How to Mentally Stimulate Your Dog

a bored dog needs mental stimulation

Do you spend a crazy amount of time each day walking and playing with your dog in hopes of tiring your pet? Yet, with all your determined efforts, your dog still has enough energy to run through the house, destroying everything they get their mouth or paws on? It might be that your dog lacks mental stimulation. Like humans, failure to meet your pet’s brain needs may cause boredom and a whole lot of mischief, including chewing on furniture, digging up your yard, or barking excessively. Here’s how you can mentally stimulate your dog and improve his overall well-being.

Why Your Dog Needs Mental Stimulation

One look at canine genetics, and it’s easy to understand why all dogs need some form of physical exercise and mental stimulation to be content and happy. Hunting, working, or herding breeds were developed to use their bodies and minds to help their owners with specific tasks. Even mixed breeds have a purpose, like being a companion and protector. Regardless of breed, failure to work a dog’s brain can lead to a negative outcome — destructive behavior.

How Much Mental Stimulation Does My Dog Need?

Mental stimulation tends to take a back seat to the physical needs of dogs. However, exercising the brain is equally important to a dog’s well-being. Like humans, thinking and concentrating can exhaust your pet, leaving them ready for a nap. But, how much mental stimulation is enough? Although it ultimately depends on your dog’s energy level, shoot for about 10 to 15 minutes a day. Remember, mental stimulation is in addition to meeting your pet’s daily physical exercise needs.

Mentally Stimulating Activities for Dogs

So, are we talking chess here? Not quite. Brain games for dogs aren’t as complex as brain games for humans, but they do provide enough stimulation to satiate a dog’s mind.

Nose work games

Devoting time to your dog’s need for sniffing can burn off their excess energy and ensure a happy pet. You can incorporate nose work activities with physical exercise, indoors or out. Here are a few of our favorite nose work games for dogs.

Make your dog work for their food

Is this how mealtime goes down in your home? You throw some dog food in your pet’s bowl, and every kibble is gone within seconds. A DIY dog mental stimulation is to hide your dog’s kibbles to stimulate your dog’s mind while indulging your dog’s love of sniffing. Just remember to choose areas of your home where it’s OK to have your dog associate with food. You can also use a food-dispensing toy or food puzzle dish.

Teach your dog new tricks

Teaching your dog tricks or commands like the basics (come, sit, and stay) is excellent for mental stimulation. Training your pet can further enhance the bond between you two and foster better impulse control and confidence. Here are a few surprisingly easy tricks you can teach your dog:

  • Shake hands
  • Spin
  • Roll over
  • Kiss
  • Play dead
  • Bark on command
  • Fetch
  • Hide-and-seek
  • High-five

Keep your dog busy with toys

Keep your pet busy physically and mentally with interactive toys like a motion-activated busy ball. If your dog is a chewer, a suction cup-style chew toy can challenge your dog to a game of tug-of-war while allowing him to gnaw on something other than your shoes or furniture.

Socialize your dog

Although your pet enjoys playing with you, there’s something about interacting with other dogs that can improve your pet’s mental health. Spending time with fellow dogs can boost your pet’s self-esteem, teach your pet to share, enhance their problem-solving skills and release pent-up energy that, unfortunately, playtime with you cannot accomplish. Socializing should begin in puppyhood. Always introduce your dog to new dogs in a neutral, safe environment, like doggy daycare.

Introduce your dog to new people and places

Routinely exposing your pet to new people and places can stimulate his senses and teach him how to behave in different situations. So, the next time you need to run errands or go for a car ride, take your dog with you, providing your trip doesn’t always end at the vet.

Rotate your dog’s toys

Playing with the same old toys can become boring for humans and dogs alike. When your pet starts showing signs they are “over” their favorite toy, they’ll stop playing with it. Clean it up and then stow it out of sight. Every couple weeks, rotate toys this way so it will feel like they’ve gotten something new.

Best Mental Stimulation Toys for Dogs

  • Rubber toys like Kong or similar, made from non-toxic rubber
  • Motion-activated wobble toys
  • Food puzzle feeders
  • Treat-dispensing toys
  • Puzzle game dog toys

With any of the toys or puzzles, make sure the materials are nontoxic and safe for dogs. If you want to try a plush toy, make sure your dog doesn’t chew and swallow the stuffing. This can cause serious gastric problems and be very dangerous for dogs. If your dog is a chew-and-swallower, go for harder surfaced toys like the Kong or Busy Ball from BarxBuddy.

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