A Dog's Eye View: The importance of ‘quiet’ exercise

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Lisa Mason

Lisa Mason is an experienced dog training instructor with the Total Teamwork Training group. Her specialties include new puppy owner education and management.

Living in Routt County, we are fortunate enough to have almost limitless outdoor exercise possibilities for ourselves and our dogs — spectacular rivers, lakes and streams for swimming; expansive backcountry and wooded mountains for hiking, skiing or snowshoeing; and even the beautiful Yampa River Core Trail for a gentler walk or stroll.

Because we live in such bounty and because we pride ourselves on being a town that loves and cares for our dogs, physical exercise is almost a no-brainer. But what about our dog’s need for a quieter, less physical form of exercise? Just as we humans do, dogs need to exercise their brains as well as their muscles.

Luckily, this is fairly easy to do. During our long winters, when you might not be able to take your dog with you everywhere, indoor activities such as playing games, teaching tricks or being challenged by interactive dog toys can fill the long stretches of being inside and also give your dog’s brain a hefty mental workout. Mental challenges can be as exhausting as a long walk outdoors; working their brain is a huge part of maintaining their overall health and well-being.

Games like “Hide and Seek” where your dog waits (great time to reinforce her “Stay” or “Wait”) while someone hides or a game of “Find It” where your dog has to find treats you’ve hidden around the house exercise your dog’s brain as well as her sense of sight and smell. And, games like these can satisfy key elements of our dog’s innate urge and need to hunt.

Teaching tricks can be fun and challenging for you and your dog. How about teaching your dog to “High five” or “Roll over and play dead”? Or come up with something more unique, like teaching her to go and fetch her own leash when she needs to go out. The possibilities are endless ... and fun to show off.

Interactive dog toys are another source of valuable brain power-building tools that require little more from you than placing a few tasty treats inside. Like a kind of interactive jigsaw puzzle, the dog has to figure out not only where the treats are hidden but how to get to them out by deciding whether she should use her paws, her nose or both.

And don’t forget those opportunities for reinforcing basic obedience manners. Create your own regime or contact a local trainer to help you establish and implement a plan. Mini daily sessions challenge your dog to think and make good choices. Plus, you get the added bonus of having a well-mannered, polite dog. So, think inside the box and help your dog stretch those mental muscles.

Lisa Mason is an experienced dog training instructor with the Total Teamwork Training group. Her specialties include new puppy owner education and management.

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