I am often asked how long one should work with their dog on a game or activity. In general, I suggest starting with 5-15 minutes. Your dog will let you know when he or she has had enough. You want your together time to be fun and rewarding, not become a chore or worse-frustrating for your dog OR you! Naturally every dog is different as far as motivation, interest, drive, energy, etc but their communication with you is generally the same. If your dog starts shutting down or loses interest then it’s time to stop, take a break, maybe revisit if your dog seems interested in doing so.
How can you tell if your dog is telling you “no”? Watch for stress signals. He may start looking off to the side, licking his lips, yawning or physically trying to leave the area. If you see these signals, end the game quickly on a positive note, even if that means just asking for a ‘sit’ or a ‘touch’ to your hand, give a small reward and end your session. If your dog perks up after a break and you want to try the game again, then go for it! If your dog has had enough of trying to find that darn treat wrapped up in a towel then give him a longer break or move on to something fun that offers a little something different. At our enrichment center, I like to switch between problem solving/mental activities and movement-based activity.
Some dogs will be happy to treasure hunt (or work on building bridges, or touching targets, etc) all day while others prefer shorter work sessions. Pay attention to what your dog is telling you through his body language and behavior and you’ll soon figure out your dog’s work style.
Remember the whole point of enrichment is to enhance your dog’s life. Presenting them with an activity that is too challenging or goes on too long can tip the scale to frustrating. Always end on a success, don’t be afraid to give hints in order to wrap up an activity that may be going on too long for your dog’s liking and praise, praise, praise. Because we all like knowing we did a good job and are appreciated for trying our best.