Part of keeping a healthy human body and mind is with regular mental and physical workouts. Crossword puzzles, brain teasers, or anything outside our regular routines helps to keep us sharp, focused and mentally alert. Also, our bodies need regular exercise to perform their best. Studies show that regular exercise helps prevent injury and health complications as we age.
It is exactly the same for our canine friends. They need toys and challenges to keep them mentally sharp and keep their quality of life up. There is nothing worse than a broken spirit.
It is sad to see rescue videos showing dogs who have been abandoned and neglected by their owners; left to fend for themselves. After a time, their spirit gets broken and they lose the luster of life. After rescue and being physically healed, they also show a renewed spark when they know they are loved and are played with.
Getting dogs on a regular exercise regimen is important to their physical health and prevents problems like destruction through boredom (chewed furniture, and empty trash cans etc…) but why not use exercise as a way to challenge them mentally too?
You can teach an old dog new tricks!
Admiring the agility of the competition dogs you see on TV can be something you can train your dog to accomplish too! There’s no need for expensive equipment, and you don’t need a whole setup which can cost thousands of dollars, why not start off simple and use a hula hoop, or a rope to make a Pause Box. In Kennel Club Regulations, it should be a 36” by 36” square, but for the casual trainer, a hula hoop will suffice.
Essentially, the dog must stay in the Pause Box and remain motionless without any part of their body outside the box until the end of the count (a competition-defined number of seconds) and then they are released.
The level of difficulty can increase from a box, to a table, to color-coded sides on the table where the trainer must direct the dog to enter on a specific side, and exit from another specific side. It is much easier to work your way up to a color-coded table an to start with it from the beginning.
As the focus is on the home-trainer here, sticking to a visible, enclosed target on the lawn (like a hula hoop) will give the dog challenge, exercise, and a way to keep them sharp.
Treats are encouraged in moderation to reinforce the behavior. Used in moderation they are a great way to have the dog sit, stay, lay down and freeze in position. Small treats designed for training are recommended and available at most pet supply retailers.
Small treats provide enough reward without the calories or the dog getting full. In my own experience, it is fun to have the dog look forward to a different treat when they do training versus a regular daily snack. It also helps to keep their palette stimulated. In their ancestry, dogs didn’t eat exactly the same food every day, they found food that was interesting and tried those too!
Be sure to check out sources online (or in your garage) for agility training equipment, there are several books (physical and electronic) on Amazon that can help you get started, and Wikipedia is a great resource as well for all the competition elements and regulations.