I've said before that A Tired Dog is a Good Dog. It is my mantra. I've also stated that mental stimulation is more exhausting than physical. In fact, some of the saddest dogs I've known have had all sorts of physical stimulation and no mental.
I met a Border Collie recently who was so depressed. He moped around everywhere. So sad to see. The owner didn't know there was anything wrong. She was a jogger and took her dog out every day for a jog along the same route. Although the dog was physically tired, his needs were not being met mentally. The owner had no idea. She just thought he was a laid back BC and that she was meeting his exercise requirements. When she started introducing mental stimulation on a daily basis, the change in her dog was phenomenal. She told me that he was wagging his tail (something he did very rarely before), that his eyes seemed to light up when it was game time and that he seemed more happy overall. If a dog could smile, he would have been grinning.
Now she is constantly asking me if I have any more suggestions for mental stimulation. This, of course gave me the idea to write a post about it. There are many ways to mentally exercise your dog. While training is important mental stimulation and toys are great fun, I love to play games with my dogs because it is light hearted. Everyone will have their preference. After a long day at work going outside to play a short game of hide and seek with my dogs makes me feel infinitely better.
Everyone plays Hide and Seek differently and the game will change depending on the dog, the environment, the bond between handler and dog and the situation. My dogs all return to me when called and have learned the rules of this game through play.
When we are outside: I wait till they are running in one direction, then I turn and run the opposite way. I hide (somewhere where I can see them but they can't see me) and call them. Once. Sometimes I simply run to the side in the tall grass and squat down. Sometimes I hide under a tree. Then they have to find me.
When we are inside: The dogs go into a sit. Then I go hide in a closet or behind a door. I call them once and they come searching through the house, room by room. It is best to play Hide and Seek indoors with only one dog "Seeking" at a time. Otherwise it becomes a crazy race in a multi-dog household!
The key is to call them only once. If they come directly to you, than you are either too loud or called too much. (Or your hiding skills are somewhat lacking and you gave away your location.) They should be using their senses to find you; there are more senses than sight. If your dog gives up, call again quietly. When the dog finds you, make a big deal out of it. Add a few "WooHoo"s and some "Yippee"s.
No matter what game you play, it is important that you are in control. Remember this and have fun! Believe it or not, by playing games with your dog, you are actually training him or her! It is a GREAT way to build up that bond between handler and dog.