Ask the Trainer | Play ‘mind games’ for Porter post surgery |

Ask the Trainer | Play ‘mind games’ for Porter post surgery

If running is off the list, keep your pooch occupied in the mind zone.
Courtesy | iStockphoto

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,

We have a 5-year-old Vizsla named Porter, and we just found out he has to have surgery on his leg. We are supposed to keep him quiet and limit walks for six weeks! Anyone who has ever met a Vizsla knows this is going to be a nearly impossible task. He is going to go crazy! What can we do to get him and us through this?


Porter’s Family

Dear Family,

Oh boy, you do have a challenging time ahead. Your only option is to focus on mental exercise since physical exercise won’t be an option for awhile. Here are a few ideas to help Porter use his brain:

Use alternative feeding devices for meals. There are many different puzzle feeders available now. Some are designed to easily load kibble for feeding and others are puzzles designed so the dog must work to find a single treat. Kongs are an inexpensive and reusable way to feed meals and are available at local pet stores. Buy the kind shaped like a light bulb. You will need to plug the small hole with a soft treat. Soak some of your dog’s kibble in water until it is mushy. Fill the Kong with the mushy food then cover the large hole with peanut butter and freeze the Kong. Your dog will have to work hard to get the food out as it melts. Buy a few Kongs and keep them in the freezer.

Hide his food in locations throughout your house and let him find the food. You can teach him a cue like “Find it” and walk him around on leash to get him started. Once he masters the game and his leg heals some, give him the “Find it” cue and let him search on his own.

Nosework is a training activity that develops your dog’s natural scenting abilities through fun and games. The sport leverages every dog’s amazing sense of smell and their love of performing a task. Nosework is perfect for participants seeking a lower impact canine activity that offers great rewards for both handlers and their dogs. By utilizing basic search dog skills, the sport builds confidence, burns off mental and physical energy, and reinforces the bond between dog and owner. A dog’s olfactory center in the brain is proportionally much larger than in humans. When this part of the brain is engaged, the other parts which control stress and anxiety responses take a back seat. Once you learn the basics, it is also very easy to do at home.

A positive reinforcement based Basic Manners class would be a good way to get Porter out of the house and help him use his brain. Training together would help both of you get through this tough time and strengthen your relationship. This might have to wait until his leg is healed some and he has enough range of motion to do the activities.

Good luck!

Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at

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