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Why Being a Lifelong Learner is Good for Dogs Too!

Plus: 5 simple ways you can include lifelong learning opportunities for your dog.

After you and your human finish taking puppy classes, basic and intermediate obedience classes, you may think your learning days are done. Wrong. Just like humans, us dogs are lifelong learners.

Lifelong learning is a way of life in our dog world. We thrive on new smells, new sights, new toys…well you get the picture.

In fact, us dogs can’t help but crave new experiences.

Alexandra Horowitz in her excellent book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, writes that us “Dogs have a preference for novel objects – neophilia.” This is the doggy condition. That’s why lifelong learning is crucial for our mental and physical health.

However, humans like routine. They get up, eat and go to bed at the same time, take us for walks at the same time, feed us the same food and so on. Humans are predictable. But when humans are away from us dogs, they are often engaged in lifelong learning through their work, school or social activities.

We need our humans to understand that us dogs also need the exposure to lifelong learning. Here’s some of the reasons why:

Mental stimulation makes dogs happy. When we get a chance to use our brains by figuring out a puzzle, new trick or getting stimulation from a long sniff walk in a new area, we are exhausted. Like playing fetch or running around with out dog friends, mental activities tire us out.

Our minds are wired for our dog jobs. Ever since humans have had dogs and bred dogs, we have had jobs. Some of us retrieve, some of us herd and all of us are companions to our humans. However, those of us dogs who were bred for specific tasks need extra mental stimulation in line with our origins sometimes.

Mental health issues aren’t just a human issue. Dogs have mental health needs and issues. Dogs can become depressed, develop various anxiety disorders and become obsessive compulsive to name only a few dog mental health conditions.

Mental stimulation can help alleviate dog mental health issues. However, if you suspect your dog has a mental health issue then you should make an appointment with your veterinary, holistic veterinarian or a certified and licensed animal behaviorist who specializes in canine behavior.

Here’s 5 simple ways you can include lifelong learning opportunities for your dog.

1. Try Out Different Dog Classes. There are so many different dog classes such as: Rally Obedience, Agility and Scent Detection to name a few. The benefit of enrolling your dog in a force free dog class is that it's a great way to bond with your dog. Also, they can watch and learn from other dogs too.

2. Play the "Find It" Scent Game in Your Home. You don’t need much to setup a "Find It" scent game. Just need some tasty dog treats and a place to hide them. First place your dog in another room while you hide treats at dog level and in different locations. Then let your dog into the room and ask them to “find”. When they find the first treat, praise your dog a lot. Then ask them to find again. By hiding treats around a room in your house, you are stimulating your dog’s problem solving skills and nose. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a Scent Den, then cosider booking a session for your dog.

3. Try Learning A New Trick. Use your regular training session to teach a new trick. Whenever you engage your dog through a training session, it’s a mental workout. But just like humans they can get bored with the same routine or lessons. Try teaching them a new trick. Learning something new appeals to a dog’s need for novelty, engages their brain and improve their communication with you.

4. Use a Dog Toy Rotation System. My humans rotate my dog toys so that they always seem new and fresh even though some of them are a few years old. Since I don’t have access to all my toys all the time, when my humans show me a dog toy I haven’t played with for a while, I get so excited! Also, there are two advantages to rotating your dog’s toys. One, you save money by not having to replace dog toys as often. Two, it gives you a chance to fix or mend any toys and check them for damage.

5. Take Long Scent Walks. Smelling is how us dogs engage with the world. Often when humans need to get on with their day, they rush our walks so they can get going. They don’t have the time to let us stop and sniff the hydrant, the fence, the tree, the sidewalk, the…you get the picture. But nothing is as stimulating as a long slow sniff walk. All your human need is a leash and to set aside the time to let you slowly sniff away. If they want to up your experience, then they just need to take you to a new neighbourhood or park.

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