Brain Teasers: Exercising your Havanese's Mind

     Keeping your Havanese’s mind stimulated is important.  A mind that is left un-stimulated can often find it’s own ways to be entertained.  Unfortunately, some dogs’ ways of being entertained are not exactly what us humans would like to see.  Things such as a shoe with chew marks on it, a waste bin tipped over or a roll of toilet paper half shredded and strewn about in your living room are just a few of the things that happen when bored Havanese are left up to their own devices.  

     Teaching your Havanese to flex their mental muscles is easier than you might think.  There are several toys on the market these days that are designed to make your dog think.  Interactive dog toys are available in several forms such as treat dispensing, puzzles and hide-a squeakers.

     Treat Dispensing toys are toys that when manipulated, rolled or otherwise moved about will dispense a treat for your dog.  The easiest way to get your dog involved with this type of toy is to put the treats into the toy when the dog is hungry.  If you feed your dog kibble, consider putting their dinner inside their toy and make them work for it. If they do not seem interested, you may have to up your ante.  Put a particularly good smelling treat (semi-moist fish flavoured cat treats work well) into the toy.  If you have to, kneel down on the ground when loading the toy, make sure your dog sees the food go into the toy.  Once loaded, put the toy on the ground and encourage your dog to get it.  Use extra praise if your dog is nervous about touching or moving the toy, some dogs get scared the first few times the toy moves.
Examples of treat dispensing toys:
-The Buster Cube
- Tricky Treats Ball
-Busy Buddies Squirrel Dude
-Busy Buddies Kibble Nibble

     Puzzle Toys are another great example of brain teasers. I was at an obedience  trial this spring when I was introduced to the “Nina Ottosson”  line of puzzles.  Most of her line of toys involve the dog removing a piece of the puzzle, either by sliding it, using their mouth or paws to lift it or spinning a piece with their paws to expose a the treat.  The treats are loaded by the owner and act as an instant reward for your dog’s hard work.  These puzzles are rated according to their difficulty. Most even can be adjusted and made more difficult after your dog has mastered the first level. For best results, use top notch treats, lots of encouragement and a hungry Havanese.

     Hide-a-Squeak toys are for dogs who LOVE their squeaky toys, so if you have read about the treat dispensing toys and the puzzle toys and thought “gee, my dog is not really food motivated” then the Hide-A-Squeak toys may be for you.  This game appeals to your dog’s hunting instinct.  The smaller toys with the squeakers in them are placed inside of a larger toy and your dog must figure out how to get them out.  For example, in the “Egg Babies” line of hide-a-squeaks, your dog must use it’s paws and nose to extract three plush “eggs” from the elasticized opening of the stuffed toy.  It helps to show your dog the eggs, let them play with them briefly, then get down to their level and show them that your are putting the eggs into the toy.  Put the toy on the ground and show them the opening, encourage them to dig, paw and nuzzle the opening until they pull out the eggs.  An alternative to the “Egg Babies” is the “Hide-a-Squirrel” and the “Hide-a-Bee” toys.  It is a similar concept but instead of the reward being inside of a stuffed toy, it is inside of a plush, but slightly rigid,  tree trunk or bee hive. I have found the squirrel and bee game to be a bit easier for my Havanese, who don’t seem to want to dive in snout first.

      One problem that I have encountered is knowing what toy best suits my dog.  I have gone to numerous stores on numerous occasions to buy a interactive dog toy, only to open it up and find out my dog is not interested!

     So how do you know which style is best for your dog? Trial and error.  If your Havanese is not crazy about squeaky toys then it is safe to say the hide-a-squeaks won’t be of interest to them.  It is a safe bet that some of the food dispensing toys will spark their interest because if they don’t like what the toy is serving up for treat then you, the owner, can just switch up the treats.
If you are still unsure here are a few home made versions of brain teasers, similar to the store bought ones.  If your Havanese goes bonkers for one of these versions, perhaps you can consider purchasing a similar version, but if your home made version is safe and it is working for you then VOILA! You have just found a new brain teaser for your dog!

Homemade interactive toys:
     Take an empty pop bottle and remove the label and the plastic ring around the neck of the bottle. Put a few really tasty treats in it.  Show your Havanese the treats or let them see you load it up.  Once you have your dog’s interest shake the bottle and put it on the ground, encourage them to get it. Keep in mind that plastic on a tile or linoleum floor can be quite loud and a sound sensitive dog may become frightened.  I recommend this game be played on carpet or outside on the grass

     A variation from the pop bottle would be to put a few treats in a sock and let your Havanese try to get the food.  The only problem with this is that some dogs will try to eat the sock. This variation is not ideal for the dog who is a sock/underwear thief as it will teach them that it is okay for them to steal a sock and run around with it. Any vet can tell you horror stories about removing articles of clothing from the stomach of a dog so be careful when encouraging them to play with your belongings.

     If your Havanese has a special toy, try placing your dog in a sit-stay in one part of the house and hiding the toy somewhere in the house.  Return to your dog and tell them to find it, run around the house with your Havanese telling them to "find baby" and when they find their toy stop and have a play with them or reward with food before you hide it again.  A variation on this game is to hide a member of your family or yourself and tell your dog to "find ____!"  Encourage them to look in all the places and reward them when they find the "missing person"

     A game that my guys really enjoy is “Treasure Trove“:  Take a muffin tin and fill the cups with a few treats of different values (some boring kibble, some top notch fishy fudge and something else that is neither plain nor a great luxury)
 Place different sized balls in each of the cups and place it on the floor. If you use different sized balls with different textures it will make some cups easier to expose than others.
For example, a felt covered tennis ball will pop out of the tray much easier than a large, smooth, marble type ball.

     At the end of the day nothing beats one on one interaction with your dog.  These toys are not meant to be a babysitter for your Havanese.  In fact, most of these toys should be used with human supervision so that you can encourage them to work at it and help them if they need it.  You would be surprised with the amount of time one can spend watching a Havanese think.  You can almost see the gears in their head turning, trying to figure it out.
     Not even the best behaved dog should EVER be left alone with a treat dispensing toy or puzzle.  All of the above listed toys are safe and designed with dogs in mind but there is no such thing as an invincible toy.  Check all dog toys regularly for chips, cracks or broken pieces. It is my suggestion that your Havanese not get 24/7 access to these toys.  In my house, treat dispensing toys are special.  They are kept away, in a drawer, on the fridge or in a basket on the shelf.  It makes them more desirable than the toys that are always in the toy box.  Be sure that you decide when to put the toy away, taking it away after your dog has had a good mental work out will leave them wanting more.

     Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exertion. These toys will help them develop problem solving skills, (be careful to not over develop these skills, heed my sock/underwear warning!) challenge their existing problem solving skills, feed their natural hunting or prey drive instincts and  in some cases, it can help build their confidence.  Interactive dog toys are an essential part of any Havanese owner’s tool box.

Authored by: 
Claire Paulson