Sunday, September 25, 2011

Exercise v. Stimulation

Today I was walking with a friend and was positively gushing about the games I've been working with based on Melissa's (from Doggie Prodigy) recommendations. And let's just say that, in my 10+ years working with dogs, I have yet to see anything yield such dramatic results.

That led to a comment by my friend, something to the effect of, "I'll tell you what would solve 'the problem' with most dogs. Exercise!" I bristled a bit, I must admit. Barely hidden in her comments neatly punctuating my litany of reasons why mental games are so important was a barely concealed disdain for games.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this: If I had to choose which dog is likely to be easier to rehabilitate, a dog that hasn't been exercised or a dog that hasn't been mentally stimulated, I'll tell you--paws down--the dog that hasn't been exercised will be much easier to rehabilitate. In fact, change his diet and give him some exercise, and he'll be back on track in no time. The under-stimulated dog, on the other hand, will take longer. In some cases, years. I've got a few of those dogs in my house right now.

After all, a dog that hasn't been mentally stimulated is unlikely to understand how to interact with human and other animals; she's more likely to be labeled "unadoptable" or to be euthanized because she can't adapt to her adoptive home. I've heard stories, spoken with the adopters who thought they did everything they could. And they did, based on the common assumption that exercise is enough.

It's not.

Dogs have a symbiotic relationship with humans. Until recently, they performed chores, whether it was herding or pulling carts or participating on a hunt. Now, they sleep on posh beds, bark like mad when someone comes to the door, and get walked twice a day. And we generally accept the dogs with that life as "lucky."

But, with the exception of being fantastic companions, the majority of them don't really do anything .

Is it enough? As we assign them fewer "chores," we're seeing a spike in behavioral problems. It's no coincidence. (Check out Lisa Giroux's "Mental Stimulation for Dogs" for a fuller discussion.)

And I can tell you this: The minute I started introducing toys into the rescue class I teach at AllBreed Obedience, 30% of the students sought out toys through Doggie Prodigy. Thirty percent! They tracked down Melissa at the Renaissance Festival and Bark and Roll even though I knew her only as "some lady selling interactive dog toys at local festivals and dog-related events."

I bought a few products (beginning with the Tornado and the Aikiou) for myself after watching a particularly withdrawn dog, Milo, come out of his shell when I placed a game in front of him. I started introducing Doggie Prodigy products to friends, and guess what? I can't keep up with their hunger for more! They're waiting for me to buy more toys.

Why? Because, whether your dog is reactive, shy-fearful, a fast-easter, submissive, withdrawn, or some combination of these and other behaviors, these toys will work. Most significantly, you'll see an improvement in your relationship immediately. You'll see a more confident dog, a happier dog. And that will help you build a stronger and more satisfying bond with your dog.

You might want to try a toy yourself.

P.S. Make sure you play with your dog rather than use the game as a babysitter.


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