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7 Fun Mental Exercises to Challenge Your Dog’s Mind

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

poodle using puzzle

All dogs need both physical exercise and mental exercise. Without the proper mental stimulation, your canine will likely become bored and may attempt to make their own fun. Often, this leads to them doing things that they shouldn’t, like digging under the fence or counter-surfing. Destructive behavior is a possibility as well. Your dog may just get so bored that they start wondering what drywall tastes like.

Luckily, you can challenge your dog’s mind in a variety of ways. This will keep them entertained and keep your dog’s brain in tip-top shape. Your dog may also stop barking excessively, chewing on inappropriate items, and doing similar behaviors. Dogs often only do these things when they are bored.

Here, you’ll find easy ways to entertain your canine.

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The 7 Best Brain Exercises For Dogs

1. Use a Puzzle Feeder

Today, most dogs are fed out of a bowl. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with this, but our dogs originally evolved to get their food after much mental and physical exercise. In most households, domestic dogs only have to walk to their food bowl for a quick bite to eat.

Because hunting was originally the mentally stimulating activity for dogs, the easiest way to add mental exercise to your dog’s day is to add it to your dog’s mealtime routine. This can be done with relative ease using a puzzle feeder. These are designed to be filled with food and then played with by your dog. It requires mental effort to remove the food inside. Plus, your dog will obviously be motivated to remove the food because they’re hungry!

There are many options on the market for these types of feeders. Some of them are easy, while others are made for very intelligent dogs. You may need to start with an easier model and work your way up as your dog gets better and better at solving puzzles.

2. Let Your Dog Sniff

dog sniffing
Image Credit: Pixabay

While walks fulfill your dog’s physical exercise need, they also provide the perfect opportunity for mental exercise. Sniffing to dogs is like what reading is to humans. It requires a bit of mental effort to interpret the smells that the dog is detecting, and they can learn from it. The most successful walks are those that allow the dog to stop and sniff whenever they smell something interesting. Even if your dog has walked the same stretch of path for years, there will likely be new and interesting smells every day.

You can either let your dog sniff along the way or designate a specific area of the walk for sniffing. This works well if there is a large field of some sort or an area where other dogs tend to frequent. Plus, if there is a bench or something nearby, it provides you with a break while your dog sniffs around.

3. Try Obedience Training

Even if your dog knows all the basic commands, you should continue with obedience training. This is the easiest way to mentally exercise your dog. It also provides practical results as your dog learns new commands.

Of course, to truly mentally stimulate your dog, the commands have to be new and somewhat challenging. Just going over the sit command continuously isn’t going to do much of anything. Luckily, many advanced commands can take dogs quite a bit of time to master, which also provides months of mental stimulation.

For instance, a reliable recall is extremely important for dogs to master in case they escape a fenced-in area or otherwise find themselves off-leash. However, learning to ignore distractions and return to their owner when called is extremely challenging for most dogs. Training in this command provides a practical result and mentally stimulates your dog.

4. Purchase Puzzle Toys

white dog playing puzzle toy
Image credit: Lenti Hill, Shutterstock

Most exercises require your presence. For example, you have to be there to train your dog or take them on a walk. However, puzzle toys are one of the few things that your dog can use when you aren’t home. All you need to do is set them up before you leave, and your dog can play throughout the day. Often, owners have the most success when they set up multiple puzzle toys in different rooms, which allows the dog to find surprises throughout the day.

Puzzle toys usually utilize treats and a puzzle for your dog to figure out. Dogs may have to simply move something with their nose, or it could be a multi-step problem that they need to solve. You’ll likely need to start with something simple and work up to harder options. However, dogs can often revisit the easier options for a renewed challenge.

Multi-purpose puzzle toys are the best options, as they can be used over and over again.

5. Take Part in a Canine Sport

Canine sports often require quite a bit of physical and mental stamina on the part of your dog. Obedience is an obvious option if you’re looking to mentally stimulate your dog, but canine agility and practically any other sport are also useful for entertaining your canine.

Also, they’re easy to make more difficult as your dog gets better at them. Simple agility can be difficult for a dog just getting started. However, once they master the basics, you can easily add more difficult options into the routine. This keeps your dog mentally stimulated.

6. Engage in Interactive Play

golden retriever playing fetch with ball throw toy
Image credit: Katrin B., Pixabay

Any sort of interactive play can be mentally stimulating for dogs. This is because there is a level of social interaction, which stimulates dogs in a way that most other options don’t. Interactive play is any sort of play where you (or someone else) is responding to your dog while playing. Games like fetch and tug-of-war are examples of such games.

The best part is that these games are continuously mentally stimulating. Your dog can’t master them and then find them too easy, because there is another person involved. Even just 15 minutes of interactive play can meet your canine’s mental exercise needs for the day. When paired with many of the other options on this list, this is an easy way to meet your dog’s exercise needs.

7. Play Hide-and-Seek

If your dog knows the “come” command, they can easily learn to play hide-and-seek. Simply hide somewhere, and yell for your dog to “come.” They’ll then have to try to find you! Be sure you have treats handy to reward them when they are successful.

You probably want to start by hiding somewhere easy until your dog understands that they are supposed to be looking for you. Otherwise, your dog may wander around for a second and assume that they were mistaken when they heard you. Smelly treats may help dogs that need extra encouragement, as they can follow the smell to your hiding place.

Featured Image Credit: Ryan Brix, Shutterstock

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