Guest Post by Andrea Logan
Is your dog still hyper after a long walk or game of fetch? Are you stretched for time? Instead of adding more physical exercise to your dog’s routine, add a few brain games to tire them out.
Mental stimulation enriches your dog’s life and alleviates boredom. In addition, it decreases the likelihood of your dog developing behavioral issues such as excessive chewing or barking.
I don’t know about you, but there are some cold, rainy days that I am not feeling up for a long walk! As an alternative, mental activities have proven a lifesaver with Luke, my young, high-energy dog.
And the days that I’m short on time, I prioritize mental stimulation to supplement a shorter walk. If Luke doesn’t get some mental stimulation every day, he is a handful!
1. Provide easy mental stimulation with food.
If you are feeding your dog from a bowl, you are missing out on enrichment and mental stimulation opportunities!
Dogs have natural scavenging habits. If you want to add more mental stimulation to your dog’s routine, you can start with changing the way you feed them.
Instead of just putting food in a bowl once or twice a day, you can make a fun game for your dog. There are endless options!
My dogs love their slow feeder bowls, snuffle mats, Gnawt-a-Rock toy and frozen Toppls, to name a few.
Food puzzle toys give your dog a chance to use some of their natural problem-solving abilities and can tire them out mentally.
2. Teach your dog some new tricks.
Dogs are intelligent and love to learn new things.
Teaching your dog a new trick or command is excellent for mental stimulation, will help boost your dog’s confidence, AND strengthens the bond between you and your dog. Learning new commands can also help increase your dog’s focus and impulse control.
Luke knows about 20 tricks. My favorites are back up, around (he goes around me to get into heel position), and kiss on the cheek.
Make training sessions short, frequent and fun!
3. Run errands with your dog.
My dogs LOVE car rides. It is fun for them and mentally stimulating to sniff and explore a new location. Many times, I bring them on errands and trips to the barn.
If your dog enjoys it, throw in some trips to pet-friendly places such as the pet store, the local brewery and the hardware store. Even if the activity isn’t physically taxing, they will experience new sights, sounds and situations, which will help to tire them out.
4. Play some nose work games.
One of my dogs’ favorite activities is some basic nose work games. A few minutes of nose work will go a long way toward alleviating boredom and tiring out your dog.
My dogs’ favorite game is finding treats or kibble in cardboard boxes placed around the house. Make it more challenging by putting paper in the boxes and hiding the boxes or placing a box inside a box. I ask them to stay and then release them by saying, “Find it!” At first, start with something with a good smell and praise your dog when they find the prize. Before long, they will get the hang of the game.
Another easy variation is the scatter food game. Hide some food or treats in your yard and encourage your dog to find those rewards. This can also be done with their favorite ball or toy.
5. Engage in more interactive play with your dog.
Our dogs love playing with us, and engaging in interactive play is one of the easiest ways to keep them mentally stimulated.
Playing a game of tug or fetch is interactive play, and those sorts of games help tremendously when it comes to giving your dog more mental stimulation. Any of those fun games will help strengthen your bond.
Tug is my favorite game to play with Luke because it’s great physical exercise, it’s a lot of fun, and it helps him work on his impulse control. Teach your dog a release command such as “out” or “drop it” when playing tug or fetch.
On one particularly miserable weather day recently, I played a combination of fetch with the tug and “find it” in the house. It did the trick!
6. Explore dog sports.
There is a whole world of fun classes and activities to explore past basic obedience class with your dog. Dog sports physically exercise your dog and provide tons of mental enrichment.
My dogs love agility, nose work, rally obedience and barn hunting. We have a simple agility course set up at home; they love going through the tunnel!
There are endless ideas on Facebook and online. Search for dog mental stimulation or canine enrichment.
When you spend quality time with your dog, your dog is happier and better behaved, and you and your dog have a stronger bond. I want that for you and your dog. Isn’t that why you adopted your dog in the first place?
[Andrea Logan from Lead Dog has been active in animal welfare for over 20 years, and currently focuses on rehabilitating challenging foster dogs, and helping dog owners with training and behavioral issues. Her passion is helping people build a better bond with their dogs. For help with your dog visit Lead Dog’s Facebook page]