“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” Bill Gates
Dogs are hard-working animals. They all work towards the same goal: the hunt. Dogs are either hunting, practicing for the hunt, or resting from the hunt. (Kinda like humans, who are either making money, trying to make money, or resting from making money.) Most of the jobs we have dogs doing somehow tap into this. We take a segment from the hunt (the long hike to the hunting grounds, scenting out the prey, segregating the sick/young/old herd member and running/wrestling it to the ground) to benefit our own lives and get a job done. Border collies segregate and manage a herd – the same way the pack isolates its prey. Bloodhounds follow a scent to a missing child instead of scenting their prey. Humans have taken specific parts of a dog’s natural work day and molded it into something useful for themselves. And it was all good.
Until it wasn’t. It’s fine to make a dog work. But then we molded them outside of their job descriptions, and suddenly forgot that these animals are still predators, and use a great amount of mental and physical muscle to get the job done. Most dog owners realize that their dog needs exercise (to mimic the act of hunting and release of endorphins – the natural drugs that create happiness and contentment.) Most dog owners miss out on the mental work involved in the hunt, though. We have a bunch of bored predators in our house, who then turn their boredom towards inappropriate channels: chewing, barking, nervous pacing. The mental effort that should have been put towards the hunt is now directed inappropriately. There’s a saying, “A tired dog is a happy dog”. That goes for mental exhaustion as well.
In other words, I want your dog to lead a stressful life. My dogs do. And when they overcome their own stress, they have that “I did it ” moment. That leads to self-confidence. It’s the same as finishing a jigsaw puzzle. I little bit of stress + effort = success/self-confidence. You had that “I did it!” moment. Now why are you denying that to your dog?
So how does one mentally exhaust their dog? There are a myriad of ways to achieve this. I’m lazy, though. I don’t want to spend hours a day trying to entertain my dog. That’s why I utilize enrichment feeders. My dogs have not had a morsel of food pass their lips that they have not worked for. Sparta’s two favorite toys are the Omega ball and the Busy Buddies Kibble Nibble (although some surgery was needed on this one – cut the plastic retainers from the opening so food can flow more freely out of it). Orion uses the Busy Buddies Twist n Feed.
Essentially, I’m doing what they were programmed to do by nature: hunt. They are now hunting their food. Using their brains to achieve their goal: food! In the process, they are wearing themselves out mentally and gaining self-esteem. (Look what I can do!)
There are plenty of other ways to do mental work with your dog, including this or this. The act of learning is obviously mental work, so learning new tricks is a great way to get your dog the mental work they require. Rapid-firing commands you’ve taught them (think agility) is another great way. You don’t need a lot of commands or a lot of space. Teach them over and under for starters. Now get a broomstick and two soup cans and get your dog to do some agility!
However, as previously stated, I’m lazy. I don’t always have time (or inclination) to get interesting with my dogs’ mental work, so there’s always old reliable. My enrichment feeders. Yes, my dogs can do some pretty amazing things, but some days I don’t feel like doing anything amazing. That’s why I always have a fall back for their mental work. If I’m not up to teaching a new trick or doing agility, they don’t suffer from my laziness (to that end, that’s also why I have a treadmill – for days I’m just not “feeling” a morning jog).
The PAW Method isn’t a buffet. You don’t get to pick which aspects you like and which you’re not int he mood for. Piloting, Activity and Work are all mandatory. That doesn’t mean they have to be a huge chore. Be lazy, like me.