A dog's nose is a powerful tool, it's used to find missing people, detect drugs and explosives but the greatest thing it can do is enrich your dog's life. As professional dog walkers we're hired to exercise a clients dog and most often both parties key in on the physical aspect of the dog walk and ignore or maybe even feel aggravation about the mental aspect of Fido's time outside the confines of his yard. I know when I find myself repeating to all our dog walker trainees that it's his walk not yours so you must allow him the luxury of sniffing. I always like to look at the dog walk as a time for a dog's mental and physical enrichment and as a professional walker I know I'm his guardian but also his tour guide. I've learned to enjoy my walk through the dog's satisfaction. It's his time to meet the neighbors (by scent), sniff the "social media" and catch up on the latest happenings of the neighborhood.
Enrichment is important to the mental health of your dog. The term "canine enrichment" refers to the "practice of providing a dog with objects and opportunities that improve his overall quality of life." Most of the practices devote time to natural, instinctual activities with some sort of physical activity included.
Let's talk Social Enrichment, this is the act of giving your dog time to socialize with people and dogs and potentially other animals alike. Dogs are social creatures, by taking him to dog friendly places he's put into different environments that allow him to socialize, he learns the social constraints that people and other dogs put on him and quickly learns self-confidence and trust.
Remember it's all about balance and whoever said a tired dog is a good dog is absolutely correct, but they needed to go a step further and say a physically and mentally tired dog is a balanced dog. As a pet sitter and dog walker it's part of my job to keep my charges enriched. Something as simple as taking a new route or walking in a new area does amazing things for both your dog's and your brain. Cognitive enrichment is crucial to your dog's happiness and well-being. Sometimes it's too hot or cold to walk outside for long periods of time so it's up to me to create games that will stimulate the dog mentally. These can be easy games you devise with rewards being kibble or high value treats. One of my favorite treats are Hebrew National Hot Dogs cut up in tiny pieces and frozen in snack bags so they're ready to grab and go. These can be wonderful, high value rewards for training, distraction or nose work while on our walks. If I need to distract a reactive a few pieces of treat or kibble thrown on the ground while another dog/person passes is a great diversion away from the "intruder". I love when it snows and my walk takes me to fresh snow where I can throw a small amount of treat into the snow and watch my client use that powerful nose tool to dig through the snow to locate his reward.
Invest in puzzles, licking mats and snuffle mats that you can use indoors to challenge his problem-solving ability and earn his reward. Don't have access to these tools? Simply take a valued reward and hide it somewhere in the room and have him "find It" or even easier hide a treat in one hand and have him figure out which hand it's in. These games will allow him to work out some of the energy he has built up by using his mind and it will challenge you to be a better dog walker/trainer/tour guide for your client. A dog's brain responds to the stimulus of the problem-solving and the scents that he detects will help him meet his mental needs, I like to think I'm as tired on a day that I had to problem solve as I am on a day that I had 6 dog walks. It's a different tired, but tired none the less. As a result of your concentration on the dog's mental health and enrichment as well as you physical activity with him I believe our clients will see a more well balanced dog.
Puzzles challenge your pup and their ability to problem solve and quite honestly can be as simple as putting balls in a muffin tin and placing treats under a few of the balls. There are some amazing puzzles online that do cost more than a DIY but believe they're worth it, be aware that the Nina Ottoson dog puzzles do come in a range of difficulty levels so start with an easier one and work your way up on the scale.
Challenge your dog's sniffer by hiding various "scents" around the home. Peanut butter, diluted chicken or beef broth can be placed in bowls around the house and have them locate it. Something as fun as blowing bubbles outside and having them chase them you can even find steak or bacon flavored bubbles.
What happens when your dog isn't feeling like he's living his best life? You'll likely begin to see a frustrated, unhappy pup and this leads to problem behaviors. Chewing, escaping, excessive barking and digging are amongst the undesirable behaviors we often see. We've invested time and money into bringing our pets into the home we owe to ourselves and them to take the next step and make certain their lives are rich in stimulation and exercise.