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We all know how important it is to supply our dogs with chew toys to provide entertainment and stimulation, however, not all owners realize that mental stimulations is as important for a dog as is physical exercise, especially when it involves working with scent - why?

Dogs have about 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses (humans about 6 million) and the area that analyzes odours is about 45 times stronger than us humans. Dogs smell independently with each nostril which allows them to determine exactly where objects and smelly things can be found. To put this in human terms - you come into the house on a cold day and immediately get a whiff of a lovely pot of stew that is being cooked for supper - delicious - however we can smell that it is stew, but your dog would be able to smell each and every ingredient that has been added to the stew!
Think of your dog when out for a lovely slow scenting walk and he comes across a patch of grass where another dog has marked - he can take absolutely ages scenting it - but do you realize that he is picking up a lot of information about the other dog? He can determine the gender of the dog, who else has eliminated there as well, if the dog is in heat, and also the stress levels and the dogs social status! It is not a luxury for a dog to be taken for a slow scenting walk - it is a necessity and vital to an overall balanced dog. It is said that approximately 15 minutes of mental stimulation is the equivalent of an hours exercise.

If we think about it our dogs are preprogrammed to scent, so why don't we stimulate this innate need? Simple, many of us have just not thought about it!

Here are some of the things that scenting can achieve:-
  • Supplies stimulation based on the dogs innate scenting abilities, and can be undertaken by pups, older dogs, and also inside and outside the home. 
  • Wonderful to start with young pups and will teach them to engage in quiet self play, lower stress levels and helps to build a healthy brain. 
  • It can greatly alleviate boredom, especially for the dog that spends time alone at home during the day. Boredom and frustration are often major components in behaviour problems developing and leaving scent games for your dog to get stuck into when you are out, can go a long way to avoiding behaviour problems. 
  • Gets brains thinking -if your dog gets no physical exercise, the muscles will become weak and atrophy without enough exercise - exactly the same with  brain health. Will keep a dog mentally stimulated and helps to avoid premature aging. 
  • For a dog that tends to be a bit hyper, the scenting really helps them to settle down - this can be said for many behaviour concerns, even aggression - the dog is engaged in thinking about something else and this assists to lower stress levels. 
In addition to lovely scenting walks, and toys that hold treats which can keep a dog occupied and entertained, and of course behaviour games/puzzles, here are some more you can bring in, but do bear in mind that if you have more than one dog, you must ensure that any of the scenting games that involve food, will not result in resource guarding between the dogs. 

Findies - start off leaving a few treats on the floor a short distance apart, and tell your dog to 'Find It'. As the dog finds each one, get really excited and praise. As your dog gets the hang of this, you start to increase the distance between the treats and put them in more difficult locations. You can do the same thing inside the house and as the dog gets the idea, start to hide them behind curtains, around corners etc.  Dogs absolutely love this game, and a good one to use when you are going out. Simply put a trail of kibble in the garden just before you leave and ask your dog to Find It.
You can even reinforce this when on a walk and to encourage your dog to scent by tossing a treat on the ground and ask your dog to Find It - gradually make this harder by tossing in longer grass, just under the branches of low hanging trees - if your dog is doing this on lead, just use a longer lead than normal. https://www.mcmac.co.za/collections/dog-training-control/products/recall-training-lead
We could go on and on - the ways your can entrain and stimulate your dog mentally is only limited by your imagination. One thing for sure, you will have one very happy dog - enjoy yourselves!
Nina Ottosson’s range of durable interactive games have been designed to stimulate a dog’s brain whilst reinforcing their relationship with people. Each design has a unique mechanism that requires mental as well as physical dexterity to work through the challenges and reveal hidden food rewards. They can be set to differing levels of complexity, to satisfy all ages and breeds of dog. So whether you have a ‘Forrest Gump’ or an ‘Albert Einstein’, there is a Nina Ottosson game design to suit every dog! The link below will take you to all our Nina Ottosson toys.

Courtesy of : Scotty Valadao - Canine Behaviourist www.fods.co.za