Brain Games

By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT

The objective of this article is to teach pet owners how to make and use interactive toys. City dogs spend most of their time alone; as a result, they get bored and destructive. Separation anxiety is often the result of poor mental stimulation and over attachment to owner. This comes as no surprise since dogs get most of their "feel good hormones" directly from human interaction. Guilty pet owners think that this boredom can be alleviated with extended periods of physical activity; unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Dogs need to use their cognitive abilities in order to become well adjusted and happy companions.
 
Contrary to popular belief, the brain is not a muscle. It is an organ that can generate or regenerate itself in an astonishing fashion. The old saying "use it or lose it" is factual when discussing the brain. Neurons are like fireflies, they come together, make little sparks, and if all is well will reproduce. Regrettably, if the fireflies cannot communicate, they will be unable to make sparks, and the fireflies will die. Interactive toys keep the spark from dying out.
 
Cognitive games, or enrichment activities, are presented as easy, medium, or hard levels of difficulty. The level itself is referred to as the number of necessary steps the animal must achieve in order to solve the problem. Thus, the easy level requires only one step for the animal to solve the problem, i.e. remove  treat from container. The medium level requires two steps: remove lid from container, get treat from container. Level three, which is the hardest level for most dogs, requires three steps in order to solve the problem: remove elastic from container, remove lid from container, remove treat from container. The game can be simple or multiple sensory stimulating. In other words, the games stimulates visual, auditory, olfactory, taste, and/or touch.
 
The first interactive game I will describe is one that stimulates taste and visual senses. It can be presented in various levels of difficulty as describes blow.

Take a large yogurt container (1kg), fill it with special treats or your pet's meal, and flip it upside down on the floor (no lid). Let the dog investigate and try to flip the container. Encourage your dog if he touches it with his nose or paws. Keep encouraging till he gets to the food. For the medium level, fill the container with food and add the lid to the container but still flip the container upside down (lid facing floor). For the difficult level, add food in the container, and place a strong elastic around the container to close the lid. For a longer lasting activity, mix the food with none salted broth, canned food, raw meat, eggs, or any sticky substance your pet loves and freeze the content before giving him the game.

My favourite interactive game is object recognition. Not only does it increases your dog's mental abilities and tires him out in a few minutes, it will also impress your entourage. Find as many different objects as you can. Garage sales and dollar stores are wonderful places to look for enrichment items. 

For this activity, you will need delicious treats and a comfortable sitting position. Take the first object and touch your dog's nose with it while simultaneously naming the object. Say "good dog" or click and give him a treat. Most dogs will start to make the association between the word and the object after five times. Very intelligent dogs will require only two to three tries. You can test the dog by presenting a new object and asking the one he knows. If he 
touches the new object keep paring nose-object-treat and ask again.  Once the dog recognises the object, introduce a new one in presence of the old. You dog will recognise the familiar object and through discrimination will identify the new one. This makes learning much faster and prevents boredom. The world record for object recognition by name is a thousand plus. The difficulty level will increase when you start to introduce new objects. 

For those who do not wish to spend time on the design of complex interactive toys, Nina Ottosson is the answer for you. She has a variety of interactive games ranging from easy to hard. These toys are made of plastic, are extremely sturdy, and dishwasher safe. I personally recommend Magic, Maze, Spinny, Brick, Casino, and Finder. I haven't tried the Miracle, but I am certain dogs love it too.

In any case, be creative, have fun and share your dog's achievements and or enrichment activities with us.

1 comment

  • billy

    billy sidney

    thanks for these beautiful pictures it was very interesting.

    thanks for these beautiful pictures it was very interesting.

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