Certainly, dogs enjoy a certain amount of routine and predictability in their day. For example, they count on regular mealtimes and look forward to their daily walks, or a romp in the dog park. That said, like their pet parents, they also need some variety.
Your doggo is a valued family member and you want them to get the most enjoyment possible out of life. Teaching them new tricks, providing mentally stimulating problem-solving games, and introducing different toys are just a few things you can do to create more interest in their day.
With a little planning and ingenuity, you can easily bring more stimulation into their environment. Once they catch on to the new routine where every day offers up something novel, you may have a different dog on your hands.
You’ll see a happy active pooch, ready to exercise their brain and their body with whatever you have in store. Boredom will be banished!
Why Do Dogs Need Mental Stimulation?
Mental stimulation is important for dogs because it keeps them more on the ball, so to speak, cognitively. As pet parents, we know how mentally sluggish, bored, and uninspired we feel with the same old routine day in and day out!
Well, it’s just the same for our canine companions. Plus, they’re dependent on us to help put some excitement and stimulation into their day.
Snoopy or Stella will feel much more engaged and happier when you make a habit of introducing some interesting mental exercises. Not only does your dog want to please you, but they’re happy when they have a purpose, or a job to do.
Just think about the working dogs you see on television or those showing off on a dog agility course with their trainer. Don’t they appear proud of themselves?
Mental stimulation for dogs avoids problem behaviors as well. When your canine companion is preoccupied with learning something new or playing an interesting game with you, they’ll be much less likely to get into what they shouldn’t!
Mental Stimulation vs. Exercise: What’s the Difference?
Dog owners understand their pooches need daily exercise to remain in good physical condition. A long and healthy life depends on keeping fit and ensuring that muscles, joints, heart, and lungs are in good working order. But if you think active physical play and walks are the only exercise your dog needs, you’d be mistaken.
To truly thrive, dogs need exercises for their mental muscles as well. You may not think of these as exercises, but they have some important health benefits, just as physical activity does. And, both pursuits can tire you pup out in their own way.
For added benefit, see if you can incorporate a little mental stimulation into physical exercises. You probably already do this to an extent if you like to explore different outside environments with your dog.
Try mixing things up by taking your dog with you for a paddle in a canoe or on a hike through the woods. Even walking with them in a new neighborhood, rather than taking them on the same old boring route, can make a difference.
9 Ways to Mentally Stimulate Your Dog
There are many tips to use dog mental exercises to give your pup a little more mind stimulation. Most of these you can try indoors and that’s where you pet is probably in need of some mental stimulation.
After all, when people are away at work all day, it’s understandable that their dogs are tired of looking at the same four walls. A little stimulation with a training session just before supper is just the thing to alleviate boredom. Here are our favorite mental stimulation ideas.
Give Your Dog a Puzzle Toy
Puzzle toys are a terrific way to offer more mental stimulation to Buster or Bonnie. Interactive dog toys provide wonderful entertainment. Challenging games where they must use their brain power to sort out the answer helps dogs focus on something meaningful.
It only takes 15 minutes to give your canine enough stimulation. After they figure out the puzzle, give them lots of praise. The recognition that they’ve done something cool boosts their confidence. This is so much better than just lounging in their dog bed all evening staring at the television!
Remember, these toys don’t have to be elaborate. A Kong stuffed with peanut butter works well. If you want to be a little more creative, try placing tennis balls in an old muffin tin and put a treat under each ball.
Show your dog that there’s a treat beneath one of the balls and tell them to dig it out. They’ll quickly solve this stimulating puzzle!
Teach Your Dog New Tricks
Helping your dog to learn new tricks may be one of the first things that comes to mind when you think about keeping your dog mentally stimulated. The ‘go to’ maneuvers such as shaking a paw, rolling over and sitting pretty are, for sure, a few to start with.
After your dog has mastered one of these, keep adding one more at a time until their repertoire grows. There are so many different tricks that your pooch is capable of learning. You have only to watch a few doggie YouTube videos to find out the endless actions your pup can accomplish.
One advantage of teaching your dog tricks is that it assists with their impulse control. In addition, dog owners who teach their canines to respond to their commands will notice that the human-animal bond becomes stronger. Again, you don’t need to spend much time doing this – just 15 minutes a day at home will keep your doggo in practice.
Make an Obstacle Course for Your Dog
Even if you have no experience with dog sports, you can set up an obstacle course at home to give your dog more mental stimulation. Use whatever you have on hand to create an enticing set up for them to navigate around and through.
For example, make a tunnel with a blanket slung over a few kitchen chairs, move a small footstool to the middle of the room to use as a jump and place a line of books on the floor for them to walk around.
You can also try this in the back yard with other items like low benches and tomato stakes. When you start using your imagination, you’ll feel mentally stimulated too!
Play Hide and Seek
Just like children, dogs enjoy playing hide and seek around the house. This works best if you can team up with another person. Basically, have your canine friend sit in a room with your human friend while you go find a hiding place.
Make sure you’re not tucked away where it will be difficult to find you. Standing in a bathtub behind the shower curtain works well, as does sitting on the floor behind furniture.
Have the other person give your dog the command to go and look for you, excitedly saying something like “go find her/him!” When your dog discovers you, praise them enthusiastically and give lots of pats and ear rubs.
Teach Your Dog the Names of Their Toys
Here’s a fun approach to trying mental stimulation for dogs. If your doggo has a few special toys, chances are you already refer to them by name. Reinforce their memory by using the names of the toys whenever you see your dog playing with them.
Beginning with one or two toys that your dog plays with frequently, start a game of ‘find the toy’ with them. You can simply hide the toy in an obvious place like under a blanket, or behind the couch, and ask them to go and retrieve it. Make sure to use the name of the toy frequently so your pup is more apt to remember it.
Practice a little with your dog every day and gradually add more and more toys until they’ve mastered remembering the names of them all.
Teach Your Dog to Put Their Toys Away
Staying on the subject of dog toys, here’s a novel idea. Teach your pup to put their toys back in the toy box once playtime is over.
When you give your dog a job to do, it not only stimulates them mentally but makes them feel like they’re doing something important. Of course, you may need to do it with them the first few times until they get the hang of what’s expected.
Add to the fun by showing them that you’re tidying up your mess around the house at the same time.
Play Nose Games with Them
As you know, dogs rely on their noses for a lot. When you take them for a walk, they love to have a good sniff at every bush and lamp post so see who has come by. And you’ll be aware that dogs can be trained to rescue people and find drugs using their noses.
Scent games are another type of activity for keeping your canine companion mentally stimulated. For a basic version, hide a few treats around the room and let your dog search for them. Although dogs have a very strong sense of smell, make sure you use treats that have a strong enough aroma that they’ll be able to find them relatively easily.
After a while, Samson or Sandy will become so good at this that you can use virtually anything. Even a carrot stick will work!
Have Your Dog Work for Their Food
Mental stimulation can be used at mealtimes as well. Don’t just fill their bowl with food and leave it down for them. Encourage their natural ability to hunt and scavenge by making dinner time more fun.
You can put some kibble in a ball with holes made for dispensing the food slowly. Watch your pooch as they focus on releasing the food by rolling the ball across the floor. You’ll smile when you hear the noise of them pushing the ball around and sorting out how to get at the rewards inside.
Play Enrichment Games with Them
If you want a variation on puzzle toys, try a dog enrichment game. We’ve already talked a little about scent games, but there are other types of play that can help improve your dog’s mind. Here are a few tips.
Most dogs love exploring and searching for things. Just witness how your pooch paws through their toy box until they’ve found a much-loved ball. Some dogs seem to enjoy digging in the dirt and will stop at nothing to see what’s moving in your flower bed!
Use this behavior to you advantage by showing your dog how to play a shell game. Challenge your doggo by taking three identical cups from your kitchen, or other small containers, and placing a treat underneath one of them.
Let your dog see where you’ve put the treat before moving the containers around and asking them to find it. Take this slow at first until your pet becomes an expert.
Would you be surprised to learn that you can get your dog a doggie board game? These games usually incorporate the same principle of hiding treats and having your pup look for them. When it comes to enrichment games, there are many types to provide more mental stimulation.
Our Final Thoughts
Mental stimulation is so important for your furry friend, and there an endless number things to try. Some are physical dog sports like navigating an obstacle course, learning a new trick, or going on a scavenger hunt while others are quieter pastimes.
Problem solving activities with dog puzzles, shell games and having them guess which hand you’re holding one of their chew toys in fall into this category.
It doesn’t really matter what activities or exercises you choose. By providing your dog with additional mental stimulation, you’ll have a smarter, healthier, and happier pet!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I mentally stimulate my dog?
There are many games and activities to try. Just remember that treats are a great motivator.
How much mental stimulation does a dog need?
A dog thrives on about 15 minutes or more of daily mental stimulation
Is chewing mental stimulation for dogs?
No, chewing doesn’t provide dogs with mental stimulation.
How can I stimulate my dog when I’m not home?
You can leave them with a filled with a treat ball or something else that will hold their interest for a while.