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11 Ways to Give Your Dog More Mental Stimulation (with Pictures)

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By Nicole Cosgrove

happy dog in the field

While most dog owners know that their furry friends need physical exercise, many don’t understand that they also need mental stimulation. Most breeds enjoy being challenged mentally, and proper use of mental stimulation can actually lead to a better behaved, happier, and more loveable pooch!

Below, we’re giving you 11 ways to provide mental stimulation for your dog, so you can keep their minds sharp and their tails wagging. Here’s what mental stimulation for dogs is and how much your furry friend needs:

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Top 11 Ways to Mentally Stimulate Your Dog:

1. Enjoy a Stimulating Nature Walk

Wet English Springer Spaniel
Image Credit: louisewalker4, Pixabay

This is perhaps the easiest thing you can do to get your pup some mental stimulation because you can keep their minds sharp while also getting their exercise in. Find a wooded area or someplace where you can take your pooch for a meandering walk. Don’t rush through the dedicated exercise, but instead, let your furry friend explore the many scents around them. Even a leisurely walk can turn into quite a stimulating adventure for your dog!

2. Teach Them a New Trick

dog learning trick
Image Credit: alexei_tm, Shutterstock

Most owners teach their dogs the basics: sit, stay, lie down, speak. Learning new, more complicated tricks is a great way to get your dog thinking. Try teaching them to give you a handshake, rollover, fetch a specific chew toy, or drop what they’re holding. Most dogs can learn countless tricks, and learning new commands is both fun and rewarding for your pooch.

3. Create a Scavenger Hunt

terrier with red kong playing outside
Image Credit: anetapics, Shutterstock

Dogs naturally love to poke around and look for food with their noses. To mimic this natural behavior and provide some mental stimulation in your home, you can play a game with your pup once a day where you hide a few treats throughout the house for them to find. Using foods they can easily smell is advised, and if you want to build some obedience training into the game, you can have them sit and stay while you hide their goodies.

4. Offer Them a Puzzle Toy

outward hound puzzle dog toy

Many toy manufacturers have started selling dog toys that are made specifically to stimulate your dog mentally. These include toys that require them to perform a specific action — like pulling a lever in this puzzle toy — to get a treat. There are also toys that house treats and prompt your dog to figure out how to remove them, like.

5. Test Your Dog’s Memory

Dogs are capable of learning more than we often give them credit for, and an excellent way to get their minds working is to teach them the names of multiple different toys. You can establish name association with simple repetition, and once your pooch knows the name of one toy, try teaching them another. Gradually, your pup can learn the names of all their stuffed animals, and you can then test their memory by asking them to retrieve a particular toy.

6. Agility Training

Lakeland Terrier at competitions of Dog agility_Zelenskaya_shutterstock
Image Credit: Zelenskaya, Shutterstock

Agility training is a great way to combine physical and mental stimulation and get some one-on-one time with your pup. You can opt to run your dog at agility arenas or set up a makeshift course at home in your backyard. You can gradually teach your dog verbal commands for each obstacle and then have them listen to the obstacles you call out in succession during agility sessions.

7. Teach Your Dog to Help with Chores

dog in kitchen
Image Credit: Sjale, Shutterstock

Something somewhat unique to canines is their willingness to please us as their owners, and what better way to let them do just that than to have them pitch in on chores! You can teach your dog to clean up their toys, get the newspaper for you, or even open the fridge and get you a canned drink — yes, really! Dogs love being stimulated mentally, and being able to please you makes that stimulation even more enjoyable for them.

8. Play Hide and Seek

dog hiding under the sofa
Image Credit: Aleksey Boyko, Shutterstock

Playing hide and seek with your pooch is a great way to bond with them while getting them to use their noggins. You can have a family member hold onto your pup while you go and hide, or you can teach them to sit and stay while you find a hiding spot. Call out to your dog once you’re hidden, and let the search begin!

9. Take Your Dog Out on the Town

dog inside car
Image Credit: Free-Photos, Pixabay

A straightforward way to stimulate your dog is to take them out for car rides while you run simple errands. As long as they aren’t left in the car by themselves, this is also a great way to bond with your dog. Sights and sounds uncommon in your home or backyard will pique your dog’s interest and curiosity.

10. Up Their Social Game

Just like humans enjoy meeting new people and making new friends, most dogs love coming into contact with new faces, furry or otherwise. Your pup will be easily stimulated when introduced to dogs at a dog park or humans at a public event. The more dogs and people your pooch gets to meet, the better!

11. Play the Shell Game with Them

dog playing shell game
Image Credit: Aleksey Boyko, Shutterstock

You’ve heard of three-card monte, and now you can take this classic hoax and turn it into a mentally engaging game for your pup! Get three cups that aren’t see-through, and have your dog watch you place a treat under one of the cups. Shuffle the cups around slowly, and then have your dog try once —  and only once — to find the treat cup. If they get it wrong, have them play again. This rewarding game is a great way to get your dog thinking and motivate them to pay close attention to what you’re doing.

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Increasing Your Dog’s Mental Stimulation  

Not only is your pup guaranteed to enjoy themselves during any version of mental stimulation you throw at them, you’ll most likely enjoy yourself as well! Regular mental stimulation for canines will keep their brains malleable and allow them to pick up new training and tricks even as they get older. Thanks to this practice maybe you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks.

Featured Image Credit: 14230021, Pixabay

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