Have you noticed the busier you are, the busier your dog is too...but not in a good way?
It's no coincidence. When you're frantically multi-tasking or otherwise occupied, your dog naturally picks up on your vibe. Just as naturally, your dog feels inspired to find their own pursuits for mental stimulation. And often, at least with our own crew here at Mighty Paw, trouble ensues.
How do you get through a conference call without attention-seeking shenanigans or prep for holiday guests without boredom-induced destruction? Fortunately, there are simple, and fun, answers for you and your dog.
It starts with knowing your dog and what can set them up to be calm and happy.
A well-exercised dog, physically and mentally, is a happy dog.
Everyone has heard some version of the expression, "an exercised dog is an excellent dog." There's more than a grain of truth in that, since dogs are hardwired to need both physical and mental exercise for stimulation, healthy energy release, and relaxation to be their well-balanced, joyful selves.
That means it's more than just wearing your dog out physically; it's a fuller picture than the old saying "a tired dog is a good dog." Just as a human child can get overtired, so can a dog. Both physical and mental exercise need to be relaxing and regenerating as much as energy-burning to avoid that restless, can't-settle-down feeling.
Take, for example, a walk with your dog...The point isn't to wear out your dog physically with the speed or length of your walk. You want to find the right balance of physical energy expended and mental stimulation (aka sniffing along the way) to match what's genuinely fulfilling for your individual dog.
Benefits of keeping your dog entertained and engaged
There's real science behind why keeping your dog engaged constructively keeps your pup content when you need to be focusing elsewhere. Physical exercise and mental stimulation through very dog-instinctive activities like chewing, sniffing, licking, and foraging for food are all well established as triggers of neurotransmitters that soothe and calm dogs.
They're some of the same neurotransmitters we know for creating what's often called "runner's high" and other mood-balancing experiences for humans. Our dogs also benefit from releasing endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin naturally in their brains.
We've pulled together 5 simple, effective ways to help you get a jump on keeping your dog entertained and positively engaged throughout this busy holiday season - and anytime in the year ahead.
What to do to keep your dog busy - in all the healthiest ways
1) Start the day with energy-releasing exercise
It's always a good idea to set the tone for the day with your dog by leading off with physical exercise or play that burns extra energy and any stress. Try a walk in your neighborhood with plenty of sniffing, a fun game of frisbee (with our gentle on teeth, floatable frisbee), or play fetch with a favorite ball. Both you and your dog can get your feel-good hormones and your blood going and set yourselves up to feel on top of even the most jam-packed days before your many to-do's take over!
Pro tip: If you want to get some ball or frisbee play in but you don't have a good-sized space that's fenced, try an extra-long leash (15 or 30 ft long) to give your pup more freedom with safety. A long leash is also a great option when you want to give your pup a bit more leeway to sniff and explore on a sense-stimulating walk.
2) Turn mealtimes into an enrichment activity
Why not start the day by making breakfast a two-fer? You're feeding your dog anyway, so make it a mentally enriching experience for your dog's mind at the same time that has lasting calming effects through the day.
We've had so many requests for slower, engaging feeding options over the years from pet parents, including our own Mighty Paw dog moms and dads, that we created 3 options to suit different dog tastes and eating styles to keep your dog mentally stimulated:
- The slow feeder bowl insert fits in your dog's bowl to slow your dog down with two unique textures and replaces gulping and inhaling of food with more of a sensory dining experience.
- You can switch your dog's bowl to our slow feed dog bowl as a stand-alone or use it in your dog's regular bowl. The interactive maze design makes eating a fun, foraging activity for your dog.
- With input from veterinarians and behaviorists recommending mental enrichment for anxious or bored dogs, our dog lick bowl features 2 different modes (stable & wobbly) as well as 4 different textures (easy, fun, anxiety relief, & distraction) to match your pup’s activity needs. Use it in wobble mode as a boredom buster that reduces destructive behavior when you’re busy.
3) Create a comfortable space for keeping your dog entertained indoors
As you're thinking about ways to keep your dog occupied, think about where your pup can settle in peacefully and chew, play interactive games, lick a food puzzle toy, nap, or do whatever you've chosen as a relaxing pastime for your dog. It helps to create a comfortable, cozy space near you where your dog can feel part of things but that also feels safe and secure from too much hubbub.
Is your dog interested in watching all the goings-on in the neighborhood? If yes, and your pup doesn't feel compelled to announcement bark for every dog, delivery person, and squirrel that passes by, then you might want to make your dog's safe space in front of a window or on a window seat. That way your dog can feel fulfilled doing the very important job of keeping tabs on the neighbors!
4) Engage and soothe your dog with food-dispensing toys, mats, and puzzles
For all those times you'd love your pup to be contentedly consumed with something other than you, choosing your dog's toys to be more than toys is a happy solution. Think about adding these to your pup's toy box for engaging, enriching play anytime:
Stuffed chew toys to keep your dog entertained
Stuff a chew toy with your dog's favorite tasty treats or food (try your own signature combo of peanut butter, fresh foods like blueberries or chopped carrot or apple pieces, and bits of your dog's food) and your dog will be obsessed. You can make these ahead of time and freeze them to keep your dog occupied even longer.
Interactive toys that let your dog work (and play) for dog treats as rewards
Pro tip: For all these activities, the treats don't have to technically be "dog treats"... any favorite, healthful food is a perfect treat for all things enrichment.
Snuffle mats to hide treats so your dog can play "find the treats."
You can also hide favorite treats around your dog's space in a shaggy rug or under and behind objects, and let your dog play hide and seek - and reward. This is known as "nose work" with positive dog trainers and behaviorists, and is a fun way to activate your dog's sense of smell to de-stress and be on best behavior.
Slow feeder lick pads and puzzle toys
A sure cure for dog boredom? Lick pads that are a cross between a slow feeder and a puzzle toy (and another good candidate for freezing). Dogs love to overcome obstacles in search of treats. Working for treats and licking are two things dogs are born to do, so a lick pad slathered with a spreadable tasty treat like peanut butter, coconut oil, or any healthful soft food your dog loves is instinctively satisfying and calming.
We designed our Mighty Paw Dog Lick Pad with 4 uniquely textured quadrants that offer varying degrees of difficulty: the Easy quadrant for quick training rewards, the Fun quadrant as a boredom buster and slow feeder, the Anxiety Relief quadrant as a potential stress reliever, and the Distraction quadrant to keep your dog busy for a while.
It's an all-around win for your dog on every level - and you win plenty of time to holiday prep or catch up on work while your dog is focused on getting every last lick of the lick pad!
5) Give your pup a healthy version of the instinctive de-stressor: chewing
Dogs instinctively know that chewing gives them a way to chew away boredom, stress, and excess emotional energy. And you probably already know if you don't give your dog something you want your pup to chew, your dog has a sixth sense for finding your most expensive shoe or valuable chair leg to do the trick.
That's why we've created long-lasting chews that can entertain your pup almost endlessly while delivering solid nutrition and helping keep your dog's teeth clean. A couple favorites:
- Naturals Yak Cheese Dog Chews - fully digestible, lactose-free, grain-free, gluten-free, chemical-free, preservative-free, mess-free, and smell-free
- Naturals Bully Sticks - single ingredient, sourced from grass-fed, free-range beef (and a chemical-free, additive-free alternative to dangerous rawhide chews)
All these activities - from sensory walks to long-lasting chews - can activate your dog's brain and deliver nutrition and other health benefits as they keep your dog busy when you're busy. Enjoy sharing any of these ways to keep your dog both stimulated and relaxed, to help keep your dog's stress low and the comfort level high. That means both of you can relax, have more adventures, and enjoy the holidays together!
As always at Mighty Paw, our commitment is to provide dog parents with high-quality products that are safe, durable, and practical for everyday use. From quiet times to busy times, from adventures to snuggles on the couch, we've got you covered.