Stimulate the Brain, Early and Often:
I am often asked if dog owners can do anything to make their dogs smarter. If you look on the super- market shelves, you’ll see numer- ous dog foods that claim to aid in intelligence. I don’t know if diet can increase intelligence, and dogs cannot take IQ tests to prove this one way or the other. However, I do believe “stimulating” a dog during early puppyhood can result in a stronger, more balanced brain.
A puppy’s brain is like a sponge—soaking up all the smells and sights and experiences in the world as fast as it can. A well-stimulated pup will grow up to have a larger brain with more cells, bigger cells, and more interconnections between them. Hearing loud noises, getting regular exercise, meeting new dogs and people, traveling to new places, and even going through agility course training for a few minutes each day make for a stron- ger brain. We can influence the development of a puppy’s brain by providing him with the best environment possible when he is a newborn pup.
Likewise, a dog that is deprived of stimulation or that doesn’t have interactions with other dogs or humans is more likely to have a smaller brain and be less balanced. I have seen many situations in which an understimulated dog is not only an unhappy dog but also a dull, almost lifeless animal.
But, conversely, too much of a good thing can be harmful. I have also seen situations in which overstimulating a dog can lead to behavior problems and aggression. Signs of overstimulation can be seen in a dog who enters a room or approaches another dog face-to-face, with his tongue hanging out, gasping for breath, and pulling on the leash or barking. A lot of dog owners misinterpret these signs as those of a “happy” dog, but in reality, such dogs are out of control. When you see these signs, your dog needs calm, deliberate handling, and it’s best to move him away from whatever is overstimulating him until he has calmed down. Challenging Your Dog’s Mind:
Keeping your dogs mentally challenged and constantly exposing them to new things are just as important as taking them for walks and exercising them. Bored dogs develop destructive behaviors and take their negative energy out on things like your furniture. Here are some creative ways to stimulate your dog’s mind:
1. Work on a new trick. Every time you engage your dog in a training session, you are providing him with a mental challenge. Search around for new tricks to learn and practice. If you’re ready to move past the basic commands of “sit,” “stay,” and “come” . . . try linking commands together like “retrieve and sit.”
2. Play with interactive games or toys. Dog toys have evolved beyond rubber squeaky toys and cloth squirrels. I like to use canine puzzles that allow you to hide treats and objects inside the puzzle, which engage your dog in figuring out how to work them out. If you don’t have a puzzle, you can hold a treat in one hand and let your dog figure out which hand is hiding the treat. Because dogs have such a powerful sense of smell, your dog will guess right 100 percent of the time.
3. Change your walk routine. Try a different street or park just to keep it interesting for your dog.
4. Give your dog a job to do. Dogs are bred to complete tasks like hunting and herding. Engage your dog in a game of Frisbee. Get him involved in a sport like agility or flyball. Find jobs that fulfill your dog’s breed.
5. Socialize your dog. Dogs are social animals, and you should nurture the need for social activity by planning playdates with other compatible dogs.
Excerpted from Cesar Millan's Short Guide to a Happy Dog by Cesar Millan. Copyright © 2013 by Cesar Millan. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.