Being a dog owner means caring for almost every facet of your dog’s life and providing them everything they need to thrive. That includes nutritious dog food, of course, as well as exercise, grooming, and regular vet visits. It also includes something many pet parents forget, namely mental stimulation.
Dogs are intelligent creatures, and without mental stimulation, they won’t be as happy or healthy as they can be. Some dogs will even become destructive if they aren’t kept engaged and mentally challenged, which can cause undue stress for dogs and owners.
What can you give your canine companion to stimulate their brain and keep them mentally fit? We have 11 fantastic answers for you below. Read on to discover them all and ensure your dog’s brain stays in tip-top shape!
The Top 11 Tips on How to Mentally Stimulate Your Dog
1. Use a Dog Bowl That Makes Your Dog Work to Get Its Food
This method of mental stimulation for dogs is one of the best, especially for dogs that gobble down their food too fast. Also known as “brain bowls,” “puzzle feeders,” and “slow feeding bowls,” these dog bowls have interior ridges in different shapes that make it more difficult for your dog to get to their food.
The bowl’s ridges force your dog to use their intellect rather than just their mouth and tongue when eating. You can find puzzle feeder bowls in various sizes for a wide range of dog breeds.
2. Teach Your Dog a New Trick or Skill
There are few better methods to mentally stimulate your dog than to teach them a new skill or trick. Not only does this engage their brain, but depending on what you teach them, it can also make your dog a better companion, watchdog, or play pal for your kids.
Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds stand out among dogs that love learning new things, but practically any dog can be taught basic tricks and skills (even an old one).
3. Go for a Long, Engaging Walk
Most dog owners look at walks as something their dog needs to relieve themself, but not much more. Walks, however, can be quite stimulating for a dog’s brain and, more importantly, their nose. With over 300 million olfactory receptors in the average dog’s nose, they smell practically everything when you take them for a walk, including other dogs, animals, people, foods, and much more.
For that reason alone, taking your time when walking your dog and allowing them time to sniff to their heart’s content is a great idea. Also, walks strengthen the bonds between you and your pet.
4. Give Your Dog Something New to Chew
When you see a chewing dog, the last thing you might think is that they’re using their brain to do it, but that’s exactly what they do. When a dog has something big to chew, rather than, for example, a tiny treat they finish in seconds, it forces them to concentrate, especially if the chewable item is big and somewhat difficult to chew on.
As long as it’s made for your specific breed, the bigger the dog chew and the longer it takes them to chew it down, the better. Not only is it mentally stimulating but chewing also calms your dog’s brain and lowers their stress level significantly. It’s a combination that’s truly hard to beat!
5. Play Fetch in Your Yard
This method of mental stimulation for dogs might be one of the oldest in the book, but it’s also one of the best! Most dogs love nothing better than chasing after something you’ve thrown and bringing it back to you. However, some might not want to return it right away.
Playing fetch teaches your dog to be mindful and concentrate on a specific task. It’s also great exercise and a lot of fun. Plus, playing fetch is a fantastic way to teach your kids (and you) a lesson in patience as they wait for your family dog to return with whatever they’ve thrown.
6. Teach Your Dog the Name of Its Favorite Toy
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the average dog can understand over 160 words. Amazingly, the smartest dogs can learn upwards of 250 words, matching the intelligence of a 2-year-old child. That’s why teaching your dog the name of its favorite toy is one of the top mental stimulation methods.
Not only does this method shift your dog’s brain into high gear, but once they’ve learned their toy’s name, you can leave it in another part of the house and tell your pup to go and get it. You can also do this with specific items you’d like your dog to bring to you, including the classic slippers and daily newspaper.
7. Go for a Ride in the Car With Your Dog
Dogs can sometimes get what we humans call “cabin fever.” That can lead to boredom and, in time, destructive behavior. Taking your dog for a ride in the car, even if it’s just around town, gives them a change of scenery that stimulates their brain and also excites their other senses. Different sounds, smells, and situations are incredibly interesting to the average dog, especially if they don’t get out that often.
8. Play “Doggie in the Middle”
Depending on your age, you might remember this fun game from school when it was called “Monkey in the Middle.” To play this game inside, you’ll need quite a big den or a relatively empty room in your home.
You’ll also need two people to stand on either side of your dog and something to throw to each other that your dog desperately wants to get. This can be anything from their favorite toy to a new toy, dog treat, or even something “forbidden” like an old shoe. Once you’re all set, toss the toy or treat slightly over your dog’s head so they can almost get to it. Depending on what you use, this could entertain you and your dog for an entire afternoon!
9. Give Your Dog a Puzzle Toy Filled With Treats
Most dog breeds are incredibly food-driven and will do whatever it takes to get extra kibble or a tasty treat. A dog puzzle toy filled with treats forces your canine companion to use their brain and figure out how to get them and can keep your dog busy for longer than you might imagine.
There are many types of toys that you can hide treats inside, including Kong toys, “snuffle mats,” and many others. If you don’t have time to play with your dog but want to keep their brain stimulated, this is one of the best methods available.
10. Create a Doggy Obstacle Course
If you’ve watched an American Kennel Club (AKC) competition, you’ve likely seen the obstacle courses they use. Creating something similar in your backyard is a fantastic way to stimulate your dog’s mind, give them plenty of activity and agility training.
Many breeds love obstacle course training, including Shetland Sheepdogs, Rottweilers, Border Collies, and Papillons. Training your dog to use an obstacle course is also a lot of fun for you and your family and creates much stronger bonds between you and your pet.
11. Toss Your Dog’s Food Out in the Yard
This final stimulation method for your dog might sound cruel, but it is a fantastic way to start their day. To do it, you take your dog’s kibble and throw it into the yard to spread out in a wide area. This forces your pet to search for every morsel of food, which they will do with gusto unless they aren’t hungry.
Not only is this method mentally stimulating, but it also mimics the way a dog would find its food in the wild. Of course, It’s best to use this mental stimulation technique when the weather outside is warm and pleasant.
Like humans, dogs need to be mentally stimulated regularly to stay healthy and happy. Mental stimulation also keeps dogs from becoming bored, which often leads to destructive behavior. It’s important to note that the average dog has the intelligence of a 2-year-old child and can learn and understand nearly 200 words.
For this reason, keeping your dog mentally stimulated is not only a good idea but also vitally important to their health and wellness. We hope the 11 methods we’ve shared today will help your canine avoid boredom and stay entertained.
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