Updated: Sep 14

Ideal ways to continue developing your bond and communication when the weather is just no good for running.

Summer is great for TOP GUN tributes, but terrible for those of us who love running our dogs.

When we first get our canine friend, we often as owners spend lots of time training, attending group classes and teaching the ‘rule of the house’, but far too often, once we think our dogs have mastered the basics such as; sit, stay, leave, bed, come back etc we then just get on with the everyday task of being a good pet owner. Well imagine now if you will, that you have been taught to read some basic words and watch TV and once a day you go out for a walk, you get your food at 0700 and again at 6pm, but that is it…. Sounds pretty boring doesn’t it? Well effectively if you have a dog whom you have taught the basics and now spend your time repeating the same routine daily, you could find you have a bored, or potentially destructive dog. This is probably more evident if you get home and your dog jumps at you or is super excited to see you and wants to play a lot on a regular basis and won’t settle back down.

dog watching TV, mental stimulation for dogs
High drive and working dogs require more mental stimulation.

Often in social groups, there are regular posts about a new dog who knew everything, but then becomes destructive… or in other words; bored. Why do dogs need mental stimulation? Well there are lots of benefits. Recent research conducted by Clever Dog Lab in Vienna, highlighted that dogs can learn and be stimulated by touch screen games. The idea that the dog can learn to distinguish shapes and colours in order to gain reward, highlights that they are having to learn or form ‘schema’ (links) in their brain. By creating a task which requires the brain to learn, the dog will focus and then be more mentally stimulated and in turn fulfilled and relaxed.

So in this piece, I hope to give you some useful information and games you can play or activities you can do with your dog in order to mentally stimulate and tire them out. These are a few of my favourite and can be done for 10-15 minutes before work, or in the evening.

Scatter feed:

Scatter feeding, canicross summer training
Start off with food in front of the dog, to encourage their nose, then move the food about to different areas so it is not as easy to find.

This simple exercise can be completed very easily in your own home. It is something you can do with most food types, or treats. When it is food time, very simply take your dog’s food outside and place it in different areas around your garden. If you have kibble and one dog, or dogs who are not food obsessive, you could hide food around your home in some rooms and send your dog to find it. This exercise stimulates their olfactory system and forces them to use their noses to sniff out their food / treats.

Entry level: you can start by only hiding food treats in the open space in one room and letting your dog sniff to find it. You may need to help them at first to find the first few bits until they start to use their noses properly.

Good dog: The next level would be to scatter the food in different areas around your home – with this you can choose perhaps two locations; the hallway and one room and encourage the dog to go looking.

Super dog: At this level, you are encouraging the dog to sniff for the food reward and can scatter the food around the grass in the garden (obviously at this point make sure you have not had slug weather, and have also picked up after any pets) Scatter the food without the dog seeing and then send them into the garden to look for it. To avoid any digging, or accidents, I like to watch my dogs and make sure they get most of the food, this often results in me walking around the garden checking for kibble / treats to make sure that it is all gone.

No words training:

This can also be known as free shaping, where the dog presents behaviours which you reward. In this type of exercise, I like to think about what signals I want to present and how I would like to shape the behaviour before I begin. This is purely by choice as I like to look at what behaviours I can then use later on. An example of this is husbandry conditioning. This is where you encourage your dog to offer behaviours for general day to day care of veterinary checks. So on main behaviour I have shaped has been the ‘touch’. This behaviour is where I have my dog press their nose into my palm, which allows microchip scanning, or general body checks. Another one is raising and holding the paw so that I can file or cut nails, or check foot pads.

canicross in the summer
offering paws for trim or checks means that vet visits or grooming is less stressful for all parties

No words training can take about 10-15 minutes and you can do something as simple as hold out your hand toward the dog, with the palm facing them. Most dogs will tap your hand to start with, which you can then reward with a treat. Again doing this with no words is a good way to encourage their thinking skills and stimulate their brain function. It also means as a human we cannot confuse them. After the dog presents the nose to your palm regularly, then you can introduce the ‘hold’ phase. This is where you want the dog to present the nose and hold it until you release them. The easiest way I have found to do this is by offering the reward when they hold their nose, but if they lift their nose off your hand, you remove the treat. You can bring the treat closer as long as they keep their nose touching. Again, doing this with no words at all. Slowly over a few sessions, your dog will realise that to get the reward they must hold their nose until you say it is ok to have the treat.

Trick layering:

Trick layering is where you get your dog to perform their ‘tricks’ for you in return for food. I like to do this with the dog’s breakfast as it helps use the drive and encourages work. This idea or concept of trick layering is very simple. If your dog knows several tricks, then get them to demonstrate these in succession. For example, I might ask my dog to; sit, wait, down, sit, come, finish, then reward. You are asking the dog to think before the reward and do several different things in a sequence. Once you have done this, you could do several different commands again in different orders, so the dog doesn’t then just repeat what they have done.


If you have gestures or hand signals that you use with your normal tricks, remove the verbal cue and see if you can get the trick performed purely by your hand signal. Again after a few goes, try layering up the tricks and creating a sequence.

Master level:

As it implies, this is a bit more difficult. To complete this level, try getting your dog to do the commands / tricks by only using the verbal command and absolutely no eye contact or gesture. Stand with your hands behind your back and then looking above the eyes of the dog, say the word – only once and see if they are listening. Once you know they are, try sequencing the tricks before rewarding.

All of these simple tricks / exercises are a great way to mix it up with your dog and not only give them attention, but help them develop mentally. Not only are they great for younger dogs, but for the older dog, it helps keep their mental stimulation and brain function more healthy. With a dog who is more mentally stimulated, you are less likely to experience frustration or accidents.

mentally stimulated dog
You could even teach your dog to read!

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