We often focus on our dogs’ physical health. We make sure they have the proper diet, exercise, and beds, but, while we do this, we tend to neglect their mental health, which is just as important. Dogs descended from complex pack animals, and it’s vital that you encourage them to use their intelligence. Don’t let your dog turn into a couch potato or be lazy. Look for easy brain games and other activities that provide mental stimulation for dogs.
Keep your dog mentally stimulated
Mental stimulation is an absolute necessity in your dog’s life. Think about it this way: if you ate a perfect diet and went to the gym every day but never challenged your brain, you’d be bored.
It’s the same for your dog. If you only meet her physical needs but fail to challenge her brain, your dog will get bored. And bored dogs can become anxious and destructive. Keeping your dog mentally stimulated can help reduce or remove those tendencies. Give your dog challenging dog toys or puzzles, and you can reduce the likelihood your dog will rip apart your new decorative pillows.
That’s not the only benefit. Much like humans, as your dog ages, his mind tends to weaken. You’ll find that your dog is struggling with basic commands and activities. By providing mental stimulation throughout your dog’s life – although, it is especially important in their senior years – you’ll help combat the natural decline of their minds.
Finally, taking the time to stimulate your dog mentally is time spent intimately with them, allowing you to bond. Dogs are man’s best friend, so, take a few minutes each day to engage their instincts and build your relationship. Doing so will make both of your lives better.
Not sure how to begin mentally stimulating your dog? Try these ideas.
Engage your dog’s brain
1. Use a slow feeding bowl
Naturally, like every other animal, dogs are programmed to work for their food. In the wild, they track, hunt, and then take down prey before they can eat. Now, however, within their luxurious homes, dogs are handed their food – sometimes on a silver platter. The primal part of their brain is still very much there, though, and it is ready to be engaged at any time.
Slow feeding dog bowls are a great way to encourage your dog to work for their food. A slow feeding bowl is a dog bowl designed with an interior maze that will prevent your dog from inhaling their food the instant you set their bowl down. You can buy these at a variety of prices from budget-friendly to luxurious or even make your own.
2. Try interactive toys
There are hundreds of types of interactive dog toys, but the most popular are puzzles. Even these, though, come in a variety of forms.
The most popular types of interactive toys involve a ball that you put treats in for your dog to try and get. Much like with the slow feeding bowls, these engage the primal part of your dog’s brain by encouraging them to work for their food. If that’s not your dog’s style, though, you can find a variety of other toys such as discs and games that will work the same way.
3. Take a walk
Walks are useful for more than just exercise and restroom breaks. Exercising with your dog offers multiple benefits. Walking with your dog strengthens your bond, lets your dog get to know your neighborhood and lets your neighbors get to know your dog.
Just don’t rush through your daily walk. Be sure you give your dog time to sniff. According to PBS, with 300 million sensors, a dog’s nose is about 40 times stronger than a human’s. This means that, unlike us, they can receive a lot of information just by sniffing. A dog’s number one way of communication is through scent. When they’re out and about on their daily walks, you’ll often see your dog sniffing spots where other dogs have recently used the bathroom. Sniffing not only tells your dog what other dogs are in the neighborhood are up to, but it also provides information about their health.
To use this to mentally stimulate your dog, allow a couple of extra minutes for them to sniff around. They’ll go home both physically and mentally exhausted but fulfilled and up to date with the neighborhood dogs.
4. Stuff a Kong with treats
Food is one of the best ways to motivate your dog. Want to give your pup a challenge? Fill his Kong with peanut butter or other treats. Your dog will get creative to pull out every tasty morsel. Stuff these toys with food or treats. Then, give your dog one and see how hard she works to get the food out.
5. Build your dog’s vocabulary
Talk to your dog. The more you talk, the more words your pup will learn. The average dog knows between 50 and 165 words. Truly brilliant dogs know 300 or more words. Try teaching your dog names for his toys. Once he seems to understand each toy has a name, challenge him by asking him to bring you a specific one.
6. Play dog hide and seek
Creating a scavenger hunt for your dog helps keep your dog busy indoors and challenges her brain.
Hide treats or even some of his food around your house, then let your dog seek them out. The hunt for these items engages and challenges your dog’s brain. Just be sure to make sure your dog gets everything. Leaving food out could attract some unwanted pests.
Want a non-food option? Hide and wait for your dog to find you.
7. Teach a new trick
Continue to teach your dog new commands or skills. Your dog loves to please you, and obedience training helps strengthen your bond. Consider teaching your dog to shake, high-five, or roll over. Want to work on something practical? Add an obedience drill to the end of your daily walk. Stop about a half a block from home. Make your dog sit and then give your dog the wait command. Walk towards home and after about 20 feet, turn and call your dog by name. Most dogs will race to your side. Repeat until you get home. On subsequent walks, increase the distance you walk before you call the dog.
Use fun brain games for dogs
No matter the method you choose, it’s essential to find creative ways to stimulate your dog mentally. You need to do more than meet your dog’s physical needs. Even without all of the other benefits such as reduced stress, aggression, and destructive behaviors, regular mental stimulation is a necessity in keeping your dog happy.
Thankfully, providing mental stimulation for dogs doesn’t have to be a difficult task. From slow feeding bowls to ten extra minutes for sniffing on walks, it’s easy to find activities for dogs that tap into their instincts and engage their minds. Whichever method – or methods, since combining them can be even more beneficial – you choose, your dog will appreciate it.
Alex Saunders is an editor for Doggie Approved, a dog blog where they discuss dog tips, product reviews, and buyer’s guides all to help you become a better dog parent.