Public service announcement: your dog might be very bored right now! Mental stimulation for dogs is often overlooked as we go about our busy lives. Some owners aren’t aware that mental activity is just as important as physical exercise for their dog’s wellbeing.
We can’t blame you at all though! Your kids can tell you they’re bored every ten minutes, but dogs can’t use words to express their frustration. Instead, a dog’s cry for help usually comes in the form of destructive behaviors, like chewing the furniture or barking like a broken alarm.
There’s no need to fret, though! This article will cover the ins and outs of canine mental stimulation, and what you can do to keep your dog engaged (and out of the hole in your sofa).
Table of Contents
What is Mental Stimulation For Dogs?
You can think of canine mental stimulation as a workout for your dog’s brain. Just like the body, a dog’s brain needs regular exercise to maintain proper function. People exercise their minds with puzzles, books, games, and lectures. Dogs also have their own set of activities to work their brain, and that’s what we refer to as “mental stimulation.”
Is Mental Stimulation For Dogs Necessary?
Yes! Dogs are naturally intelligent mammals; they enjoy using their minds more than you may realize. Just like people, they can become weary from idleness. Your dog will seek ways to remedy their situation, and you might not like their solution (depression and household chaos are typical).
Benefits of Mental Stimulation For Dogs
There is a lot to gain from working your dog’s brain! Your dog will always be one paw ahead of the game if their mind is active. Mental stimulation helps your dog ward off stress, depression, and age-related mental decline. It brings you and your dog closer and lets them burn off steam. And not to mention, it saves your house from domestic terrorism.
Mental stimulation allows your dog to exert pent up energy, making hyperactivity a thing of the past. Walks, games, and new tricks all require stamina. More complex games and routines require a lot of focus, and that gets your dog to channel their energy too.
A mentally stimulated dog is a happy dog! Exercising the mind cheers your dog up by providing them with an exciting new activity. It turns on parts of their brain that may not get activated through their everyday routine. This increased brain activity staves off depression, stress, and keeps their tail wagging all day long.
Reduces Boredom & Destructive Behavior
Remember what we said about bored dogs destroying couches? Yeah, it’s a thing. However, providing your dog with adequate mental stimulation offers them an alternative to going through the trash and scratching doors. Your dog can’t destroy your home if they’re busy playing hide and seek. Plus, they won’t feel the urge to cause chaos in the first place if they’re entertained.
Supports Aging Minds
Keeping your dog’s mind active is especially important as they age. Just like people, dogs are prone to cognitive decline as their brains age. You can keep your older dog’s mind healthy by keeping it engaged. The increased brain activity maintains the neuronal connections, which are prone to degrade with age.
Teaches Good Behavior
Mind exercise is also vital for young dogs. Games, play, and socialization set puppies up for success by increasing confidence and teaching proper behavior. Puppies overflow with energy, so these activities also serve as a good outlet for their stamina. Puppies who receive adequate mental stimulation exhibit less destructive behaviors and better mental health as adults.
Strengthens Your Bond
Stimulating activities bring you and your dog closer together. Though some games can be played solo, many tasks are a team effort. You and your dog will spend more time together when you include more of these activities in your routine. When you and your dog are like two peas in a pod, your dog is less likely to disobey you or cause trouble.
How to Mentally Stimulate A Dog
Walks, sports, tricks, toys, parks, games – the list of stimulating activities for your dog is long. To maximize your dog’s mental engagement, it’s a good idea to mix it up and give them a range of different exercises. Some of these activities require a lot of participation on your end, and some don’t. So if you’re busy and don’t have the time to work on a sport every day, it’s okay! There’s an option to suit every owner (and dog).
Smart or Interactive Toys for Dogs
Toys are a fantastic way to keep your dog entertained. We’re not talking about just any toy, though. Smart toys that make your dog do some extra work are what really get the gears turning.
Working for food evokes a primal hunting instinct in dogs. That said, your dog may love puzzle-based food-dispensing toys like the Pet Zone IQ Treat Ball or the Trixie Activity Flip Board. These toys make your dog solve a puzzle to get their treats. Or, if you’ve got a compulsive chewer on your hands, a Kong Toy combines a bone, ball, and treat into one.
If you Google “smart toys for dogs,” you’ll get bombarded with options for canine entertainment. Just make sure to read reviews and consider your dog’s habits when purchasing a toy.
Play & Interact With Your Dog
Playtime is one of the best ways to give your dog a brain workout! All dogs have a natural instinct to play- it’s encoded in their DNA from the time they’re born. Play develops key hunting and survival skills essential for the continuation of the species (well, maybe not so much anymore, but dogs still play nonetheless).
Fetch and tug-of-war are an excellent place to start, but your dog might get bored with them at some point. When you want to step it up, you can try teaching your dog hide and seek. Have them sit and stay, then find a place in the house to hide. Call their name and reward them with treats when they find you!
You can also switch it up and try a scavenger hunt. Start by hiding a treat with a very obvious smell somewhere in the house. Let your dog find it and reward them with praise when they do. Once they get the idea, you can gradually make the hunts harder by hiding less obvious treats and toys and adding more items to the search. Pro tip: your dog will love scavenger hunts even more if you involve multiple members of the house in the game.
Several pet owners attest to using cannabidiol (CBD) to calm their energetic or aggressive dogs. CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid derived from the hemp plant. It doesn’t get your dog loopy or high! It works by improving the function of your dog’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS enhances cell communication and helps the body maintain homeostasis.
What that means for your dog is better control of their mood and energy. Although CBD is not intended for mental stimulation for dogs, it can provide similar benefits. In addition, many canines can be easily distracted from participating in mentally stimulating activities. Incorporating CBD may promote your canine’s focus and in turn, they might be less distracted.
CBD may also calm dogs with nervous tendencies or reduce aggression and fearful behaviors. Since CBD promotes mental balance, some owners report that it’s reduced their dog’s destructive behaviors and hyperactivity as well.
If you think CBD might be a viable option for your canine friend, HolistaPet offers several organic, healthy products for your dog to try. Treats, capsules, shampoos, and tinctures are all available at an affordable price, and they’re likely the cleanest formulas on the market. No GMOs, gluten, preservatives, or artificial dyes are found in any of our products.
Agility & Obedience Training
Is your dog athletic? No? That’s totally okay, they don’t have to be. Teaching your dog new tricks keeps them mentally stimulated, whether they’re learning to run through an obstacle course or balance a treat on their nose.
If your dog is the sporty kind, agility training is worth looking into. Not only does it provide a ton of physical exercise, it also teaches your dog a myriad of new commands. Your dog will learn to jump through hoops, dodge poles, balance on a seesaw, and hope hurdles. That’s a lot of instruction to hold in your head while you’re running! If you don’t have the time or money to bring your do to an agility class, you can always set up your own DIY agility course at home and get busy.
Obedience training is another option for dogs that need some brain exercise. Once your dog has mastered basic commands, you can teach your dog more complex orders. For example, you can get your dog to help with chores! You can train your dog to put away their toys by teaching them “take it” and “drop it” commands.
Socialization might be one of the best ways to engage your dog’s brain. Learning to behave around other dogs is important regardless, but regular social interaction enriches your dog’s lifestyle. Plus, your dog will honestly enjoy the company of others if they are well-socialized.
Before you bring your dog to meet another dog, it’s imperative to consider their social history? Have they been aggressive with other dogs in the past? Do they typically shy away from others? If the answer is no, step right in and let your dog make friends.
If you’re unsure about how your dog plays with others, take caution when entering a park. Make sure your dog feels comfortable in the environment and that the other dogs around them are roughly the same size. You should take your pet off the leash, but keep a close eye on them. If your dog isn’t cooperating, take them home. You can try again another day.
Related Article: Dog Social Anxiety: How to End Social Phobias for Good
Final Thoughts – Mental Stimulation For Dogs
We hope you’re ready to give your dog all the mental stimulation you can offer! Seriously, the benefits are too great to pass up, and too true to deny. Your dog won’t be going through your trash or tearing up your sofa if they get their daily games in! You’ll have some fun too, so get cracking!