Are you aware that fostering creative thinking in your dog is a vital component in helping them become a well-adjusted canine? Thinking creatively enables our dogs to approach tasks, problems, and situations with openness to alternatives. If ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work, a creative dog can come up with a ‘Plan B’ instead of shutting down, becoming frustrated or even aggressive. Creative thinkers have better problem solving skills, better impulse control and better conflict resolution.
Creativity varies among individuals but fortunately most dogs can learn to become more creative. Acclaimed scientist Dr. Robert Epstein believes in order to enhance your creativity you need to follow 4 steps: Capture new ideas, surround yourself with an interesting/stimulating environment, challenge your thought processes and broaden your knowledge base. Dr. Epstein works with businesses, helping them to foster creativity in their employees but his ideas can translate to dogs as well.
Step 1: We manage and micromanage our dogs all day long, requiring them to follow our rules, fulfill our expectations and fit perfectly into our environment. We tell them to do things, not do things, sit here but not over there, drop this but take that. How many of us provide opportunities for our dogs to make their own choices or generate their own ideas? Running all aspects of our dogs’ lives hardly fosters creative thought in our canine companions. We should allow them to come up with new ideas. Not only will this foster creativity, it builds confidence and problem solving skills as well. This does not mean we should allow dogs to do whatever they want, whenever they want but we should provide opportunities to choose and have freedom when we can and when it is safe for them to do so.
Step 2 & 4: It is incredibly important we provide an enriching environment for our dogs. This includes exposing them to novel objects, meeting new people and animals, experiencing new places, etc. as often as possible. Providing a rich, stimulating environment fosters creativity and opportunities to learn about the world around them. The more our dogs know, the better equipped they are to solve problems or come up with creative solutions to novel situations. This is not only important for puppies, but for dogs of all ages and developmental stages as the learning process never ends.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to take your dog on ‘Sniffaris’. This is a walk around your neighborhood or even a new, unfamiliar area and allowing your dog to lead you. Let them sniff and explore (as long as they are safe, of course), choosing the route and which direction to walk in. Sniffing is relaxing for dogs and allows them to discover what is going on in their neighborhood or learn about new environments in a safe, self-paced way.
Step 3: Just like humans, dogs’ minds need to be challenged in order to be creative. Allowing dogs to stay in their comfort zone without having to confront challenges impedes the creative process. Challenges require innovation and creative thinking. Problems need to be thought through if they are to be solved. In the process of solving problems dogs learn how to cope when things that do not go their way. Consider a dog who is under socialized who becomes defensively aggressive when he encounters change or unfamiliar objects or people out on a walk. Dogs who are faced with unknowns and have never had to think on their own or learn creative thinking skills can become reactive, fearful and even aggressive. Play games with your dog where they must figure out how to find a treat or toy hidden somewhere in the house. Play Hide and Seek with your dog or challenge your dog (and you!) to learn some fun dance moves and just be silly together.
Dogs are intelligent beings who need mental and physical enrichment to thrive. Helping your dog develop creative thinking skills will not only set him up for success in a human-centric world but will help build his confidence, increase his intelligence and help you appreciate your canine companion to the fullest.