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Mental Activation – enrichment made simple

This seminar explains the why, how, where and when you should activate your dog with the special training that is mental activation.

The why: The dogs’ ancestor is the wolf. They are closely related and share the same genes to 99%. That is why the needs of a dog are similar to that of a wolf. Of course, there are species-, breed-, age- and individual differences, so you have to activate your dog, but not overdo it. While a wolf has to work hard in order to survive, a dog just needs to be active.

If a dog needs to be active, why doesn’t he or she just do something? Besides wanting to be active the dog also shares another trait with its ancestor: Behavioral synchronization. This means that the individuals in a group synchronize their behaviors – and that is what the dog does in relation to the caretakers. The problem is that our dog early stops follow us around the house because that doesn’t lead to anything interesting. Instead, it lies down, resting and sleeping and waits for the next walk. The high-powered young dog soon has an energy surplus which will be channeled during the walks.

To really understand the mental activation concept, one must study the wolf, therefore we will devote some time to look at the behavior of this fascinating close cousin to the dog.

The how: With a starting point in wolf behavior one can find four headings that are mentally stimulating. These are Nose work, Learning, Problem solving and Balance.

Nose work. Canines depend on their olfactory sense for survival. They scan the wind for prey or threat, follow a track – maybe for miles upon miles – and search the nearby grounds for something to eat. They have a sense of smell that is several hundred thousand times better than the human sense and they use it every day for as long as they live.

The wolves need to do it – the dog has a need to do it.

Learning. The ability to learn starts when the brain matures around five weeks of age in a wolf cub. From this time on they learn social codes, communication, observation, tracking, behaviors of different prey animals, the territory, dangers and threats and so much more.

The wolves need to do it – the dog has a need to do it.

Problem solving. Prey animals are fast, strong and many times dangerous. It is almost impossible to hunt down and kill a young and strong animal – it has to be outwitted and attacked in cooperation. Animals from different species have to be approached in different ways. For instance, mountain sheep must be attacked from high positions, so the wolves have to climb up over the spots where the animals are and hunt downwards.

The wolves need to do it – the dog has a need to do it.

Balance. Wolves have perfect body control. They can run in high speed in rough terrain in the dark, without stumbling. The prey animals run in high speed and the hunters must be able to follow – and they are.

The wolves need to do it – the dog has a need to do it.

The where: You can let the dog have some mental activities in any place of your choice, preferably anywhere. Do it not only outside, but indoors is as important. To lay still inside the house will create surplus energy which the dog acts out on the walk. That is, for instance, one reason why dogs pull on the leash. Giving the dog fifteen minutes of mental undertakings before the walk will reduce the pulling on the leash significantly.

The when: Anytime is good, but since dogs like routines, at the same time every day is best. If you walk your dog four times a day, it is enough with a mental challenge indoors twice a day. If the weather does not allow for long walks, like rainy or extremely hot days, you can do more inside the house. Note that it does not take you more than a few minutes to arrange for the dog to have a mental moment, but it takes the dog perhaps fifteen, twenty minutes. And it is more tiring than a walk.

The only thing you have to watch is not to overdo it. Be ambitious, but not over ambitious!

Mental activation made simple

It is easy to give the dog mental challenges, and it doesn’t have to cost anything at all if you prefer. You just use things you already have, like things from the household, as a mug, a dish, paper boxes of all sorts and whatever you find. There are also activity toys you can build yourself or buy.

Published inSeminars and lectures

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