Yoga for your dogs

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Sep 1, 2014, 09.48 PM IST

We are all quite familiar with this concept of balance —be it the new corporate parlance of work-life balance or the old adage about all work and no play. What we are not familiar with is how this applies to dogs.

Classical training looked at keeping a dog physically fit and receptive to owner’s commands. But there’s more literature from different parts of the world that not only recognises the more cognitive part of animals’ brains, but also their emotions. We are not talking about simple emotions like anger and joy, but the more complicated ones like love and grief.

If our dog is capable of these emotions, then one cannot help wonder how much more that furry head is capable of. That begs the question, are we mentally stimulating our dogs enough? It does not take much imagination to realise how difficult our life would be if there are no outlets for our mental faculties. Would the same not hold true for your dog too?

Let me ask you to indulge me in a little test. Take a little piece of your dog’s all-time favourite food. Let your dog see that you have put the food on the floor. Quickly cover the food with a piece of kitchen towel or cloth. See how your dog solves this problem. I am quite sure that if you all wrote back to me with what your dog did, I would have as many different solutions as I have responses. Dogs are indeed smart and have a personality. 

So the next question to ask is: how do we ensure they get enough mental stimulation daily. For this, we just need to look at what are those pesky little areas where they seem to cause us inconvenience. See how they use their brain and play that back as a puzzle. For example, my Indy, Tigger, likes to tear things out. So I give her a newspaper, crumpled up with treats and stuffed into a box, which is then stuffed into a bigger box and taped up. She can go at it for quite a while and is spent at the end of it.

Another thing that dogs are so incredibly good at is using their nose. When they are born, for a few days they are blind and deaf. Even at that stage they can smell and smell well. So giving them something to use their nose is a great idea. Get them to sniff out hidden treats. As he starts getting better, complicate the game. Push his limits. He will surprise you at how good he is at sniffing out treats.

If you have a lawn, scatter treats around and let him sniff it out. It’s like yoga for a dog. Nothing calms a dog down like this particular activity. When I was studying dog behavior in Norway, I was able to witness a project called Dog Pulse. The project measured the heart rate of a dog as he went about doing his usual activities. The dog that had come in for the test that particular day was a very stressed dog. His heart rate should have been at 120, but was at 200-plus. As he started sniffing out the treats the heart rate dropped gradually to 130.

This is the amazing thing about use of brain and indulging in calming activity. It exercises our dogs in areas where they are largely ignored. And it calms the dogs too. Blindly increasing physical exercise as a response to all issues is not going to solve the problem. If a dog is mentally stressed, his mental issues need to be addressed. Calming activities like nose work help reduce some of the mental stress in dogs.

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