Raising A Creative Canine

The introduction of a new puppy into a reactive multi-dog household

Physical and Mental Stimulation

Brain Toys No Comments »

Now that Austyn has been home for a few days, my next priority is to come up with a plan to keep him physically and mentally stimulated.

It is important for all dogs, regardless of breed, and ESPECIALLY for puppies, to be physically AND mentally stimulated each day. If this is not provided for them, they will come up with their own ways to mentally stimulate themselves, and I can guarantee, it will not be something we humans would approve of!

Physical stimulation is easily understandable. Any time the puppy runs, jumps, plays.. These are all ways that the puppy is physically stimulated. Because of puppy growth plates, it is far more preferable to keep the puppy running and jumping “horizontally” rather than “vertically”. You do not want to put unnecessary pressure on fragile growing joints.

As written by Dr. Daniel A. Degner, Board-certified Veterinary Surgeon (DACVS)

“Dogs and cats under one year of age have growth plates, which are located near the ends of the bones of the limbs. Growth plates are responsible for growth of the bones.The growth plates are much softer than other regions of the bones, therefore are more prone to injury. Growth plates normally fuse or close down as the pet matures. Most of the pet’s growth occurs during four to eight months of age. After eight months of age, little longitudinal growth of bones occurs. Usually by one year of age the growth plates are closed and are not visible on x-rays.” copyright © 2004 Vet Surgery Central Inc.

For example, if you are playing with a tennis ball, roll the ball for the puppy to chase instead of throwing it into the air. If you throw it, there is more of a chance that your puppy will run and try to jump up to get the ball. And once the puppy brings you the ball, instead of taking it from him, massage the puppy while he still has the ball in his mouth. Puppies at a very young age like to bring you things to show you what they have, they don’t necessarily want you to take it from them at this young age. You can teach them to “Give” in a couple of months.

You also will not want to take the puppy on very long walks. Several short walks (10-15 minutes) are more preferable than a very long one. (45-60 minutes)

Mental stimulation will encourage your puppy to use his brain creatively. It is very important for them to start making decisions for themselves, and for them to practice this task, several times a day. A mentally stimulated puppy is a happy and tired puppy!

For Austyn, his plan will include the following:

Brain toys: These are the toys in which he will have to figure out how to get the food that is inside. Austyn eats the majority of his meals in this fashion. Actually all of my dogs do, even as adults. Please note that there are also brain toys that you put treats inside instead of a whole meal. Use both interchangeably.

Kong: The Kong Company has many different brain toys that one can purchase. My favorite is their original Kong that comes in a variety of sizes. Black is for the heaviest chewers and red is for the mild to moderate chewers. With my guys, I take their meal and stuff it into the Kong and either freeze it or refrigerate it. You will have to see which consistency your puppy prefers. I have one dog, that if it is frozen, will turn away. Too much work. But he will work on a Kong that has been refrigerated.

Do you feed kibble? This works great too. Just mix in a very small amount of canned pumpkin (low fat and fiber for lean stool) or use some canned veterinary “bland” food. For example, I use Royal Canin Intestinal diet, to mix in Wylie-Rae’s Kong.

I prefer these fillings simply because I do not want my dogs to get diarrhea. Some of my students have filled the Kongs with peanut butter, yogurt, cream cheese, and so on with much success,

Busy Buddies: This company has my toy of choice for Austyn: the Twist n’Treat. This is a toy that looks like a flying saucer where one end screws into the other. You can adjust the challenge of getting the food out by how close you screw one side to the other. The flying saucer, itself, can be filled with any kind of gooey food. Since Austyn is on a raw diet, this can easily be smeared into the creases of the toy, and hence, keeps him working steadily to get his meal. I started with both ends screwed together lightly, but as he becomes more skilled, I start to screw the pieces closer and closer so it becomes harder and harder to get his meal.

Other ideas to feed your pup: smear your puppy’s food into a bundt pan or a cupcake tray.

Luckily for us, the pet stores are now filled with many different types of brain toys. I’m sure you can find one that will suit your puppy’s needs.

And the last thing that I want to mention is to remember to put your puppies in their crates, or other Safe Spaces, for a nap regardless of whether or not they seem to need it. Puppies need to have plenty of sleep. If they do not have adequate rest time, they become extremely over-stimulated and this is when, us humans, can become very annoyed with them. This is the puppy that stops playing with their toys and starts biting us instead! They act like over-rambunctious children! They need to nap numerous times throughout the day. They rely on us, their caretakers, to make these decisions for them.

I can remember years ago when Ben was a baby: about dusk I would call him the “piranha fish” biting at whatever would cross his path! Yes, that includes my pant leg. Into the crate for a nap he would go! I started to change his routine and would put him in the crate before dusk with a mentally stimulating toy. Behavior was much better.

Now my pups go in and out of their crate/space all day along. This time lessens as the puppy matures. And all of my dogs do rest after a training session. There is something to be said about latent learning!