How to Engage Your Dog’s Brain When Activity is Restricted

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few days after Christmas, my husband and I discovered ourselves dealing with a problem: Our Australian Kelpie, Kai, was romping across the yard when all of the sudden he got here up three-legged lame, placing no weight by any means on his left hind leg. Kelpies are an intense, high-energy herding breed (I describe them as “Border Collies on velocity”), and although Kai is fairly good about short-term confinement, I suspected that he had torn his cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), which could require weeks of restricted exercise.

It turned out that the damage was even worse than I initially thought. Radiographs confirmed a shattered calcaneus bone (pronounced “cal-kay-knee-us”) in his hock – and my veterinarian knowledgeable me that its restore would require the companies of an orthopedic surgeon. 

 By some miracle, I discovered a veterinary observe with an orthopedist who might take Kai’s case instantly. We rushed Kai to the clinic, an hour away, and returned dwelling. The surgeon referred to as later that afternoon and mentioned the surgical procedure had gone nicely, even supposing she had by no means seen a calcaneus shattered that badly, requiring wires and lots of tiny screws to place it again collectively. She added that I might decide up Kai the following day – and he would wish six to eight weeks of restricted exercise. 

I suspected that such a prolonged interval of inactivity would put even our good-natured, well-behaved Kelpie to the take a look at. I started digging out all of the enrichment toys I personal and researching all of the stationary workouts I might consider. 

Three weeks and three bandage modifications into his incarceration, Kai’s leg is therapeutic nicely. I’m feeling assured sufficient within the canine-brain-tiring ways I’ve undertaken to maintain Kai quiet that I’m sharing them with you! I hope you don’t have a medical cause to need to put them to make use of – inclement climate that retains you cooped up can be a “higher” cause! – however in the event you do, no less than a number of of those instruments and stratagems ought to give you the results you want and your canine. 


I’m a giant fan of food-dispensing toys that may be given to bored canine to roll round, such because the Roll-A-Deal with Ball. However on this case, food-dispensing toys that transfer are verboten, for the reason that affected person just isn’t supposed to maneuver round a lot. Happily, there are many choices for stationary treat-containing toys and puzzles:

* Kong. The basic Kong toy, made by the Kong Firm, is a well-established favourite of many canine homeowners and trainers. Whereas some folks stuff them with kibble and glue it in place by stirring in some peanut butter or yogurt, I prefer to stuff Kongs with Kai’s moist, home-cooked meals, which doesn’t work nicely in most treat-dispensing toys. 

To make extracting the meals take even longer, fill the Kong with moist meals (canned, home-prepared, or rehydrated) and freeze the stuffed Kong in a single day. 

* Toppl. Made by West Paw Design, the Toppl is one other chew-resistant toy that may be filled with a home-prepared moist eating regimen. The opening to those toys is wider than the opening of a Kong, which makes it simpler to stuff, clear,and for the canine to lick out all of the meals. 

Kai works to unravel a 12-year-old wood puzzle, Nina Ottosson’s “Canine Twister”. The canine should use his nostril, and/or paws to show the discs, which reveal treats in hidden compartments.

* Puzzle toys. Swedish native Nina Ottosson had two Bouvier des Flandres that she used to coach and present, however after having two infants a yr and a half aside, she discovered herself making an attempt to plan toys to maintain her canine occupied with much less precise time to train them. She crafted wood puzzles that contained hidden compartments that held treats, which could possibly be revealed and eaten by a canine who pushed levers, lifted blocks, turned discs, and so forth. 

Ottosson’s innovations labored so nicely, she began an organization to fabricate and promote them. Finally, she licensed Outward Hound to make plastic variations of her designs. I’ve a bathtub filled with Ottosson’s authentic wood puzzle toys, in addition to among the newer plastic ones from Outward Hound – and Kai is attending to play with all of them! 

A decade in the past, puzzle toys for canine had been a rarity. Now the market is flooded with them, some fairly modern. The psychological train they supply might be as tiring as bodily train. Do an web seek for “canine puzzle toys” and see what you get! 

You possibly can see my overview of Nina Ottosson’s authentic wood toys within the June 2008 situation of WDJ (“A Puzzling Exercise”). For different interactive toy ideas, see “The Finest Meals-Dishing out Toys,” WDJ April 2019.

There are various retail sources for snuffle mats, nevertheless it’s truly simple to could make one your self. Listed below are some directions for this,

* Snuffle mats. These are one other of my favourite comparatively new additions to the dog-training world, accessible in astonishing selection. Should you feed dry meals, you’ll be able to feed your canine’s meals in these. I put a number of small treats in mine for Kai to seek out and he loves the search.

* Sluggish feeder bowls. These are bowls with deep grooves or different obstacles so your canine has to work to get the meals out. I’ve simply ordered one for Kai. For a overview of some completely different designs, see “Savor the Taste,” WDJ November 2020.

* DIY Muffin Tin. Kai’s having enjoyable with this one too – and I can feed his meals in it. Simply take a muffin tin, drop treats or smear moist meals within the cups, and canopy the cups with tennis balls. Then let him work at eradicating the balls from the cups to entry the treats beneath.


Video games that require numerous psychological problem-solving are maybe much more tiring for canine than they’re for us! Happily, they are often simply as entertaining as they’re exhausting for a convalescing canine.

In case your canine turns into adept at studying colours, shapes, and object discrimination, you might sooner or later be capable to inform you to pick the yellow sq. or the blue ball from a stack of toys. Deanne Davenport is proven right here working with Kai to acknowledge colours at “Cognition Academy” at Miller’s coaching middle in Maryland. Photograph taken pre-pandemic and nicely earlier than Kai’s damage.

* Shade discrimination. Sure, you’ll be able to educate your canine to acknowledge colours! Then you’ll be able to ask him to the touch a goal of a specified shade or fetch a ball of a sure shade. Canine see blue and yellow nicely, so these are the very best colours to work with. It’s thought that canine see different colours as shades of brown, so you possibly can add yet another shade (and maybe black and white). 

Begin by asking your canine to “Wait,” then current one shade (I exploit coloured paper plates). If I used to be instructing a canine to establish blue, I’d say “Blue,” pause, after which say “Contact” (you need “Contact” to be the cue, not “Blue”). 

Subsequent, repeat the identical course of with yellow. 

After a number of repetitions with every shade individually, current each colours and ask him to the touch one shade. (If he heads for the fallacious one simply whisk it away, reset, and take a look at once more.) At first, place the one you’re going to ask for a bit nearer to your canine. As he’s persistently profitable at touching the colour named, progressively current the 2 decisions extra evenly, till he can choose the proper shade with out the offset help. 

* Form discrimination. Educate your canine the phrase for a number of primary shapes. The method is identical as with colours. Current one form first and identify it, then current the opposite, after which the 2 shapes collectively, offset at first. 

* Object discrimination. Canine also can study the phrase for some primary gadgets, whether or not it’s a wide range of toys (similar to ball, disk, bone, or toy alligator). Kai is fairly good at indicating named objects, similar to Ball, Roomba, and Stuffy. 

No shock – the method is identical as above. Current one object and identify it, then current the following object, after which the 2 objects collectively, offset at first. 

For extra element on learn how to educate these cognitive discrimination video games, see “Are Canines Cognitive?” WDJ October 2017.

This canine is studying to repeat an lively conduct (strolling across the cone). As a result of Kai must be as inactive as doable, he’s been studying to repeat extra stationary behaviors , similar to “cross your paws”, nodding “sure” and shaking his head “no”

* Imitation. Educate your canine to “do what you do,” imitating actions similar to a bow, a yawn, or a comically vigorous “no” nodding of the pinnacle. This can be a far more complicated cognitive problem – and extra brain-tiring than the discrimination workouts. 

Right here’s a simplified description of learn how to prepare this: It’s best in the event you begin with a conduct he is aware of nicely on verbal cue. Let’s use “spin” for example. Have your canine wait in his beginning place whilst you display the human model of a “spin.” Return to your begin place, say “Copy!” Pause for a second or two, then give his cue for the “spin” conduct. Repeat as much as thrice in a row. 

Then, repeat the method with a second conduct – say, backing up. Ask him to attend in a beginning place, again up your self, say “Copy!” pause, after which give his cue for “again up.” Repeat this a number of occasions. 

Then, repeat the method with a 3rd conduct. 

Lastly, begin randomly alternating these till he begins to supply the proper conduct on the “Copy” cue while not having the verbal cue for that conduct. 

Word: Should you proceed with the identical conduct too many occasions in a row, he’ll simply assume “Copy” is a brand new cue for the conduct you’re demonstrating, somewhat than a brand new coaching idea.

 For a extra full description of the imitation protocol, see “Prepare Your Canine Utilizing Imitation,” WDJ October 2013.

* Counting. That is positively an upper-level cognition recreation. A protocol for instructing “amount recognition” was developed by famous coach Ken Ramirez, the previous govt vp of animal care and coaching on the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, now the chief vp and chief coaching officer with Karen Pryor Clicker Coaching. Right here’s a really simplified rationalization of Ramirez’s protocol:

The canine’s “solutions” of 1 by 5 are made accessible to him within the type of small boards which are sprinkled with one, two, three, 4, or 5 black dots. The “query” is put to the canine within the type of a tray, upon that are organized one, two, three, 4, or 5 gadgets. The canine is proven the tray, laden with objects, after which requested “What number of?” The canine signifies the variety of gadgets he noticed on the tray touching the board with the identical variety of dots. 

To see a few movies of Ramirez discussing this brain-game, see


Zeus, a shelter canine from Ohio, is studying learn how to do a “chin relaxation” in one in every of Pat Miller’s Conduct Modification Academies. A canine’s understanding of this conduct may be very useful for low-stress, low- or no-restraint veterinary examinations.

You may as well enrich your canine’s restricted surroundings by coaching him to do a wide range of stationary behaviors, similar to:

• Paw Concentrating on: Educate him to the touch his paw to a delegated goal.

• Nostril Concentrating on: Educate him to the touch his nostril to a delegated goal. (When he is aware of paw and/or nostril concentrating on you’ll be able to educate him extra low-activity enjoyable stuff like pushing a speaking button or gentle button, and taking part in a kiddie piano.)

• Say “Sure” and “No” – Educate him to nod his head up and down and to shake his head left and proper.

• Wait: Educate him to not eat a deal with inside attain till you give him permission.

• Steadiness a Deal with on Your Nostril: That is best if he already is aware of “wait.” Then begin with the deal with on the bridge of his nostril (between his eyes). As he grows extra superior at holding nonetheless, you’ll be able to progressively transfer the deal with towards the tip of his nostril.

This can be a nice alternative to work on helpful cooperative-care procedures such because the Bucket Sport (featured in “Care to Cooperate,” WDJ February 2021) or a “chin relaxation,” the place he’d relaxation his chin on a rolled-up towel whilst you carry out an examination or husbandry procedures. Each a chin relaxation and the Bucket Sport are carried out with the mutual understanding that you’ll cease the process if he appears away from the bucket or lifts his chin off the towel. He learns that you’ll not proceed till he provides the “okay to proceed” sign of wanting on the bucket or resting his chin once more. 


Although Kai just isn’t alleged to train, he does need to stroll to go to the toilet a number of occasions a day. So I determine that we would as nicely make use of those rest room breaks as greatest we are able to, with a peaceful, quiet, gradual on-leash stroll.

Accustomed to tearing by the woods and throughout the fields at high velocity once we go mountaineering, Kai is tolerating these brief walks and I’m loving them. It amazes me that he likes to face like a statue and simply take a look at and odor our environment, for minutes at a time, solely his nostrils transferring as he picks up scent and watches for motion. He has at all times loved scent work, and it’s enjoyable to look at him detect and observe a scent. Typically I am going outdoors earlier than I take him out and “salt” our strolling path with treats for him to seek out.


No matter you do to cross this quiet time along with your convalescing canine, somewhat than agonizing over the ache of managing her restricted exercise, attempt to breathe deeply and luxuriate in doing enrichment actions along with your canine. You may discover out later that this was among the most rewarding time you’ve spent collectively. 

The put up The way to Interact Your Canine’s Mind When Exercise is Restricted appeared first on Entire Canine Journal.

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