dog to find you. And lastly, it is absolutely okay to have your dog do a little searching for some goodies (or dinner!). Let your dog use their nose, they will thank you for it!

Pictured: Phoenix Assistance Puppy Gemini, enjoying dinner out of  the Kong Wobbler


Our Story: Fostering

At a very young age, I knew I loved to care for pets. I got my fist pet sitting “job” when I was 8 years old, and my neighbor needed someone to go over and feed his (7) dogs while he was away. I happily agreed for the large sum of $5 a day! My job duties only consisted of feeding twice a day, as they were group of hunting dogs that lived in a row of indoor/outdoor runs like you’d see in a traditional kennel setting. But of course, I insisted on walking the dogs, bathing the dogs and taking them to run round off lead in the fenced in area.

I had a few sitter jobs all though school, where I would go and take care of peoples pets or have them stay with me (thanks, mom!). At one point I tried to convince my dad to let me have the garage to set up a little area for the sitters.. but alas it never came to be.

In college, I continued volunteering for local shelters. When I started, it was an easy biweekly task of going to Petsmart and Petco to play with (clean) the adoptable cats. From there, I started helping at adoption events for the dogs. The rescue I started with was fairly small and only had in-home fostering for their dogs, so there was not a lot of canine involvement I could have (especially living in a no pets apartment) but that didn’t stop me from picking up the dogs for field trips or walks!

Spring of my sophomore year I moved into an pet friendly apartment, and I lasted 3 weeks without a dog. My first official foster dog was a little Chihuahua who was roughly 3 years of age. He was adorable. He was terrified. A lady met me in the parking lot of my job and handed me the carrier.. he was hiding in the corner and so I didn’t bother him and headed home. I set his crate up, opened the door and then waited for this little guy and I to become best friends…

..and I waited..

..and I waited.

It was 3 weeks of this poor pup hiding from before he willingly came out of this carrier while I was in the same room. I later found out that the owner who had surrendered him had only had him for 4 days… and the owner before that for only a month. He obviously had some stuff going on, but I wasn’t in a hurry. (Spoiler, it was Andy!)

I continued to foster and “foster sit” for the next three years for the same organization. I averaged about 8 dogs a year, and quickly learned to pull dogs that I knew I wasn’t as interested in keeping. Of course, I ended up keeping a few, but I was also lucky enough to adopt a bunch out.

Because I didn’t have kids or cats, I got a lot of “problem” pups who needed some extra love and work.. this, began my Behavior Modification career. It was an absolute joy to see these dogs transform to be more confident, more secure and responsive to a handler.

Jeff and I got married and moved to PA in 2015, where I immediately started looking into rescues to get involved in.  I found The Sebastian Foundation for Animal Rescue, and pulled my first foster a week after buying our house.

It’s amazing what a home environment, a little patience and a little work can change for a dog. Then, those dogs get to get placed and change the life of a family. I love being the middle man in this process, and I love seeing my fosters just thrive.