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AnnaKat

Keeping them mentally busy

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Does anyone have any tips on how to keep a dog mentally busy? I'm sure this probably comes up a lot so apologies but I'm looking specifically for calm things for an anxious dog to do that will tire them out and are also easy for an inexperienced dog trainer to do!

My bc has a lot of anxiety and we recently went to a behaviorist. I think it's going to help a lot with the training plan and medication plan that she set up but for now we are not going to take her for walks (she's anxious in new places) or throw the ball (she's a little obsessive) so I need to really get her tired out with mental activities. 

Of course training will help with that and we have a training plan set up but I was wondering if anyone has some ideas for calming mental challenges for an anxious dog . I have two of the puzzle toys which she enjoys (one with buttons she has to slide to receive the treat and one which releases treats as they push the ball like shape around) but there are quite a few hours in the day to fill and I'm having trouble keeping her occupied. She doesn't take naps during the day usually so she just wanders around, pushes toys in my face, or asks for petting. 

I'm not an experienced trainer at all but I thought maybe there are some easy games to teach her? Or any ideas on how to get her to settle down for a nap so I can work? 

The vet mentioned scent work would be great but I have no idea how to get her started in that.

Thanks!

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Scent work was the first thing I thought of too.   If you type "scent work" or "nosework" into the seach bar on youtube you will find a bajillion videos on training scent work.  I even saw a couple that specifically mentioned helping a dog with anxiety by teaching scent work right in the title.   If there is a dog training club near you, they may offer scent work classes.  Even if your dog is too anxious to attend a class, most instructors would be happy to take your money and let you come and watch the class, and then you  can do the same things with your dog at home.  

There may be many who disagree with me about this, but I also suggest doing some formal (competition style) obedience training with your dog.  Again, your dog is probably way too anxious to attend a class, but classes are all about training the handler, and then you go home and apply and practice what you learned in class.  The reason I recommend competition style obedience (which I really don't enjoy in the least myself) is that it is highly structured and takes a lot of concentration on the part of the dog and handler.  If your goal is to mentally tire your dog, using all positive training to find and maintain perfect heel position and perfect "fronts" can keep you and your dog occupied forever.  And don't worry about having to teach your dog to walk with his head craned up staring at you while heeling.  That's completely unnecessary.  It's all about finding and maintaining a precise position, not about staring into your face.   If you can't stomach formal obedience, then trick training can accomplish the same thing, and again, youtube is your friend.  

All of these activities require the dog to concentrate, without the adrenaline rush of agility or flyball.  And concentration is what will tire your dog.

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I second nose work or scent work. My dogs love it. We also do trick training and there are a ton of books out there for training tricks. 

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specifically, a good way to start nosework type stuff when neither of you particularly knows what you're doing ;) is to play "hide the kibble" or "hide the favorite toy" in the living room. (Don't do it with a toy if the dog is crazy obsessive with the toy, only if the dog likes the toy enough to find it but is not going to start believing that if she looks ahrd enough it will always turn out to be under a sofa cushion etc!)

Start putting the kibble somewhere easy and with the dog watching; you will doubtless find that you can very, very quickly proceed to blind hides and less-obvious places. Reading a bit about scent work is helpful at this point, b/c it will give you some idea of how scent moves in the air and therefore which places are likely to be harder and easier. But your dog will also tell you which places are harder and easier, and how scent moves. 

Also IMO it is worth working on a 'stay' while you hide the kibble, instead of just closing a door or popping the dog into a crate. I think it makes them "thinkier" about the process, which is probably what you want.

Additionally, I would recommend trick training as a great way to put mileage on the brain and make the dog feel like they've done something. It is the same concept as doing obedience type stuff EXCEPT that you are likely to have much less personal investment in how the training goes and whether the dog learns things "just right". If they are tricks that YOU make up (nose-touch a target! stand in this box! go around the cone and come back to me! pick up the spoon!) then if you and the dog just don't seem to be communicating and have to bail and go on to do something different, you will not feel bad about it as if it were an Official Exercise like Front, Stand, Heel, etc; and because YOU are the one makin' up the trick, YOU get to decide how it gets performed and can take the dog's interpretations and personality into account rather than trying to force it into an externally-determined mold.  Highly recommend clicker training, and either learning to shape behavior, or luring-plus-clicking (the luring just to get things started, then you shape things from there).  Tricks do not need to get formalized with names etc... the point is the journey, not the destination :)

Good luck and have fun,

Pat

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We've done nosework and Kev loved it! I would also suggest naming your toys and having pup collect each one by name - we play "Where is ___?" every day and I find that it's an excellent way to get him to tap into a focused state, and it tires him out. I teach him the name of the toys by first showing him the toy, saying "Pickle" or whatever I've named it, hiding it in one room with the door closed, then I open the door and say "Where is Pickle?" and after 2 or 3 rounds of this, he knows its name. Then I can put both Pickle and Tire in the bedroom and have him retrieve them individually. We pair this with a "Clean up" trick where he has to drop each one, collected by name, into a basket (which I trained separately). But that aspect isn't really necessary, I don't think; just having to search for a specific thing is tiring.

Also: trick training in general is probably a great way to tire your pup out! I really love Kikopup's videos.

 

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20 hours ago, Hooper2 said:

Scent work was the first thing I thought of too.   If you type "scent work" or "nosework" into the seach bar on youtube you will find a bajillion videos on training scent work.  I even saw a couple that specifically mentioned helping a dog with anxiety by teaching scent work right in the title.   If there is a dog training club near you, they may offer scent work classes.  Even if your dog is too anxious to attend a class, most instructors would be happy to take your money and let you come and watch the class, and then you  can do the same things with your dog at home.  

There may be many who disagree with me about this, but I also suggest doing some formal (competition style) obedience training with your dog.  Again, your dog is probably way too anxious to attend a class, but classes are all about training the handler, and then you go home and apply and practice what you learned in class.  The reason I recommend competition style obedience (which I really don't enjoy in the least myself) is that it is highly structured and takes a lot of concentration on the part of the dog and handler.  If your goal is to mentally tire your dog, using all positive training to find and maintain perfect heel position and perfect "fronts" can keep you and your dog occupied forever.  And don't worry about having to teach your dog to walk with his head craned up staring at you while heeling.  That's completely unnecessary.  It's all about finding and maintaining a precise position, not about staring into your face.   If you can't stomach formal obedience, then trick training can accomplish the same thing, and again, youtube is your friend.  

All of these activities require the dog to concentrate, without the adrenaline rush of agility or flyball.  And concentration is what will tire your dog.

Thank you! This helps a lot. I'll look into classes--I didn't even think about just watching the classes and not bringing my bc but that might work. I'm a little intimidated by the idea of competition style training but I’ll look up some YouTube videos on it and see what I can do. She is super smart so she picks up on things really quickly. I’m the one holding her back with my inexperience. :(

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12 hours ago, Pat P said:

specifically, a good way to start nosework type stuff when neither of you particularly knows what you're doing ;) is to play "hide the kibble" or "hide the favorite toy" in the living room. (Don't do it with a toy if the dog is crazy obsessive with the toy, only if the dog likes the toy enough to find it but is not going to start believing that if she looks ahrd enough it will always turn out to be under a sofa cushion etc!)

Start putting the kibble somewhere easy and with the dog watching; you will doubtless find that you can very, very quickly proceed to blind hides and less-obvious places. Reading a bit about scent work is helpful at this point, b/c it will give you some idea of how scent moves in the air and therefore which places are likely to be harder and easier. But your dog will also tell you which places are harder and easier, and how scent moves. 

Also IMO it is worth working on a 'stay' while you hide the kibble, instead of just closing a door or popping the dog into a crate. I think it makes them "thinkier" about the process, which is probably what you want.

Additionally, I would recommend trick training as a great way to put mileage on the brain and make the dog feel like they've done something. It is the same concept as doing obedience type stuff EXCEPT that you are likely to have much less personal investment in how the training goes and whether the dog learns things "just right". If they are tricks that YOU make up (nose-touch a target! stand in this box! go around the cone and come back to me! pick up the spoon!) then if you and the dog just don't seem to be communicating and have to bail and go on to do something different, you will not feel bad about it as if it were an Official Exercise like Front, Stand, Heel, etc; and because YOU are the one makin' up the trick, YOU get to decide how it gets performed and can take the dog's interpretations and personality into account rather than trying to force it into an externally-determined mold.  Highly recommend clicker training, and either learning to shape behavior, or luring-plus-clicking (the luring just to get things started, then you shape things from there).  Tricks do not need to get formalized with names etc... the point is the journey, not the destination :)

Good luck and have fun,

Pat

This is great advise and I appreciate it! I needed to hear that part about making up tricks and having fun. I’ve been a little overwhelmed and uncertain about training and I get a little stressed. That takes some of the pressure off and reminds me to keep it all fun. I definitely need to remember to keep it fun for the both of us.

I tried some games this morning with hiding her breakfast and we both had fun. Thanks again for the help!

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1 hour ago, KevTheDog said:

We've done nosework and Kev loved it! I would also suggest naming your toys and having pup collect each one by name - we play "Where is ___?" every day and I find that it's an excellent way to get him to tap into a focused state, and it tires him out. I teach him the name of the toys by first showing him the toy, saying "Pickle" or whatever I've named it, hiding it in one room with the door closed, then I open the door and say "Where is Pickle?" and after 2 or 3 rounds of this, he knows its name. Then I can put both Pickle and Tire in the bedroom and have him retrieve them individually. We pair this with a "Clean up" trick where he has to drop each one, collected by name, into a basket (which I trained separately). But that aspect isn't really necessary, I don't think; just having to search for a specific thing is tiring.

Also: trick training in general is probably a great way to tire your pup out! I really love Kikopup's videos.

 

I hadn’t thought of that game! We have named some of her toys and she does know them so this will be a really good one to try. Also thanks for mentioning Kikopup’s videos. Those look like a fantastic resource.

Thank you!

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1 hour ago, AnnaKat said:

I'm a little intimidated by the idea of competition style training . . . I’m the one holding her back with my inexperience.

In that case competition style training might be really good for you. ;) Not because you want to compete or even really need the precision from your dog, but knowing how to train for precision will teach you a lot about training. A good trainer will have workarounds when things aren't working well. A really good training instructor won't have a single approach to teaching a particular behavior; they'll know when to be adaptable and change things up when things aren't working as planned so that neither you nor the dog becomes frustrated. Getting frustrated can sour training for either or both you and the dog, especially if the dog (or you) is anxious.

While I agree that attending some classes to learn methods is a stellar idea, I think an even better one might be to book some private sessions with a good trainer. Many will go to your home or meet you somewhere if there's a place your dog likes to go that doesn't trigger her anxiety. The trainer will not only be able to focus on your particular dog's style of learning and anxiety, but will also help you understand how best to interact with her -- which is priceless. People are often so wrapped up in the training that they're not aware of how their own body language or position is affecting the dog so having a second set of eyes is invaluable -- but should also be able to teach you ways of helping your dog gain confidence, which will help lessen the anxiety. The training alone should help that, but having someone else watching to see what you're doing is so very, very helpful, even for experienced trainers.

Absolutely, positively make sure the trainer uses positive reinforcement and force free methods. Correction based training could easily make your dog more anxious. Any good trainer should be able to articulate their approach to training and the reasons for them. Catchwords to question are "alpha," "dominance," flooding" and "balance" (which is usually code for a training style that includes corrections). Avoid trainers who start out using equipment like choke chains or prong collars. And definitely stay far, far away from someone who uses shock collars, no matter what euphemistic terms like "static" or "e-collar" they use for them.

You may also find Emma Parson's Click to Calm protocol helpful. There's a book by that name and Youtube videos. Some trainers use the technique and can incorporate it into private sessions.

Good luck with your pup. Hope you'll keep us updated.

 

 

 

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Gentle Lake, thank you for the advise! 

I spoke again with the behaviorist and she encouraged me to not seek out any local trainers saying they would be more likely to train behaviors to stop (behavior suppression) but not fix any underlying problems. She wants to do behavioral modification and right now has me avoiding all situations that trigger anxiety like new people, leaving the house, high pitched noises, etc. 

It makes sense I think? I'm not entirely clear on the whole plan. She has me training things like the touch cue and settle on a mat. Later on she will have me work on desensitizing she says with things like putting a harness on. I'm not suppose to use a leash or harness right now to avoid triggering an anxious response. 

I'm hoping that if I keep with her plan then things will work out. Thank you for the resources as well! I will definitely look at Click to Calm and see if I can educate myself!

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She probably knows the trainers in the area and their approaches, so I'd take her advice. Where I live I'm lucky to have a couple really excellent trainers who'd do exactly the kind of behavior modification you describe. One of them is also a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as a trainer. So not a vet. behaviorist but still very qualified.

I just got a post from the Whole Dog Journal reminding me about another book that could be useful, "Chill Out Fido! by dog behavior expert Nan Kené Arthur." It's another really excellent reference.

I really think looking for good books like these in addition to working with someone is that the books usually go into more detail about the reasons behind the different exercises, which can really be helpful. Another advantage is that they're there to look back over when the vet behaviorist isn't around to refresh your memory. You can see if your library has them or can get them through inter-library loan so you can check them out before deciding if you want to purchase them, or check online to see if you can find used copies.

 

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The only reason Gibbs doesn't 'work' for all his food is that he needs prescription meds daily and the easiest way to do that is add to his meals. However, half of his morning kibble goes into a treat ball that he pushes around with his nose, and half of his evening kibble goes in a variety of places for him to find. One of those places is his bedding. His living room blanket is about 46" X 50" ~ I scatter a portion of his evening kibble over the blanket, (he's in a down stay in a different part of the house) then fold and/or roll the blanket, sometimes even tying a very loose knot in in it. He gets to nose it apart and sniff out all the kibble. I'll also hide pieces of kibble on my front deck, which is fairly large, behind plant pots, plant stands, on the far side of the deck, even on chairs in the back yard. He seems to be disappointed when I'm in a hurry and just put down his bowl.

Ruth & Gibbs

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