While physical exercise is definitely important, mental stimulation for dogs will enrich your pup's life in a different way, keeping their brains focused and challenged. A mentally stimulated dog is one that won't get bored and become destructive – something that many frustrated dog owners are struggling with.
Since every dog is individual, different brain games will have different effects on each dog. This makes it important to experiment with a variety to ensure that you find a few that really keep your dog's brain challenged.
Need some inspiration?
Here are five creative ways to mentally stimulate your pooch:
A TREASURE HUNT
Dogs naturally love to hunt, so setting up a treasure hunt at home for your pooch is a great way to encourage your dog to use his nose as well as his brain.
Make it easy to start with, telling your dog to sit and stay while you hide one of your pooch's favorite treats somewhere around your home. It can help to have your dog see where you hide the treat the first few times, as this will teach him what the game is all about.
Once the treat is hidden, give your dog a cue to go and find it.
It won't take long for your pup to figure this game out. Once he does, you can then make it more difficult. Try hiding the treat in places where your pooch has to really use his nose to find them. Underneath food dishes or at the bottom of a pile of laundry are places that work well.
This is a great brain game for dogs to play outdoors too, although you may need to place the treats in a closer proximity, as there are so many other distracting scents outside!
Have a multi-dog household?
This is a form of mental stimulation for dogs that they can all play together – just hide multiple treats around your home and let them all hunt for them at the same time.
THE CUP GAME
The cup game is one that you have probably seen before. It requires at least three identical plastic cups, along with dog treats.
All you need to do is hide a treat underneath a cup, letting your dog watch you do this. Then, shuffle the cups around so that your dog doesn't know which cup the treat is hiding under.
Once you are done, allow your dog to sniff the cups and choose which one is hiding the treat.
This is an effective method for enhancing a dog's problem solving skills, while keeping the brain active and attentive.
Is your dog finding the treats too easily?
Add more cups into the game to amp up the challenge a bit. When it comes to mental stimulation for dogs, you will need to always tailor your methods to your dog's individual needs.
THE MUFFIN TIN GAME
For this brain game, you will need:
- A muffin tin
- Enough dog balls or toys to fill each hole in the tin
Place a treat into a few of the holes.
Wondering what treats to use?
Try a biscuit, a dollop of peanut butter, or small pieces of dried meat. Then, cover all of the holes with the dog toys you have selected. Tennis balls work great. They tend to fit perfectly into each hole, requiring the dog to really concentrate when removing each ball.
Your dog will then need to figure out where the treats are hiding, and remove each toy in order to access the treats.
THE NAME GAME
How many words does your dog know?
For many pets, this will only be a handful of words, usually the ones that are used most commonly, such as “sit”, “stay”, “food”, and other similar terms.
However, did you know that the average well-trained dog knows around 160 different words? In fact, there is one famous border collie who knows over 1000 words, including 800 of her toys.
Teaching your dog different words is a fantastic form of mental stimulation for dogs, and is such an easy way to keep their brains active.
Begin with your dog's toys, making sure that they are visually different enough for your dog to be able to distinguish between them.
Choose one toy to begin with, such as “brown bear”. Then, encourage your dog to play with you and that toy, repeating the name brown bear constantly as you play. The repetition is important, as this will help to drill the name of the toy into your dog's head.
Once you have repeated the name around 30 times, place the toy next to another one. Then, ask your dog to go and get the brown bear. Give your pooch plenty of praise and a treat if he gets it right immediately.
What happens if your pup picks the wrong toy?
Don't say anything, and instead just place the toy back next to the brown bear and repeat your command. When he does reach for the right toy, showering your pooch with praise will cement the toy's name in his brain.
Once your dog knows the name of one toy, you can then move on to the next. Don't rush things - take it slowly to work on steadily building up your dog's vocabulary. This is such an effective form of mental stimulation for dogs, as it will really keep your dog thinking.
TAKE YOUR DOG WITH YOU WHEN RUNNING ERRANDS
Many people tend to leave their dogs at home when off running errands, whether this may be heading to the post office, a friend's house, or even the car wash.
However, all of these are activities that will stimulate your dog's brain.
Even if it is just a car ride, your dog's brain will be working so hard to process all that he sees around him. You will likely find that you have a pooped out pooch once you return home.
Don't have any errands to run?
Try taking your dog for a quick drive through some varied areas. Stopping off at a drive-through car wash will add even more excitement to your pup's day.
Many underestimate the importance of mental stimulation for dogs, but this could really have a huge impact on your dog's behaviour. Each of the brain games mentioned above can be adapted and tailored to your dog's specific needs, so give them a try the next time you think your pooch may be getting bored. There are many other techniques out there when it comes to mental stimulation for dogs, so get creative!
Does your dog have any favorite brain games? We would love to hear about them, so please do share your ideas in the comments section below!