Travelling the world with your dog brings a whole lot of interesting problems to solve. One that we had to figure out was Mental stimulation for Olive and how to keep her happy in general with all the changes. Over the past years, so much research has brought to light the importance of keeping your dog's brain busy, and supplying them with plenty to do and discover. When we were still living in the Netherlands / France / Greece and were able to fill up our car with stuff on our trips, we were able to bring loads of things for Olive with us. We would bring kongs, flip boards, licking mats, and so much more!
Now that we are in South America, our space is limited to the backpacks we carry, meaning most of our brain games had to be left behind. Luckily, we are slowly getting into a routine when it comes to keeping Ol entertained!
One of the big things that we have had to learn is that travel comes with a lot more stress, not just for us, but also for Olive. When we were still at home we would make sure Olive regularly got days of recovery, where we would just hang out inside, sleep loads, do some sniffing, and cuddle up on the couch. I feel like with all the moving around, these days have become so much more important! Usually when we have travel days, we make sure that the day after is a decompression day, and often we even give her more than that one day depending on how fast she settles in the new home.
I feel like decompression days are so underestimated in the dog world, there is so much focus on exercise and mental stimulation where down days are just as important to be able to recover from all the energetic times!
Easy to pack, flexible, easy to clean, and a great calming activity for Olive. The action of licking is super calming for a dog, works their brain, and even helps with keeping teeth clean. Also, things to put on a lickimat are easy to find everywhere. We use things like sardines, tuna, other fish we can find, mince meat, canned dog food, soaked kibble, yogurt, cooked veggies and fresh fruits to top it off with, and whatever else we can find.
Hostels, hotels and Airbnb's usually have fridges available to use and most of them have freezers. If not, we just go without freezing the lickimat! I think the only downside of a lickimat is that sometimes it's hard to clean them if you do not have a good sponge or brush available at your hotel or hostel. An easy fix is to carry a sponge or brush with you and let the mat soak in hot water for a while before cleaning.
In our pack we make sure to fit 2 types of lickimats, one standard lickimat (the Buddy - Buy here!) and one lickimat wobble that we also use as her kibble bowl for when we do not have time to make Olive a lickimat (Buy the Wobble here!)
Kongs have a few downsides in my opinion - they are hard to clean on the way, are bulky and quite heavy, and do not have a lot of space for food, making them less economic for us on our travels. That said, I do have a standard Kong with me at all times. They are easy to fill, small when not packed, and last a long time to eat, which makes it ideal for those times Olive has to be crated as they don't take as much floor space as a lickimat.
If you do have the space to bring a Kong on your travels, I'd advise bringing one of these bottle cleaners as it will make your life so much easier!
I'm a sucker for structured walks, they are just such a joy! Whenever Will and I arrive at a new spot we like to simply wander around and find our way without using a map, it gives us the fastest way to experiencing the city and finding our way around. These walks are usually the perfect opportunity for some structured walks with Olive. We load our treat pouch with a ton of high value treats and off we go!
To give you a short overview of what structured walks are, they are a loose leash walks with your dog right by your side on their best behavior, where you vary commands and practice your walking skills. We usually vary from tight focussed heels to normal loose leash walks, take regular breaks for sniffing, ask stays and jumps and touches and turns and twirls, and make it most of all fun for both of us. For Olive, it's important to keep the focussed parts short and vary loads, as miss Olive gets easily bored!
These structured walks help loads with getting her into the routine of a new place, tiring her brain, exploring the city, and proofing her behaviors in new surroundings!
We don't always have the luxury of being close to nature, but at least once a week we try to go on a nature hike with Olive where she can enjoy sniffing around at her own pace, rolling in the mud and poop and whatever else she finds, and just simply being a dirty dog. When we don't have any nature nearby, we try to find a dog park instead where she can just freely play and have fun. Overall, I'm not the biggest fan of dog parks, so I usually scope them out for a while making sure that all the dogs in there are a decent match for Olive before heading in (more on dog parks on another post!)
Sniffing has the added benefit of being super calming for a dog, so going on designated walks where she can just sniff around really are super high on our list of priorities when it comes to Olives happiness!
About 2 years ago, Olive and I started regularly free shaping, just little sessions here and there to get her to start thinking for herself and figuring things out. We are both obsessed, and have come to the most fun outcomes doing this.
Free shaping is a method of training where you let your dog figure out what you want on their own. At the start it is sometimes a bit slow and difficult, and they might need a bit of help, but once they have the hang of it they just come out with the most ingenious of solutions! There are two types of freeshaping that I try to do with Olive in the regular, the first being freeshaping without a goal.
If we do not have a goal, I just grab a random object (for example a book, scarf, pillow, piece of paper, toy, cardboard box, anything you can think of that your dog can safely interact with!), you place it on the floor, and just wait. As soon as pup looks at the item, click, place treat on item, say "Go get it!!" or something similar, and toss another treat away from the item. The moment pup turns around and interacts with the item again, repeat.
When your dog understands the task, you can start waiting it out a bit more, and try to get them to interact in different ways. For example, it can start with looking at a cardboard box, then dog might touch it, then dog might get in, then dog might sit pretty in the box or paw at the box, etc. I'll make sure to make a longer post about freeshaping at some point!
The end goal here is not to have a certain behavior, but it is to think of different solutions and have your dog take initiative in his or her learning. That said, you can also free shape with a goal in mind! I could for example have as a goal for Olive to sit pretty on top of a piece of paper. Initially I might click for interacting with the paper, but after a while I will start only clicking for interactions that move closer to the end goal - so for example I might click for standing on the paper, but not for picking the paper up. Then I might click for sitting on the piece of paper, but not for pawing at it.
Freeshaping is probably one of my fav things to do with Olive!
The last thing we do to keep Olive happy and occupied is trick training. She knows over 85 commands and LOVES to learn, so we really try to regularly go over the tricks she knows, perfect them, and teach new things. I might use freeshaping for this, but also other methods like luring! Trick training doesn't only help with mental stimulation, it also helps with Olives confidence. Ol is quite a nervous dog at times, she is not the biggest fan of strangers touching her and is very aloof, which is totally part of her breed. However, when we are practicing tricks in public, she just changes into a different dog. She puts on the show of her life and after some well-needed confidence boosting she even lets strangers pet her and walks up to them herself!
In conclusion - Olive's happiness is definitely our most important thing while traveling. When she doesn't enjoy it anymore, we will adjust to her needs. For now, she is a happy dog with loads of attention and things to do, and we will keep that going!
What kind of mental stimulation does your dog love most?