Providing mental stimulation and enrichment is important for all dogs. This is especially true for high energy and extremely smart breeds like the Australian Cattle Dog.
The Blue Heeler is high energy and intelligent. Failure to keep them occupied and stimulated will result in boredom and frustration.
Boredom is a major cause of behavior issues with Blue Heelers. This can manifest itself in nuisance barking, destructive chewing, digging, escaping to seek adventure, and even aggressive behavior.
Due to their high energy and working background, a Blue Heeler requires lots of exercise on a daily basis. For a guide to Blue Heeler exercise see here. In addition to daily physical exercise, a Blue Heeler needs mental challenge and enrichment. It is very difficult to really tire a Blue Heeler with just physical activity alone. Mental exercise can tire a dog just as much.
Types of enrichment for Blue Heelers
Mental enrichment for dogs can be categorized into six types. These are:-
- social enrichment
- cognitive enrichment
- environmental enrichment (see here for ideas)
- sensory enrichment
- feeding enrichment (see here for ideas)
- toy enrichment (see here for ideas)
An enrichment task or item can be classified in more than one category. A puzzle toy that requires your dog to figure out how to get a treat out is both food enrichment and toy enrichment.
Ultimately it is not that important which category a task falls in to. It is just useful to be aware of the categories to help find creative ways of providing enrichment.
We will go into more detail about the categories of enrichment.
Dogs are a social animal by nature. Provide the opportunity for your Blue Heelers to play with other dogs and meet new people. Heelers are usually good with people and animals they know.
Some Blue Heelers can be dominant toward other dogs and try to herd them. Socialization from a young age can help prevent this type of behavior. In general, Blue Heelers are not good with cats unless they have been around them from a young age.
Cognitive enrichment is any activity or task that improves a dog’s cognitive skills such as perception, thinking, learning, and memory. Using puzzle toys to challenge your dog requiring them to figure out how to get the treat is an example of this.
Environmental enrichment is anything that is added to your dog’s environment making their living space more engaging and interesting. An example of this would be giving them a mirror to engage with.
Sensory enrichment is anything that stimulates your dog’s five senses which are sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. Any sort of nose work or scenting game would be included in this category.
Feeding and Food Enrichment
Feeding your Blue Heeler all their food in a bowl is missing an excellent opportunity to provide enrichment. By feeding your dog some or all of their food from food dispensing toys are a great way to make them work for their food.
Toy enrichment is providing your Blue Heeler with toys that they can interact with and be engaged by. This includes providing toys that can be manipulated with their paws or mouth to get a reward.
By giving your dog a new toy every now and again will spark curiosity and interest. For recommended puzzle and enrichment toys for Blue Heelers see here.
Blue Heeler mental stimulation and enrichment ideas
Providing mental stimulation and enrichment for your Australian Cattle Dog can be quite simple and doesn’t require a lot of effort. Taking the time to do this will be well worth the effort. Here are some suggestions you may wish to try.
An enrichment box is simply a cardboard box filled with smaller boxes empty toilet rolls, and newspapers. Put treats in the toilet rolls, smaller boxes or wrap in newspaper and fill the box up. You can also include a puzzle or food stuffing toy or hide a bone or larger chews. Watch the video to see how to make an enrichment box for your Blue Heeler.
Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs and has many benefits. This includes keeping them occupied and aiding with dental health. Chewing also has a psychological and stress relief benefit. When a dog chews they release endorphins to their brain making them feel calm and feeling happy.
Provide a good selection of chew toys or edible chews for your Blue Heeler. For the best chew toys for Blue Heelers see here.
Many Blue Heelers are diggers. Another natural behavior for dogs. This is fine unless they are digging up your yard or even your furniture and carpet. You can’t train an instinctive behavior out of a dog, but you can redirect it. If your Blue Heeler is a digger, provide them an area they can dig or their own digging box.
For more ways to cater to your Heelers digging instinct see “Dog toys for diggers” here.
Herding is a strong natural instinctive behavior for an Australian Cattle Dog. Herding balls are as close to a herding activity you can provide for your Blue Heeler without the livestock. This isn’t just a great way to exercise your Blue Heeler. It a good psychological outlet for their herding drive.
A dog sport that was created specifically for herding breeds is called Treiball or Push Ball and originated from Germany. You don’t have to enter a Treiball competition unless you want to. Getting a herding ball for your Heeler to use at home is just as good.
See Herding Balls for Dogs at Amazon US, UK, Canada here.
Scenting and Nose Games
Playing scenting games with your Blue Heeler is one of the best ways to provide sensory enrichment. A dog’s nose and sense of smell is their most powerful sense. For some recommended scenting games for dogs see here.
Puzzle and Interactive Toys
Puzzle toys are one of the best ways to provide a mental challenge for your Blue Heeler. They help improve their problem solving and cognitive skills. For recommended puzzle and enrichment toys for Blue Heelers see here.
Teaching new commands and tricks is another great way to provide mental enrichment for your Heeler. A popular game is to teach them the names of items such as their toys. Ask them to fetch each toy by name. When they have this down, add in another toy you have taught them the name too. Ask for this toy. You will be surprised how they are able to work out which toy you mean.
A Snuffe Mat is another great way to provide for your dog’s natural foraging instinct and to provide mental stimulation and relieve boredom. A Snuffe mat is a mat that is made of fleece and you can hide dry food or treats into it.
If you are someone that is good at crafts you can try to make one yourself or check out the range of Snuffle Mats at Amazon US, UK, Canada here.
With a little bit of creativity, there are numerous ways you can provide mental stimulation and enrichment for your Australia Cattle Dog. Let us know in the comments any ideas you use.